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Team Accountability: How To Hold Your Team Accountable

Project managers can tell you all about it; keeping people on their A-game is not easy. Managing people requires talent and skill, and the road to victory is paved with mistakes and failed projects. It all boils down to having a team that feels just as responsible for the outcome of a project as the project manager themself.

Team Accountability: How To Hold Your Team Accountable
Joanna Marlow
Joanna Marlow

How can you instill a sense of accountability within your team? Especially now that working from home is more common, managers feel like they have less control over the process. In a previous article, we already shared our tips on how to foster a culture of accountability in the workplace. Now we will expand upon this, with some of the best practices related to people management specifically.

  1. What is accountability?
  2. Why is team accountability important?
  3. Shape your corporate culture
  4. Ask questions
  5. Specific types of meetings
  6. Value everybody’s opinions and ideas
  7. Lead by example as a project manager
  8. Give public praise

What is accountability?

A lot of different words and examples are mentioned when you ask someone to explain what accountability is, as shown in the image below. The word amasses quite the stockpile of values, especially when it comes to team accountability. 

According to the Cambridge dictionary, the exact definition is:

Accountability (noun) - The fact of being responsible for what you do and able to give a satisfactory reason for it or the degree to which this happens.

If a certain outcome is expected from a project, accountability in teamwork is the cognitive dynamics of shared responsibility for this outcome. 

Why is team accountability important?

Do you remember those group projects in high school or college? These were really the moments you were able to size up your classmates. Some were proactive and enjoyed taking the lead, while others were lazy and unmotivated. 

If you are a project manager, you were probably the former. Without an effective peer-assessment system in place, some others on your team probably got away with passing subjects without pushing any weight. 

Obviously, you have learned from this experience. As businesses have learned the importance of project management techniques, project managers can make clearly outlined schedules for teams to adhere to. 

But it’s not just about making sure they know what to do and when. Holding your team accountable goes much further than that. It’s trusting them to take ownership of their tasks and the outcome, without micromanaging them.

Now that working from home is a common practice, it is more difficult than ever for managers to find this balance. It extends far further than using project management software and tracking hours, as we explained in our last article about this subject.

We will go over some management practices that will show you how to hold your team accountable.

What does accountability mean exactly?

1. Shape your corporate culture

The common beliefs and behaviors of your employees shape your company’s corporate culture. Usually, this culture is not consciously designed but appears organically over time. The way employees handle things, whether at entry- or upper management level, shapes this culture. 

Create a code of conduct

As a (project) manager, you can influence this culture by how you react to certain behaviors. Or you can create it more deliberately, by creating a code of conduct for the company. This functions as a guide for employees on how to handle situations, and how to behave. Seeing it written in black on white will really let it sink in.

Create an ideal employee profile

Another way is to nip it right in the bud completely. Create an ideal employee profile. To place importance on accountability, you can choose keywords that relate to your desired employee profile. Such as: proactive, always honest, and ethical. 

Carry out a culture fit assessment

Based on your ideal employee profile, you carry out a culture fit assessment as part of the hiring process. During the selection process, you look for indications of how the candidate resonates with the keywords you have chosen. Like asking questions about how they dealt with ethically ambiguous situations in the past for example. 

2. Ask questions

It sounds simple, but being accountable means you are able to give an account of what’s going on. Therefore holding your team accountable, means you are asking them to give accounts of what’s happening.

In order to instill accountability, almost everything can be rephrased as a question. Instead of just telling the team what the objectives are, help them realize what they are by asking:

  • What is the goal of this project?

  • What are you trying to accomplish here?

  • What is going well?

  • What isn’t going well?

  • How are you going to make sure things go well?

Even changing reasonable requests into open-ended questions is much more inclining and engaging.

Request: Do not come in late anymore!

Question: How are you going to make sure you are on time from now on?

The concept of rephrasing most of your demands and requests into questions is one of many communication techniques that are known to be very effective. As a project manager, the improvement of your communication skills is incremental in improving your overall project management skills.

In order to instil accountability, almost everything can be rephrased as a question.

3. Specific types of meetings

Having a plan with clear tasks assigned to individuals makes it easier to keep track of what everyone is doing. But you also need to know what they are feeling while they are working on a task, and why they might be taking longer or having trouble.

A daily stand-up meeting

No matter how detailed projects and tasks have been laid out, having a daily morning meeting (daily stand-up meeting) during which team members communicate what they will work on that day has added value. Explaining each activity or task in their own words will help them realize what they are responsible for. 

Moreover, the whole team will know this about each other too. Depending on the organization or type of projects, it might be of value to have another stand-up meeting at the end of the day too. 

Team meetings

The reason to have team meetings is quite obvious. It’s an opportunity to discuss how everything is coming along and propose solutions or adjustments as a team. However, some individual team members might not be comfortable enough to relay everything that occupies them personally here.

One-on-one meetings

For this reason, one-on-one meetings are highly recommended. It’s a planned meeting between the project manager and team member, that both prepare for. Instead of just giving status updates, this is an opportunity to give context for project-related issues. Or simply just to vent frustrations, insecurities, and personal concerns. 

Instead of just giving status updates, meetings are an opportunity to give context for project-related issues.

4. Value everybody’s opinions and ideas

Some people are naturally quick thinkers. But this doesn’t mean they always have the best solution at any given time. Especially around extroverted personalities, some people tend to close up without pushing themselves to come up with ideas too. 

Before you know it, you will always have the same team members who feel responsible for coming up with ideas. While others will just assume they have nothing to add. 

Therefore it’s important to structurize brainstorm sessions or progress meetings in such a way that it demands input from everyone. Don’t just ask, who has an idea? Ask each individual to write down a few ideas instead. 

Also, note which ideas came from who, to show them they are receiving credit where due. 

5. Lead by example as a project manager

Besides letting team members take ownership of their great ideas and solutions, you have to make sure they take ownership of their mistakes and shortcomings too. It might feel uncomfortable to have to confront or berate someone.

There are various ways to go about this though. When things are visibly going downhill, a commonly used technique is to ask an employee how they think things are going themself. Any competent team member will recognize the situation and try to explain what’s going wrong without you having to tell them. 

Using the same technique, you can then ask them what they plan to do about it. Instead of you telling them what you want them to do.

Another way of letting them know they are falling short is to share your own learning moments in the past that were similar to the situation. They can draw inspiration from the way you dealt with failures and tried to turn them around. Besides the beratement infused with your anecdote, the team member will take it as encouragement.

6. Give public praise

From beratement, we smoothly transition to the importance of giving praise. What’s more, public praise! An important element of team accountability is full transparency.  

Communicate with the whole team when individuals have reached their personal goals, or were responsible for an activity that added a significant amount of value to the project.

Moreover, motivate team members to give public praise to each other when they have helped each other. This can be done by leaving messages on a public message board for example. It can even be done digitally with some collaboration tools, such as Slack.

Let’s be honest, underneath it all we are all seeking some form of approval. And the best way to motivate employees to be more accountable is to publicly approve their efforts when they have proven themselves. Besides, holding your team accountable will be a breeze when everybody can take pride in their efforts.

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