I was recently asked by a prospective client what behaviour is the most difficult to develop in teams. There is, of course, no right answer to this but in my experience, achieving a good level of Team Accountability is right up there.
Team Accountability measures and rewards team performance. It drives team members to cooperate to achieve greater success on a collective basis.
And a good level of accountability has been shown to be directly correlated to effective teamwork and business results and is hence a very important part of the puzzle. The difficulty with Team Accountability is that there needs to be trust within the team first, there needs to be a good level of conflict management and commitment too. But Team Accountability also relies on other, external factors.
The role of the reward and people evaluation system
What if an organisation is still using culture and people managing approach that is based on mostly measuring and rewarding individual performance for example? The team members will resist putting the team before individual motives as it may harm their personal evaluation and career progression. Behaviours that align with rewarding individual performance are favoured over behaviours that promote collective performance. There is clearly a conflict of interest here that needs to be addressed and there may not be any quick fixes.
The influence of the Company Culture
Another point that makes work on accountability challenging for Team Coaches is that the person who is correctly calling out unproductive behaviour by a teammate may pay a personal price for doing so in terms of lost social support by the group. Traditionally, we are taught not to give negative feedback without asking permission to do so first. And we are certainly not supposed to do it in front of other people. So even if the negative feedback was given in a tactful and productive way this behaviour may be seen as going against the unwritten rules and existing cultural norms of the group, the team and the organisation. The consequence is that there might be a lack of managerial courage and willingness to hold people accountable in teams – directly undermining the prospect of achieving Team Accountability. In this example, the company culture is the main hindering block of creating an effective team. Time and effort will need to be allocated to addressing what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and that is part of changing the culture itself. And this is definitely not something done in a day’s work!
The influence of remote work
It is hard to align on expectations and communication takes more effort when working remotely
Team Accountability relies on aligning expectations and when work is conducted remotely team members miss out on natural opportunities to build alignment and ask questions. It is often harder to know what is expected on projects and in certain roles. This in turn can lead to unnecessary work and misunderstandings. Teammates might feel like someone is not pulling their weight, when in fact, it is not that person’s responsibility, or they did not know it was in the first place. Therefore, working remotely makes it harder for a team to be good at accountability and this, in turn, may affect business results.
With remote work team members and team leaders may also feel the pressure to report more on progress from the top. There might be a sense of losing control or wanting to give added support by the leaders. Even with the best of intentions, this may come across as micromanagement.
Then there is of course the feeling that might affect some team members of losing touch with colleagues and context when working from home. When team goals are not talked about casually and regularly in the office they seem less important and move to the background. People may start to forget why they do what they do and to doubt if their work is impactful which in turn results in lower motivation and engagement. With a loss of momentum work stalls and may result in people starting to focus more on individual work instead of collaborating on priority projects. Team performance suffers and everyone feels it. This is when accountability gets really tough, and the team may need help reconnecting with its purpose and improved focus on how it communicates with each other.
Build a foundation of accountability in teams
Of course, behavioural work in other areas such as trust, conflict management, and commitment may also face obstacles that can only be addressed by the whole organisation. The point is that I want to highlight here – and I was hoping to make clear to our prospective client – is, that a Team Coach can only be as successful as the system allows. Team Coaching cannot succeed by only looking inwards to changes within the team itself but needs to take into account all of its stakeholders and circumstances.
There needs to be a managerial will and preparedness to work with the team members and the Team Coach by the leadership to remove the obstacles that exist in the organisation to achieve a high level of Team Accountability.
And achieving Team Accountability takes time - as do all transformational lasting change. Working with a Team Coach should be seen as a medium to long-term commitment. Learning new behaviours needs practice and should be implemented gradually. A Team Coach can help maintain momentum and make sure the learning becomes part of the DNA of the team.
Accountability should be something that is constantly on the agenda – it is that important for team performance over time. A team coach can help build systems for accountability into everyday work. This will help with performance discussions and building healthy habits around planning and goal-setting.
Investment in the team and individual accountability is needed to achieve effective teams!
At Permanent Beta we are passionate about partnering with organisations that aim to achieve better team performance. We understand the complexity of transformational initiatives and know where and how we as external Team Coaches can make the most impact. We also live Coaching – we don’t ‘do’ Coaching which means our clients experience our approach in the first conversation with us.
We would love to hear from you and learn how we can support you! Call us for an initial conversation about your needs.