Accountability is a term that gets overused in the workplace and thus loses some of its power. Here’s a good definition from Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

“When it comes to teamwork, I define accountability as the willingness of team members to remind one another when they are not living up to the performance standards of the group.”

Here’s why team accountability is so important:

“Peer pressure and the distaste for letting down a colleague will motivate a team player more than any fear of authoritative punishment or rebuke.”

What really works in groups of people working together is peer-to-peer accountability and it’s stronger than any fear of punishment from a supervisor. And, like the other dysfunctions of teams I’ve been posting about, when team accountability is lacking, it contributes to project failures.

Teams with Poor Accountability

If you fail to reverse lack of commitment in team members, dysfunctions will intensify. Team members lose their sense of purpose. If there’s little buy-in, there’s no desire to meet obligations, follow directions or help others.

Lack of accountability is most common in environments where progress isn’t adequately assessed and definitive project schedules don’t exist.

When directions are unclear and roles are ill defined, people have less impetus to account for their performance or progress. In extreme cases, progress is not even possible. Lack of clarity has people confused, frustrated or apathetic.

There can even be uncertainty as to who is on the team. Members may shift on or off, or have duties reversed, dropped or unspecified. People will have no sense of interdependency, and the team’s reason for existence is lost.

Work toward establishing clear directions, standards and expectations. All team members need to work with the same information set at all times. Realistic, understandable schedules help drive activities and allow work flow to meet interconnected goals.

Activity tracking methods should clearly report which tasks are on time and which are late. Corrective action plans should make the necessary adjustments and redirect activities accordingly. Accountability can be restored under inclusive project management. People will want to avoid letting down their boss and each other.

What happens where you work? I’d love to hear from you. As always, I can be reached here or on LinkedIn.

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