Five Dysfunctions of a Team: Accountability
This will be part of a 5-part series about the five common dysfunctions of a team to create more awareness on common issues and explore potential solutions. In case you’re not familiar with the framework, this book was written by Patrick Lencioni, founder and president of The Table Group (a firm that has been helping leaders improve their organizational health since 1997). This framework has stood the test of time and highlights important learnings for leaders in the workplace now more than ever.
The third pillar of the 5 dysfunctions is Avoidance of Accountability at work.
What is Avoidance of Accountability? According to Lencioni, this refers to “how willing members are to call each other on their actions/performance that could have a negative effect on the team.”
At the heart of this dysfunction is a fear of the discomfort that comes from calling out a peer on his or her behavior and the avoidance of unpleasant conversations. Sometimes, this is a result of feeling like it’s not safe or dangerous to enter this kind of territory in a workplace.
Even in high-performing teams, accountability is sometimes tricky to navigate because of the potential damage that it does to personal relationships. However, we consistently see that when team members hold each other accountable in a safe way, relationships improve and so does the team’s performance.
Here’s How Avoidance of Accountability at Work Can Feel:
- Disproportionate workload: Remember the kid that carried the team project on his or her shoulders in school while the rest of the teammates put in less effort? That can certainly still happen in the workplace. Avoidance of accountability can lead to people not having honest conversations about colleagues who aren’t pulling their weight in their job, thereby adding more workload onto their peers. This can lead to resentment and passive aggressive decay of trust in that person and in that person’s manager for not intervening.
- Lower standards: One bad apple can spoil the bunch. If you have a teammate who is not accountable for his or her work and is under-delivering without consequences, this sends a signal to others in the organization that one can get away with lower standards without major repercussions. It’s only human to then assume that others may start to slack off more at work, which will ultimately lower the standards of the team.
- Unclear expectations: Members of a team who value accountability may struggle with expectations if they are not clear or if they aren’t being standardized amongst their colleagues. Team commitment to expectations for delivery will then waver.
- Tension. Oftentimes, low accountability in one team can lead to tension with other teams and teammates. This will add pressure on team leaders to intervene and become disciplinarians, which is not ideal. Instead, before it reaches a boiling point, team leaders should find ways to diffuse the situation and facilitate healthy conversation about the issues that are going unsaid with their team members. Creating a safe environment for employees to have these conversations directly with each other is a critical solve for this.
Ways to Improve Avoidance of Accountability:
- Publish goals and standards. Openly commit to goals and standards for your team, and hold each other accountable for adhering by them.
- Review progress on a regular basis. Have honest and transparent conversations with your teams and stakeholders on how you are progressing against your stated goals and standards. Invite feedback and healthy debate, and help other teams also benefit from the same feedback to drive accountability as well.
- Reward the team rather than individuals. Creating shared goals and accountability among each team member in achieving them is a great way to motivate the group. On high-performing teams, there is no better way to maintain high standards than some healthy peer pressure. When an individual is worried about letting down their fellow team mates, they’re more likely to step up their performance.
- Role of a leader: If the team fails, the leader should take responsibility for improvements. One huge aspect of this is creating an environment where colleagues can have direct and open conversation with each other to hold each other accountable without needing the leader to step in as the disciplinarian. The leader can help support in holding the teams accountable and intervene as needed, but ideally should not be the first line of defense.
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