The Case for Shared Team Accountability
Do your team members struggle to work together? Do your team leaders struggle to bring high-performing teams together to deliver team outcomes? Do team members succeed at fulfilling their individual assignments, but projects still fail?
We feel your pain and we have the cure. Shared team accountability.
By MMI Staff
Does this sound familiar?
A project team designs a software application for a financial services company. Judy’s accountable for designing the user interface. She’s designed interfaces for many years and has always delivered a good product. Kyle, a new and less experienced team member, is in charge of reporting. It’s clear he’s a bit behind, but he doesn’t tell anyone that he’s struggling.
When Judy finishes her design ahead of schedule, she moves on to another project. It’s not a priority, but it’s coming up soon and she thinks it will look good if she gets a head start.
The customer reviews the completed software design and rejects it. Steve, the team leader, tells the team they have to rework the entire solution. He distributes a report detailing the reasons the financial services firm rejected the design.
Judy reads the report and sees there are no comments about the user interface. The main issues are data management and reporting. “Phew!” she thinks, “At least my part was successful.”
The thing is, Judy started her career designing reports, and she sensed Kyle was struggling. She has the experience to provide support, but didn’t. She finished the user interface design and moved on to other work.
Back to the drawing board for the team.
Everyone is accountable for team outcomes
This scenario sheds light on one of the challenges of working on a team. Many of us have been on teams where we had to do most of the heavy lifting. Other times—though we may not want to admit it—we didn't have to do much lifting at all.
It’s human nature to focus on our own area of accountability. To place our own best interest above what's best for the team. We know what the team needs to produce for a successful outcome. But we're only accountable for our own deliverables. (Right? Not really.)
What’s the bottom line? Everyone is accountable for team outcomes, regardless of how much each member contributes.
Should you be “held accountable” for achieving a goal that depends on others? We think the answer is a resounding yes! To build high-performing teams, you need to value team accountability over individual accountability. In other words, the team outcome is more important than individual team member outcomes. The software application is more important than the user interface or reporting designs.
Nobody wins the blame game
We all want to reap the rewards of team success. But it can be difficult to share accountability for team failure. Unfortunately, when there’s failure, the first question is often, “whose fault is it?” Shared team accountability puts an end to finger-pointing when something goes wrong. It eliminates blame. Instead, teams that share accountability learn from shared experience and plan for improvement together. Everybody wins.
Shared accountability and high-performing teams
Leaders invest significant resources into team development. Team-building considerations include personality types, thinking styles, working styles etc. These ensure team members understand each other and get along.
But there also has to be a tangible component to unify the team. Shared accountability is the tangible that brings teams together.
What does it mean to share team accountability?
It may seem scary. How can you be accountable for someone else’s output? Does that mean you need to jump-in and take on extra work? Not necessarily, but there may be times when you have to pitch in. A team that shares accountability does not leave a team member in the lurch. They collaborate to find solutions.
Three guidelines for sharing team accountability
There is a way for teams to create a culture of shared accountability proactively. The first step is to accept that everyone shares team accountability. It's up to leaders to provide an environment where team outcomes trump individual outcomes. Then, communicate, cooperate, and collaborate with your team members and your team leader.
1. Communicate the status of your deliverables to your team
Keep your team informed to avoid surprises and ensure a positive outcome.
- Let your team know if you can't complete a deliverable.
- Let them know if you finish early and have time to help out elsewhere.
- Speak up early if you have concerns about team skills and/or available resources.
2. Cooperate with your team members
Not every team member has to be your best friend, or even a friend for that matter. But you do need to maintain a professional relationship to work together. It's easier to achieve team outcomes when you keep it all about the work.
3. Collaborate on all planning and team decisions
Sharing plans, changes, challenges and solutions is always worthwhile. Since everyone has a say, everyone is more committed to the plan or a solution. It's the team leader's job to establish a collaborative environment from the start. It's the team member’s responsibility to foster and maintain it.
When team members communicate, cooperate and collaborate, shared team accountability is achievable.
The result—a different scenario
A project team designs a software solution for a financial services company. Judy is accountable for designing the user interface. She’s designed interfaces for many years and has always delivered a good product.
Kyle, a new and less experienced team member, is in charge of reporting. When he encounters difficulty designing the reporting feature, he lets the team know immediately.
Judy started her career designing reports. When she finishes her design ahead of schedule, she steps in to help Kyle out. Although they have different styles, she has the experience to provide support. They collaborate and get the job done.
The customer reviews the completed software design and praises the team's cooperative effort. Steve, the team leader, congratulates everyone on a job well done.
Bonuses are forthcoming!