Author Patrick Lencioni created a fictional leader named Kathryn who takes on the challenge of turning around the performance of a technology company in his New York Times Bestselling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a TeamThe fourth dysfunction is “Avoidance of Accountability.”  In explaining this particular dysfunction, Kathryn points out that it is easy to let Carlos, the Vice President of the company “off the hook” for not fulfilling commitments because of his position and the fact that he contributes so much to the team.  She goes on to say that it is not easy to hold anyone accountable, even your own kids!  Sometimes it is hard because the person is so helpful, they tend to get defensive or because they are intimidating.  Do the members of your team let each other “off the hook” for these or numerous other reasons?

For most firms, the answer is unfortunately “yes.”   Mostly it is because holding someone accountable or “calling them out” for lack of performance feels uncomfortable.  We don’t want to make people feel bad, make things worse, cause an argument or (gasp!) have other people call us out for our own lack of performance.  But, fortunately, there is a way to create a culture of accountability in your firm without having to be a jerk about it.  There are systems that you can put in place and words that you can use to hold people accountable in a way that is honest, specific, and direct, but respectful and tactful.
Here are three things that you can do to improve your ability to hold your team (and yourself) accountable:

    1. Publish Commitments, Goals and Expectations – At ConvergenceCoaching, we have always been big believers in writing meeting recaps that clearly state who is responsible for doing what and by-when they committed to do it.  It is much, much harder to hold someone accountable for something that has not been clearly documented.  Performance expectations and roles and responsibilities should also be clearly documented to help you and your team understand what is expected and hold each other accountable.  In the words of Patrick Lencioni: “Ambiguity is the enemy of accountability.”

    2. Hold Simple and Regular Progress Reviews – The published commitments, goals, and expectations won’t be very effective if nobody ever refers back to them or whips them out at meetings to check in on the status of individual commitments.  This is where meetings can actually be a very important part of your accountability structure.  If team members know that the recap containing their previously made commitments are going to be reviewed at future meetings, they are more likely to fulfill on their commitments.  It is a form of peer pressure and it uses the natural human desire to avoid looking bad to accomplish higher levels of accountability – but it does work and it is a powerful motivator!
    1. Improve Your Ability to Effectively yet Respectfully “Call People Out”  – Lencioni describes the essence of the fourth dysfunction as the tendency to avoid conflict and unwillingness to tolerate the interpersonal discomfort that accompanies calling a peer out on his or her behavior.  He points out that members of great teams overcome these natural inclinations, opting instead to “enter the danger zone” with one another.  In last week’s blog post, ConvergenceCoaching, LLC Partner Jack Lee wrote “The most common responses to conflict are to avoid it altogether, to accommodate or “pretend” you’re okay with what is happening, to get angry and dominate others into submission or to “triangulate” with others about the conflict with no intention of resolving it.”  He went on to point out that high performing and successful organizations recognize that conflict can be a good thing when it highlights problems, promotes changes through collaboration, and ultimately strengthens togetherness. Follow this link to read Jack’s blog post in its entirety: We Are Meant to Be Together.

Another great resource for conducting difficult conversations is a book entitled Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, which contains some very useful strategies and insights.

For some firms it is especially challenging to hold the partners of the firm accountable.  It is a very common challenge and the firms that can do it effectively will set themselves apart from the competition and achieve the greatest results and levels of success.  If this is a challenge that hits home for you and your firm, check out our webinar recording entitled,  “Enhancing Partner Performance and Accountability In Your Firm.” Visit our Learning Center for more information:

If you practice the above three strategies, you will find that people will demonstrate higher levels of accountability.   What can you do this week to be more clear about performance expectations?  Can you commit to summon (or develop) the courage to “call someone out” when they are not producing the results that the team expects?  These are not easy things to do but they do separate the greatest leaders from the mediocre ones and the great teams from the good ones.

Please let us know what successes and challenges you experience as you strive to create your own culture of accountability.

Best regards,

Michelle Baca

P.S . If you haven’t read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and are just dying to know what the other four are, here is a list of all five dysfunctions:

  • Absence of Trust
  • Fear of Conflict
  • Lack of Commitment
  • Avoidance of Accountability
  • Inattention to Results