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The Importance of Accountability in Teams

Creating a culture of accountability is not just about the individual. It is also about the team and acknowledging that your actions affect other team members’ abilities to accomplish their goals. For high-performing teams, accountability is a key ingredient.

I have seen this firsthand in my former career as a World Cup mogul skier. I had many great coaches, but one coach in particular instilled a strong culture of accountability to the team. At the time, I thought it was a bit over the top. As I look back now, I realize just how valuable that culture was to team performance and in creating a sense of team comradery.

The Importance of Accountability in Teams: The Canadian Ski Team

To put it in perspective for you, imagine being on team where you travel ten months out of the year as a group. This means countless trips in rental vans — from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the ski hill, etc… That is how it was for us on the Canadian ski team. We were always travelling.

Now, before this coach, I generally thought, just as most people, that being two minutes late is no big deal. However, I soon learned that it was a big deal. Here is why: if you have ten people waiting for you, that is like two minutes times ten people (because each person has had to wait those two minutes) — and twenty minutes is a big deal (apply this to a business setting, where you are paying the salary for that lost time for each employee, and it starts to add up). So, this perspective had to change.

Looking at it this way, the coach effectively established a culture of accountability. Not only did we need to be there on time, we needed to start on time. What does that mean? We needed to arrive five minutes early so that we were prepared and ready to start. The coach not only changed our view of time, he gave us a new perspective: a team perspective.

Business Is a Team Sport

Businesses are increasingly using team-based approaches to accomplish work. Even when they do not espouse the team philosophy, we have organizations with people who must work interdependently to accomplish their tasks. How often is one person’s task dependent on the completion of another person’s task in order to proceed? We depend on each other to accomplish tasks. Therefore, we cannot have an individual perspective and hope to accomplish organization-wide goals.

Just as my coach did, managers can foster a team perspective and a culture of accountability to ensure that employees adopt behaviors and approaches that strengthen the team. One way to do this is to adapt the way you set expectations for workplace accountability.

Workplace Accountability

When setting expectations for accountability, encourage employees understand the team perspective. Remember — it is not about the two minutes they lose, but the combined lost time and productivity of everyone on the team. In the workplace, the ability to accomplish things will directly affect everyone else’s ability to accomplish their goals as well.

If your deliverable is only “a few days late” it could mean that other members miss their deadlines because they are held up — and ultimately the team misses the mark. Setting expectations can ensure you and your team members are aligned and ready to perform.

Workplace accountability is about acknowledging what is on the line for the team and using it to motivate employees to achieve their goals. It is a simple, but very effective approach to avoid mistakes and to improve overall performance and productivity.

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