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Creating A Culture of Accountability

In his 2002 business classic, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni describes “Avoidance of Accountability” as one of the core behaviors that teams exhibit when they are dysfunctional. In Pat’s words: “In the context of teamwork…it refers specifically to the [un]willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team.”

Creating a culture of accountability in teams is easier said than done. Many teams (even ones where the members have excellent interpersonal relationships) avoid accountability because of the possible discomfort involved with having difficult conversations that may be emotionally charged.

At the 2018 APRA Florida Conference, I will co-led a workshop on this topic with my colleague, Karen Keyser-Benson. We will walk the audience through some exercises to help them create a culture of accountability on their teams. In one of the exercises, Karen an I will demonstrate what an accountability conversation sounds like between a nonprofit manager and employee:

Manager–Will you do X? Employee–(Yes, No, Counter-offer). Yes. I’ll do X. Manager–When will you do it by? Employee–By the close of business next Tuesday. Manager–How will I know? Employee–I’ll review it with you in our 1:1 next Wed.

To establish an environment of accountability, it’s important to do so without judgment or harsh criticism. That is to say; the manager does not “judge” the employee as “bad,” “stupid,” “lazy,” etc., if he or she misses a deadline, chooses to change course (for a good reason), or fails in a task. Of course, should a pattern of missed deadlines/commitments become apparent, then it is incumbent for a manager to have a conversation around performance, and possible dismissal.

In the above example, here’s what the follow-up conversation on a team with a culture of accountability might look like during the following Wednesday 1:1 meeting between the nonprofit manager and employee. Accountability is at the top of the agenda:

Manager–So, how did it go with X? Employee–It’s done (or, it’s not done) Manager–(If done) What was the result? (If not done) Why not? What do you intend to do now? Employee–This was the result. Or, X is no longer necessary because….. Or, I tried X, and it failed, etc. Manager–What did you learn? (always harvest the learning) What’s next?

When I led teams in the corporate sector and non-profit world, we always started the weekly staff meeting with accountability of action items from the previous week. This practice created environments of trust, transparency, and accountability. When such a culture exists on a team, then it is possible for colleagues (not just the leader) to hold their teammates accountable in a similar manner. Especially when inputs are required for work or the action to be taken affects someone else on the team

David Langiulli is an executive coach and trainer who helps nonprofit leaders flourish and thrive.

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