Project Management Professional (PMP)® Articles - Owning It: Six Ways To Build Accountability into Your Teams

Owning It: Six Ways To Build Accountability into Your Teams

One of the hardest things anyone has to do is admit that they missed the mark. When a football team loses the game, the star players and the coach have to discuss what happened and answer prodding questions from the press about what went wrong. It isn't fun, and it's undoubtedly uncomfortable. Nevertheless, practicing this can lead to some meaningful reflection.

Outside of communication, accountability is one of the most critical attributes a project manager can promote amongst their team members. The concept is a strong one because we live in a society where perfection is seen as attainable. Unfortunately, everyone is going to make a mistake—this is just a fact of life. And while we all know this, it's easy to act like this fact doesn't exist.

Accountability is critical to improvement, so it needs to be an essential skill for your team members to hone. How can you help them with this? Here are our tips for building accountability into your teams:

Determine and Communicate Expectations

Before you hold your team members accountable, you have to determine what they are accountable for. It is crucial that you work with each team member to develop relevant and attainable goals and objectives—SMART goals are a great example of this. These can be overall company goals, but at some point, they should also be goals that are personalized to each team member. In addition to communicating expectations, it's critical to also routinely offer feedback to give your team members the tools to stay accountable.

According to Gallup, 47 percent of workers received feedback from their managers "a few times or less" in the year before Gallup did the study—which was 2019. If you are going to institute a culture of accountability, you have to communicate your expectations so your team members understand what they need to do and answer for.

Promote a Culture of Experimentation

Would you push a new initiative if your job depended on its success? Well, this is the case in many workplaces. You have to create an environment where it is okay to experiment and possibly "fail." Game-changing ideas don't come from people who are afraid to get a little messy.

Therefore, you have to recognize that you need to allow your employees to feel okay about trying new things. In this way, you can make it much easier for them not only to try something new but feel okay to own up to the mistakes they have made—if any— so they can learn from them.

Set a Time to Discuss the Conflict

As human beings, it is expected that we will, at some point, be on the opposite sides of issues. We are all not meant to agree on everything—which helps in a team atmosphere. Nevertheless, you want to ensure that conflict is still handled effectively. So, be sure to work with both parties to set up a time to discuss the situation. This move not only lets them know that you are taking the problem seriously but that you are taking the first step to validate each of their feelings. Also, use your best judgment here. You may decide to speak to each person separately to create a conflict management strategy and then bring everyone together. Be fluid and flexible in how you approach this part of the process. Again, don't be afraid to use the help of your HR team in setting this up.

Connect Accountability With Growth

No one ever likes to feel like they are missing the mark. Therefore, your team members mustn't feel as if they are personally singled out if they need to improve. One of the most impactful things you can do is connect being accountable with growth.

You want to ensure that your team members understand that your feedback is a tool they can use to help them grow. This action can encourage them to be honest about what they need to fix, leading to a greater tendency to be open and accountable. Accountability isn't a bad word, and connecting it with growth can take away some of the word's negative stigmas so your team members can healthily accept feedback.

Lead By Example

According to a study by Partners In Leadership, 84 percent of survey respondents cited the way leaders behaved as the single most important factor influencing accountability in their organization. Your team members are looking up to you. You can model the type of accountability behavior that you want to see in them. Doing this means admitting things like making a mistake on a project or owning up to missing a deadline.

When you make this part of your workplace personality, you are sending a message that even though you didn't get it right, you handled it maturely and respectfully. On a football team, the players take their cues from the coach. When the guy in charge gets in front of the team to admit he messed up, it's easier for everyone else to take their share of the blame to get better.

Ask Your Team Members How You Can Promote Accountability

At its core, accountability comes right back to good communication. You may think you are communicating effectively, but your team members might not feel the same. Resultantly, a great first step could be asking your team how you can best facilitate direct communication about accountability. This action could include asking:

  • How can we improve our team communication?
  • How often would you like to have one-on-one feedback?
  • Do we need to revisit the goals?

It's always a good idea to involve your team in making the best decisions to promote communication and accountability.

Reward Those Who Exhibit This Trait

Accountability isn't easy to show. Therefore, it is crucial that you bring attention to those who do it and offer positive reinforcement. For example, if you have an employee that was in charge of a part of a project, step forward to discuss how things didn't work out, and acknowledge them for their honesty.

Discuss why it was helpful that they shared the information and walk through how things could have been different. Always highlight when team members take on accountability. This action will set a precedent in your office that this is behavior that is seen as favorable and desired. Before you know it, this will become the norm amongst your team.

Accountability Doesn't Have to be a Bad Word

Accountability isn't everyone's favorite word. Again, it's never easy to admit when you may have messed up. Either way, discussing what went wrong is a way to grow and improve, which puts your team on the path to do their best work.

The tactics above can help you develop a plan where you can support your team members in being transparent and honest about their work. Additionally, taking on this mantle can even inspire your company to begin to embrace a culture of accountability. The more everyone "owns" the work they do, the better off your teams and the customers you serve will be.


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