How to make your team more accountable

‘Do as I do’ works a lot better than ‘do as I say’.

by Paul Turnbull
Last Updated: 30 Jul 2020
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How accountable are the people in your team? Do they offer opinions, take responsibility for what they are doing and challenge one another? Do they ask you questions, stretch your thinking and push you to raise your game?

Increasing accountability in teams is tough at the best of times and even harder when managing remotely. But there’s plenty you can do.

It starts with you.

In their book Extreme Ownership, retired Navy Seals Jocko Willink and Leif Babin talk with great authority and personal experience about what it takes to build personal and team accountability.

While the theatre of war represents a very different environment to the one most employees experience on Civvy Street, there are useful lessons to learn and embed if you are looking to improve the levels of personal responsibility shown by the people you manage.

What you do every day can mean the difference between a team where members trust one another, move forward in unison and willingly follow you, or one where members are not prepared to make decisions themselves for fear of reprisal.

So, what can you do to develop extreme ownership?

Have belief in the plan

You may not have the luxury of conceiving the new organisational mission or target, but it is your job to communicate it in a way that’s meaningful and motivational to your people.

To help, clarify the details of the plan when you hear it. Ask why to challenge the person who leads you and to understand the rationale behind the direction. 

This will increase not just your knowledge of the goal, but your understanding of the why that drives it. And you can bet that your team will want to know so they can make sense of what they are being asked to do.

Communicate with simplicity

Now more than ever, people need to feel inspired. So, while you might be tempted to show off your PowerPoint skills on a Zoom call or believe that your team will want every detail to feel reassured, the reality is that on first pass at least, people will remember how they felt more than they’ll remember the detail.

Consequently, focus your efforts on making your message clear, succinct and sticky. Deliver key messages. Think about what you want people to think, feel and do as a result, and open it up for questions.

Set and live team standards

Work with your team to identify genuinely meaningful and specific behaviours that people can expect of one another. Don’t fudge this with generic clichés. Get into the detail to explore what distinguishes one version of a standard from another. 

And commit.

Having done that, keep them front of mind. Monitor and measure so success can be reinforced, and missteps addressed. 

Remember, it’s not what you preach but what you tolerate that truly sets the standards for a team. If people slip, call it out. Very quickly, people will start to become aware of what really matters. They’ll take personal ownership for their actions, hold one another accountable, and keep you on point too.

Manage your ego

Arguably the most important. You’re human. You’ll make errors. It’s how you respond when you do that will influence whether your people choose to follow you or not.

When things get tricky, admit mistakes. Concede the point with grace. Be honest when you need advice. Don’t pass the buck or blame the world. 

Conversely, when it all goes well, stay humble. Endow others with success. Celebrate together but then go again and trust people to deliver. 

People will follow what you do more than what you say, so ultimately it’s down to you to live how you want your team to live, every single day.

Paul Turnbull is director of management development company

Image credit: Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images


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