Does your team have an accountability problem?

By Melissa Raffoni

May 6, 2020


A lack of accountability is rarely intentional. More often, it’s the result of an underlying issue such as unclear roles and responsibilities, limited resources, poor strategies or unrealistic goals. Via the Harvard Business Review, Melissa Raffoni describes how to come to terms with accountability.

When a work issue is causing you stress, blaming others is a normal instinct. But if you want to have a productive conversation with someone who is struggling at work first consider whether you are contributing to the problem (even unintentionally). Try asking yourself: Is there anything I can do differently to help? Are there gaps in communication or processes that are setting the team back? This type of self-reflection may help you identify problems to resolve.

Create a safe environment

After your self-reflection comes meeting with employees about a problem. When you do, remember to be mindful of your tone. Start by asking the person if you can meet to discuss a business challenge together. Asking to make an appointment shows your commitment to hearing the person’s perspective. In addition, framing the topic as a business challenge helps eliminate the risk of finger-pointing and shows that you want to work together.

Begin the conversation by asking questions about specific issues. For instance, if your team member is constantly missing deadlines, you could say, “I’ve noticed that you seem to need a little more time to get the work done lately.” Provide specific examples, then ask: What can we do to help you get back on track? Avoid jumping directly into critical feedback or using judgmental language. The goal is to listen and to remain genuinely open to the person’s perspective.

Listening to the needs and motivations of employees will help you put aside any assumptions you may be making about their characters. You may discover that team members need more feedback to do their best work, or that other obstacles are holding them back.

Come to a mutual agreement on how to move forward

Now that you have initiated the conversation and identified any underlying issues, it’s time to clarify that your intention is to address the issue together and agree on a resolution.

During this point of the conversation, you may express your personal frustration with what you see to be the problem. For example, you might say, “I know you are not intentionally missing deadlines, and now I have a clearer understanding of everything on your plate. But when you do miss deadlines, the result is that I have to take on your unfinished work, which causes me to get behind on my own projects.”

Finally, ask if the other person would be open to trying some new strategies to address the issue. Your approach to this last step may vary depending on who you are having the conversation with. If you are talking to a direct report, for instance, you might then say, “I want to set you up for success here. To make sure we are on the same page, can you repeat back to me what you understand the problem is so we can work together on a plan to move forward?” If you are confronting a peer, a better way to phrase it may be, “Based on our conversation, let’s try to agree to a mutual set of objectives and then brainstorm on how we might develop an approach to achieving those goals. “

Set people up for success

As you begin to devise your plan, work with your colleague to set realistic expectations. This is the only way to make sure you are both on the path to success. Keep in mind that you may need to scale back on the plan, provide additional support or delegate work to others when necessary.

Track and measure progress

Put your plan into writing so it can be revisited if questions or doubts arise. Secondly, determine what communication tools you will use to track progress.

Some helpful tools include:

  • A written list of roles and responsibilities
  • Scorecards that measure outcomes
  • Regular check-ins
  • Metric dashboards that track performance
  • Weekly meetings
  • Progress reports
  • Checklists
  • Project plans that outline future goals

The above tools and steps will help you identify what’s working and what’s not over time, as well as course correct as needed.

(c) 2020 Harvard Business School Publishing Corp. Distributed by The New York Times Licensing Group

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