Holding another person accountable can be a scary thing, even just saying that sounds a big deal. And whilst it is a big deal, it doesn’t need to be scary. Feedback is a skill, and it one that you get much better at the more you practice.
In theory feedback in the context of accountability should be the easiest kind. Your work colleague or partner has made a commitment to you or to the team and in doing so they are implicitly inviting you to give them feedback if they stray from this commitment. Learning to give that feedback constructively and supportively comes with practice, and frequency. If you are giving feedback regularly it is easier to give and easier to receive, eventually it will become a normal and natural interaction on a team.
If they took an action item to do something by the end of the week a polite enquiry on their progress, may serve as a reminder that the task is important and that they have committed to it. There is no need for judgement or pressure and certainly no need to micro-manage. An offer to help or an enquiry if there are any impediments you should be aware of, or can assist with, should be sufficient to reassert the importance of the task and a reminder of the commitment made.
In most cases if someone has taken responsibility and committed to something, they will be happy to be held accountable, especially if you have established trust on the team and have decided as a group this is something important, a good team player understands that group decisions impact all of us and are in all our interests to get it done, so understand and expect you to have an interest in getting it done.
Holding yourself accountable
Holding yourself accountable is much harder, after all if we could see we were slipping we’d do something about it. Which is why it is so important to explicitly ask others to help you with this or to find techniques to help you stay focused on what is important.
There are a couple of very easy techniques for creating opportunities for holding each other accountable. If done right these should lead to more frequent feedback, if they become a constraint and feedback becomes limited to these opportunities then try something new.
A regular stand-up meeting
Get together with your team on a regular basis, a lot of teams find once a day is a good cadence, review priorities, objectives and actions, by sharing what you are working on and where you need help you are inviting input from others, if an action item is being neglected this is an opportunity to ask why or to remind others of the importance of it. Be careful this does not become reporting to someone, this is about sharing information and looking for opportunities to assist each other.
Make your work visible
Something like a Kanban board or a todo list is fantastic for sharing with your team mates what you are working on, you and they can immediately see if an action is not being given priority and can see why or what is. If Kanban is used then priorities of work are clear and your policies are explicit, everyone is clear just by looking, what is going on. The key to maximising the value of this is by ensuring it is used correctly, all tasks are on the board and you follow the rules, ambiguity can ruin this technique.
If combined with a stand-up it can enhance the effectiveness of both techniques. Also whilst Kanban boards are great for team working, they also work well for an individual, many people find a personal Kanban board is a great way of keeping focused on what is important and avoids getting distracted by less important interruptions. and having it visible in a public space too will aid you holding yourself accountable to it.
Always review previous actions
At the start of a team meeting it is important to review the previous action items, and to not lose sight of any that remain outstanding. First the team should be focused on the most important issues, and actions should be the team’s collective view on how best to proceed. If as a team you don’t care enough to want to know how those actions turned out, you have to question your buy-in to those desicions or if your team is actually focused on the right priorities.
Was the purpose achieved?
Remember the reason for the Action item. I would also suggest that an action is the result of a discussion about resolving a problem, satisfying a need, or is progress towards a goal.
Taking some time not only to review whether the action was taken, but also to review whether it achieved it’s purpose would be valuable. It is quite common for an action to not have the expected results, and in that case the underlying issue still needs addressing.
Accountability should become routine, and we can all benefit from being held accountable. If it doesn’t become easier or routine then perhaps there are other underlying problems either with trust on the team or a lack of genuine commitment to decisions.
This is the fourth post on the theme, the five dysfunctions of a team.
The others are available here:
- Is it safe to dance
- Every team needs a maverick
- Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes