Simplifying Team Accountability

Published: December 3, 2019

As the primary driver of team trust, accountability is elusive. Meeting deadlines, keeping promises and behaving in a way that is true to company values are examples of the daily contributions we all make to team wellness. In a culture of accountability, only exceptions to these behaviors are noticed. When getting a pass is the norm, following through with commitments gets celebrated as special. So, how do you build a culture of accountability?

Begin by examining the function of accountability in the cycle of team wellness. In the big picture, it is the glue that holds trust together. Teams begin with a statement of mission, values and vision. Unless teammates’ words and actions consistently reflect this statement, trust is compromised. Strong team trust creates a platform for innovation. When that platform is weakened, teammates become cautious and hesitate to experiment. The energy of the team coalesces around resisting change rather than enabling it.

Simplifying team accountability starts with understanding its role in supporting mission and enabling growth. When the mission is clear and non-negotiable, evaluating whether team behavior is aligned is easy. Every action either advances or restrains trust. The foundation supporting innovation either strengthens or weakens. Everyone, regardless of role, contributes either negatively or positively to the team’s ability to move forward.

Try this exercise. Take a big question like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is my purpose on this earth?” and answer it in one sentence. It forces you to get extremely clear about what is important. If you own your answer to such questions, your answer becomes a reliable guide for all words and behaviors.

Now apply the same exercise to your team’s mission. Whittle it down to one simple sentence. Get consensus. Once all teammates memorialize their agreement, you can begin measuring everyone’s engagement. Every word counts. Every action matters.    

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.