This month’s five-part blog series "The Power of Relationships!" is loosely based on Patrick M. Lencioni's research that found five dysfunctional areas where teams tend to struggle, as described in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a team. So far, we have discussed dysfunction #1, The Absence of Trust, and dysfunction #2, Fear of Conflict, and most recently dysfunction #3, The Lack of Commitment. This week we will discuss dysfunction #4 Avoidance of Accountability. Throughout this series, we have discussed ways to help you overcome dysfunctions that will lead you and your team to experience tremendous success and improved productivity. Each of the dysfunctions discussed is interconnected, so when one level of dysfunction comes into play, there will likely be a domino effect. You must take the actions necessary to resolve dysfunction at its root cause instead of band-aiding the symptoms you recognize on the surface of your team. As a leader, resolving dysfunction often falls on the leader because a team will look to the leader for guidance and support; however, if you are not the leader, you still have a responsibility to lead in your area. When you actively seek to ease team dysfunction, it will not take long to see positive results and your team’s productivity skyrocket.
“Teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance do not hesitate to hold one another accountable for adhering to those decisions and standards. What is more, they don’t rely on the team leader as the primary source of accountability, they go directly to their peers.”
- Patrick Lencioni.
If you are a leader or a teacher in your school, how often have you thought or said the words “we need to hold ______ more accountable?” If you are honest, there’s a chance that you might have said this on more than one occasion. The chances of this may even be more likely when your school’s attendance is low, or your target numbers are down, or you haven't met a team or school goal. While there will be times when your team could put forth more effort when you say “we need to hold____ more accountable,” what the members of a team are really hearing is “we are failing.” or “we are letting the team down.” So what happens is that instead of inspiring the team to change and do something differently, you are deflating your team. Often, a lack of accountability is not intentional but rather is a symptom of an already existing problem. Contributing factors may include limited resources, unclear communication of expectations, responsibilities, roles, an inefficient strategy, or an unrealistic goal. These are all elements of dysfunctions 1-3 and issues that lead teams to feel frustrated and slows or stops teams in their tracks toward progress and productivity. Suppose this sounds like your team and unsure of what you can do. In that case, this blog will help you identify ways to get your team to have increased accountability organically and resolve dysfunction #4 The Lack of Accountability.
What is Dysfunction #4 Lack of Accountability?
A lack of accountability in this context refers to the inability or unwillingness to call out your team members and yourself on behaviors that might hurt the team or prevent the team from accomplishing goals and, ultimately, the team’s mission. On the flip side, teams who have accountability commit to decisions and standards for performance and do not hesitate to hold themselves and team members accountable for abiding by established norms, decisions, assignments, benchmarks, and high standards. Teams with low accountability are teams that experience resentment towards those who are held to different performance standards. Teams that are comfortable with mediocrity place blame on others or the team lead and are afraid to address accountability issues with anyone other than the team lead and miss deadlines, benchmarks, and key deliverables. Teams with a high level of accountability do not rely on the team’s leader to set the tone for being accountable. They address responsibility directly with their peers, and they are not afraid to speak up and hold their teammates responsible. When there is a lack of accountability, the dysfunctional teams will decrease expected results and productivity. Your school will struggle to meet objectives, initiative, and ultimately the needs of its students.
When you lack accountability, your team and your school will struggle with retention with teachers and students. When you are accountable, you accept responsibility for what you say you will do and what your team and the school say it will do. Accountable teams are not afraid to fail forward and are not shy to identify problems quickly by asking questions. Teams that are the most successful and productive have collective accountability in your team’s success and failure. If you and your team are accountable, you and your team doesn’t seek to place blame or wallow in failure; instead, they seek to find and take action to resolve and solve problems, and they embrace failure and use it as an opportunity to change or do something different to become more effective and achieve a better result.
Why is accountability necessary?
Having accountability on a team or being accountable for a collective goal means that you are willing to own the outcome, regardless of the result. It also means that you are ready to hold others accountable for behavior that doesn’t match up with the team’s goals and mission.
Dysfunction #4 sinks in when you have a leader or a member on the team who is unwilling to take responsibility for problems or challenges but enjoy taking credit for the team’s wins. Lencioni’s book suggests that mutual and collective accountability on teams can help build a high motivation culture, increased performance and ultimately lead to better results when accomplishing goals, benchmarks, and your team and school’s overall mission. When you have teams with high accountability promotes trust between you and everyone around you on the team. Teams that experience a high level of responsibility are teams that use positive feedback and corrective actions to make themselves and their teams more effective. Team members will recognize the value of their work and the impact that their performance has on the team. When people know that they are valued and vital, they will be more driven to work harder, translating into a high sense of naturally occurring ownership over time. When your team members feel like they have a stake in the outcome, it will eliminate the time and effort spent on activities that take away from the overall goal that needs to be accomplished. By building a culture of accountability, your team will naturally start to avoid ineffective behavior and contribute to increased performance because your team will have increased confidence. When done right, responsibility can improve your team members’ skills and confidence.
Teams need to build a culture of accountability from the start. However, it will be difficult for your team to achieve if your team is still suffering from other dysfunctions mentioned in this series. Taking action to find the root cause of dysfunction on your team will boost your team’s accountability. However, when you focus on building accountability, you are also working toward a culture of trust and not fear, so one of your goals should seek to increase the steam of feedback your team is receiving by not only its members but from others to help you to find and resolve gaps, find solutions to problems. Also, providing rewards for team members who are actively accomplishing their responsibilities with a high level of accountability helps build a highly effective team culture, encouraging behavior that leads to increased accountability.
What does accountability look like on a school team?
Teams with high accountability are those where everyone on the team has a clear understanding of the team’s mission, vision, and goals and a clear understanding of each team member’s responsibility. This helps teams know precisely what is expected and helps team members hold each other accountable by creating a healthy sense of pressure on the team to rise and meet expectations. They are not afraid to address a team member when there is an issue because they feel safe knowing that it is meant constructively. There is value in what is being brought to the team or team members’ attention regarding accountability. To boost accountability, there needs to be a sense of urgency to accomplish the task or assignment. Again, accountable teams are teams that have deadlines and expectations clearly identified by all team members. Also, having a clearly defined rationale for acting helps to inspire more accountability. When team members have accountability and have pressure to be accountable (a sense of urgency), you will recognize increased performance, improved ability to identify and solve gaps, more deadlines met. Tasks being completed more efficiently because teams that operate in this way are more likely to strive to give 100%.
When every team member knows their specific role and requirements or expectations, it will help them have naturally occurring accountability. Leaders and team members who are accountable keep track of their progress and associated deadlines openly, and they make sure that all team members know exactly what is expected of them. Teams that experience a high level of accountability are those that surround themselves in a mission that is clearly defined and bought into. Everyone on the team agrees to live by a specific set of key characteristics and follow a particular set of critical actions to help teams stay focused and know exactly what is expected.
Check out this short clip from Patrick Lencioni talking about the importance of accountability.
Five (5) Tips to get your school team to be more accountable.
1. Keep The Focus on the Goal and the Mission: Above all, your team is working to achieve its mission, so, therefore, the focus must be centered on the goals that will help the team to accomplish this mission. Any behavior that distracts the team from achieving its mission is a waste of time. Holding someone accountable is not personal so being willing to call out someone on your team when they engage in behavior that takes focus away from accomplishing set goals that will achieve the mission is key.
2. Collect and make use of feedback given: Receiving input from others on and outside the team is a great way to encourage increased accountability. There’s power in being comfortable with examining and utilizing the feedback given to help you and your team make decisions. Seek to establish a school culture that accepts peer review and constructive feedback consistently. When teams seek and receive feedback from their peers and others and then utilize it to grow themselves and others on the team, it will increase accountability and improve performance. Establishing a peer review culture and consistent feedback where people feel they can call each other out is an effective way to resolve performance and accountability issues quickly.
3. Embrace the failure leads to a success mindset: Winning is great, but eventually, everyone fails. There’s nothing to be afraid of when you fail except if you fail to learn from it and become more effective. Often, people are fearful of punitive actions when they make a mistake. Sometimes, that is inevitable; however, if you treat failure as an opportunity to learn, you can arrive at the root of the failure and determine what needs to happen to resolve it and move forward stronger than before, you will see results. If you develop a culture at your school and on your team that negates the fear of failure, you will see your accountability skyrocket because they will spend less time being afraid to make a mistake and more time focusing on the task at hand.
4. Develop guiding principles and a set of key characteristics for yourself and your team: Encourages all teams to develop a set of guiding principles that tell you precisely what you should be doing and why and a part of that is having a set of key characteristics that will unite your team as it works to accomplish the team’s mission. This is a great way to clarify what is expected at your school and on your team regardless of your position. Key characteristics are specific traits that are agreed upon by all members that tell its members who they need to become to accomplish their mission (borrowed from Donald Miller’s newest book, Business Made Simple). When you clearly define what is expected, you will see accountability increase naturally.
5. Develop Critical Actions for your team members: Along with creating key characteristics, Donald Miller suggests that teams should also develop at least three critical actions that every person can take to accomplish the mission. When your team establishes critical actions, it will make it easier for poor performers to recognize and feel natural pressure to improve their performance. By having a set of critical actions to follow, your and your teams’ accountability will increase.
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