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Spotting the Signs of an Uninterested Team + 6 Ways To Improve Team Accountability

Finding out your team is underperforming should not be something you realize after your clients. Dysfunction within your workplace is something you need to recognize and act on far before it becomes a problem and issues with team accountability can be behind many other workplace problems. A culture of accountability can be hard to put in place if you have no base to work from, but it can make a significant difference to your team’s ability to perform.

Accountability is essential for an effective and happy workforce. Research by Anne Loehr found 84% of the workforce describes itself as “trying but failing” or “avoiding” accountability, even when they know what to fix. The same study also found that 80% of respondents consider accountability as punishing, which is not the image it should have. Fostering team accountability should be a positive development for your company and something everyone can benefit from. Unfortunately, many employees don’t have a full understanding of what it even means and relate it closely to the concept of blame.

The Difference between Blame and Accountability

Accountability is not the same as blame or punishment, but many view it this way. To be accountable simply means to claim responsibility for your own actions and the results that occur due to them, good or bad. Accountability means looking for solutions to problems and using lessons from past mistakes to inform future decisions and drive results. Holding yourself accountable is constructive and a chance to learn, not an opportunity to be considered culpable and at fault.

Blame does incorporate accountability, but only in the sense that you are accountable for guilty actions. Blame reminds us of school and childhood and is accompanied by emotional responses not appropriate for the workplace. What’s more, it’s a negative concept which involves passing on the responsibility for a poor outcome, often with no solutions offered. Accountability is all about solutions and moving forward, learning from actions in the past.

Tell-Tale Signs of Accountability Issues in your Team

There are some clear warning signs that a team is suffering from an accountability problem and as a manager, your responsibility is to find solutions to this. Consider these tell-tale signs:

1. Unprofessional Communication

Of course, emotions sometimes run high in the workplace, but if you’re regularly dealing with employees who can’t easily express themselves without excessive emotion, you may have a problem on your hands. Anger is a clear red flag, as it is very rarely a first-time response and may be a sign someone has been experiencing an ongoing frustration which hasn’t been dealt with. Something as simple as sarcastic comments or muttering should be picked upon before they turn into full blown anger.

Employees feeling anxious and stressed is also a sign of team members feeling overwhelmed, undirected or without any particular focus. Passive aggressive emails, gossiping and other unprofessional activities should be closely monitored to ensure they don’t develop further, and you should consider carefully whether your team are struggling with accountability.

2. Unowned Tasks and Jobs

The need to ask or push employees to carry out routine tasks which should be standard, is a small indication of a lack of responsibility within the team. This could very quickly become much more serious if not dealt with. Tasks which don’t belong to anyone should be assigned by management but sometimes, despite this, they still get lost amongst the other day-to-day work and this is something you need to put a stop to. Prolonged micromanagement or low professional confidence can also lead to employees taking no responsibility and having no accountability for their work. This issue can escalate quite quickly if you find employees passing the blame or shifting responsibility onto others within the team. This shows a distinct lack of team loyalty and togetherness. Diffusion of responsibility is a well-known psychological phenomenon which suggests people are less likely to act when part of a large group. In a work environment it can significantly impact on team productivity so needs to be dealt with swiftly.

3. 100% Agreement

Everyone agreeing all the time may seem like a good thing, especially if it sounds like they’re agreeing with your management decisions. However, nobody ever disagreeing with anything can be toxic in the workplace. It can be due to no one wanting to assume responsibility but for a team to be productive and effective you need different viewpoints, opinions, and ideas. Critical thinking is one of the most valuable soft skills an employee can develop and if everyone simply nods along, there is no opportunity to grow and offer something to the business.

4. Unmotivated and Disassociated

The workplace isn’t somewhere you visit for entertainment and fun, but it shouldn’t be a dull and disconnected environment either. Any drop in motivation and the general atmosphere in your team should never go unnoticed. The first signs of a disengaged and unmotivated team may be subtle. You may feel a lack of fun or contentment around the offer or a lack of chatter or interest when a new project comes in. Employees may no longer show any interest in learning new skills or takin on new work.

More obvious signs include lateness and an increase in sick days. You can’t immediately assume there is a problem, but good managers should be across all these issues and keep an eye on any patterns forming.

A lack of motivation also leads to a drop in productivity and this in turn will affect business success and your bottom line.

5. Us vs Them Culture

If your team feel hostile towards management then the same is probably true of you to them. You may have the belief they never complete tasks on time, are lazy and unfocused. On the other hand, they may feel you provide no direction and no clear guidance for what is expected of them. Very quickly resentment builds up and a barrier can form between management and the rest of the team. You can quickly fall into the role of the aggressor while team members feel less and less motivated to try their best and work towards their objectives. While you’re busy holding them accountable for everything, they are doing the same about you and nothing is achieved.

6. Problems Are Never Fully Resolved

Every workplace has issues, but they should be resolved, and you should never have to worry about them again. In a team with an accountability problem, you may hear the same discussions about the same problems coming up time and again. Recurring issues are never fully dealt with because, once again, no one is taking responsibility for the situation.

Often, unclear goals or a lack of understanding of who should be carrying out which role is at the heart of the issue, and this is a management concern.

Rebooting your Team and Instilling Accountability

Any of the signs above should be enough for you to reconsider your approach to team management and look for ways to instill accountability and motivation back into your employees. Most of the issues above can be stopped before they become a business-wide concern. With the right approach, you should be able to show the team that accountability is something that benefits them individually as well as the wider business. Consider the following points when working on a better future for your team:

1. Check Yourself

As the manager and so responsible for the team you should first look at yourself and your role in the problem. How can your team hope to be accountable if you aren’t accountable first? Should you be doing more to support your team and how can you do it? Be open and transparent, communicate with team members and make it clear you are not there to apportion blame, but find workable solutions that everyone can get on board with.

2. Create a Safe Workspace

Once you have reflected on your role in the problem, it’s time to turn to your employees and discuss theirs. Remember you don’t want to create a fearful or stressful environment and you are looking to help and support your employees understand the importance of taking responsibility and being held accountable for their work. Consider your tone and the way you ask and form questions. Position any discussion as a business challenge and something you can solve as a team, rather than finger-pointing and blaming exercise.

Ask questions about specific issues such as “I’ve noticed you’ve needed a little more time than usual to complete your work” for an employee who has missed some deadlines. You can then provide relevant examples and position yourself as someone who can help and support. Ask what you and the team can do to make things more manageable and make decisions based on their responses. For some employees being recognized as struggling is enough for them to feel acknowledged and they may like the challenge to push forward and return to their best.

Listening and actually hearing your employees’ points of view will help you create a better environment for success. Maybe you need regular catch-up meetings, or your team would benefit from additional meetings or feedback sessions.

3. Find Solutions Together

Once you have spoken to your team about your concerns, you need to work together to find the appropriate solutions. You can suggest new strategies such as mentorship, additional training or even the opportunity to step back from some duties, to help individuals feel more comfortable in their roles. You should also listen to what they believe they need to succeed and perform better at work. A mutually agreed set of objectives is much easier to work towards and be accountable for, than ones that management have laid out without any discussion.

4. Provide the Tools for Success

When looking at your own role in the problem, you may find you have been expecting employees to achieve more than is possible with the resources they have available. It is up to you to set your team up for success. Set realistic objectives and expectations which can be met and if exceeded, you can re-evaluate your position and set new goals. Utilize your talent effectively and delegate where tasks are too much for one person.

5. Track Progress and Celebrate Success

Once you have a plan in principle, put it down in writing so there can be no confusion about what is expected. Clear and defined goals are much harder for employees to claim something is not their responsibility and the team should have a much clearer collective focus. Useful tools for tracking and managing your new approach to your team include:

·         A public written list of all team roles and responsibilities

·         Scorecards and tick lists that measure outcomes

·         Regularly scheduled check-ins

·         Metrics software that tracks performance

·         Weekly team meetings

·         Progress reports

·         Interactive checklists

·         Project plans with future goals mapped out

Never forget the value of recognition and celebrating when things go well, this shows your team the benefits of being accountable for their work and boosts motivation. A team that has suffered from accountability problems in the past will particularly appreciate the recognition of their successes and use this positive experience as motivation for future projects.

Hold yourself Accountable and the Team will Follow

A team that puts no value on accountability takes no responsibility for their work. Very quickly this can escalate to issues with workflow, missed deadlines, and unsatisfied clients. The solution is showing your team just how important it is to be accountable for their actions and the benefits of being so.

Leading by example and starting with yourself shows the team that you recognize the need for change and aren’t afraid to take the first step. They will soon follow, and you can all reap the benefits of a fully accountable and work-focused team.

Six Ways Managers can improve Team Accountability

Accountability can be a loaded word and one which many teams and employees can even be afraid of. Accountability refers to the willingness to accept personal responsibility for your actions and it is an integral element of all successful teams.

Most of us have worked on teams where the balance has seemed off. Some routinely miss deadlines or are vague in their project delivery times. Others have leaders and management structures that rely heavily on micromanagement and obsessive checking of every detail. These environments tend to develop where there is no culture of accountability.

Why does Accountability Matter?

Aside from not wanting to work in a team like those above, accountability is a key force in fostering better working relationships and job satisfaction. Accountability helps teams work more effectively together, as individuals are empowered to work to their highest level and this, in turn, fuels better teamwork. Mastering individual accountability is the first step towards team accountability, and team accountability provides both the drive and support needed to succeed. Accountability is closely linked to employee engagement and Gallup reports that high levels of engagement with employees help teams outperform competitors and can result in as much as 21% increased profitability.

Management personnel are essential to improving accountability within their teams. It has become a more prevalent problem as more employees are working remotely too, with 25% of remote managers claiming a lack of accountability is one of the biggest hurdles they have to contend with. Worryingly, further research has shown that 93% of employees don’t understand what their team is trying to accomplish, so finding accountability within such a structure is going to be difficult. 

The steps to fostering accountability in a remote team are much the same as face-to-face. You may find you need to include additional catch-ups and feedback to ensure team members feel a part of the organization. Open lines of communication can be difficult when working remotely, so take the time to set up the right tools, schedule time for each employee and ensure team meetings still take place via your chosen video conferencing tool.

Good managers should be using all their leadership training and insight to help foster team accountability and to motivate the whole team, both in-office and remotely. Forget about stress, micromanagement and over surveillance of your team and consider these six ways to improve team accountability.

1. Define and Maintain Clear Expectations from Day One

A lot of team accountability issues come from a lack of direction and no understanding of what you expect from your employees. Clarity is vital for any degree of all accountability. Employees can’t feel accountable for something they aren’t clearly aware is their responsibility. Every project and task should have set actions and outcomes, with defined measurements for each outcome and how team members can achieve each outcome.

Outcomes and expectations should be discussed and agreed upon between you and your team members. Some managers miss the importance of including their team in this stage, simply handing out directives, and expecting results. For accountability from your team, you need to involve them in the whole process from the beginning.

Partners in Leadership’s Workplace Accountability Study found just how important clear expectations are for the success of any business. Their research found a lack of clarity around key results meant 70% of respondents felt their organization’s key results were “in jeopardy or altogether doomed”.

Setting measurable goals and outcome expectations gives employees something to focus on and aim for. The measurability is particularly important as it removes any space for vagueness or lack of achievement. For example, managers should not simply say “You need to increase the business’ social media presence”. Instead, be specific, say: “You need to increase our website page views by 5000 this month” or “You need to increase our Instagram followers by 100-200 month-on-month”. Setting figures to work towards makes it easier for employees to understand their focus.

It’s also important to remember that setting expectations isn’t the end. You must also schedule regular check-ins and provide progress reports to keep everyone on track. If any goals or targets are missed, the team should find solutions.

2. Provide the Resources needed

If you expect your employees and teams to succeed, they need to have the tools to do so. In an article for Harvard Business Review, Bregman Partners CEO Peter Bregman says “If the person does not have what’s necessary, can they acquire what’s missing? If so, what’s the plan? If not, you’ll need to delegate to someone else. Otherwise, you’re setting them up for failure.”

It’s an obvious statement. Employees without the tools to succeed are more likely to blame outside sources for their lack of success. Understandably, how can they feel accountable if they never felt prepared for the task in the first place?

While blaming your tools is not an appropriate answer to not performing your job properly, if you have no access to the resources needed to succeed, then how can you achieve your goals? As a manager, you should always ensure you assign tasks to the right person for the job and if they have the potential but need additional resources, that’s your responsibility too.

3. Foster Strong Connections

For your team members to feel accountable for what they do, they need to feel a connection to their work. There are different ways you can create this connection including:

· Connect all work to the goals of the wide company – employees will feel more motivated, engaged and accountable if they understand how their work contributes to the wider organization.

· Connect all work to their personal and professional goals – help your employees to understand how their current work and tasks will help them achieve their long-term career aspirations.

· Connect work-related issues to finding solutions – empowering your employees to find their own solutions gives them ownership of their projects.

· Connect employees with their team members – promote collaboration and ensure your employees feel involved and part of their team. This helps them feel like they are important to the team and invested in each other.

4. Give Honest Feedback Always

Constructive feedback is essential for an effective workplace, but it isn’t always easy. Constructive, actionable feedback helps to increase accountability too. For employees to hold themselves accountable, they need to know where they stand and as a manager, it is your responsibility to communicate regularly and provide feedback as often as is necessary.

When feedback is less than positive, it can be difficult to share. But as a manager, it is your responsibility to help guide employees who are not performing as you need in the right direction. 

Data-driven feedback is an effective way of ensuring your comments and communication is never personal or hurtful. Tools exist for you to keep track of employees’ work, see if they’re meeting their goals and hitting deadlines on time. With actionable tasks and regular communication checking in on progress, it should be difficult for employees to fall off course. However, it can still happen, and constructive feedback is vital for helping them get back on track.

Feedback shouldn’t be limited to negative and constructive comments about how to work better, it must also include celebration and recognition of achievements. Accountable people want to know how they’re doing. Celebrating both individual and team wins is a powerful motivator and shows employees they matter. It also encourages those who may not currently be overachieving to strive harder.

Feedback drives people to be accountable for their actions and to put more into what they do at work.

5. Never Create an Atmosphere of Fear

A culture of fear is unfortunately commonplace in many high-pressured workplaces. It may deliver short-term results but is it really the way you want to be seen? Employees shouldn’t be turning up to work and performing as well as they can simply because they’re scared of what will happen if they don’t. A culture of fear does not foster accountability. If employees are constantly worried about backlash from management, they won’t be able to reach out for support when it’s needed. More importantly, they are unlikely to feel committed or accountable to their team and are much more likely to quit if the pressure is too much.

If you are worried your team may be fearful, even if it wasn’t your intention, there are things you can do to rectify this. Take time to and always reflect on whether you are acknowledging successes and positive things your employees are doing. Focusing only on the negative creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and an unhappy high-pressured workplace. Criticism without any level of praise is exhausting, especially if employees are already fearful.

Being able to own, accept and be accountable for your own mistakes is also very important. Explaining to your employees when you drop the ball and owning the fact helps them to see how to deal with error. Explain to your team what you learn from your mistakes and the steps you are taking to avoid the situation happening in the future. Leading by example shows your employees that you’re human too and still have things to learn just as they do. The Partners in Leadership Workplace Accountability Study found 84% of respondents consider the way leaders behave as the most important factor influencing accountability in their companies. If you want accountability in your team, it starts with you. Scaring them into submission will never deliver long-term results.

6. Be Smart with Outcomes and Consequences

To hold your team accountable, you have to be consistent in the way you respond to different outcomes. The consequences should fit the outcome, as should the reward.

For example, if an employee fails to deliver due to their own lack of accountability, determine the consequences based on their role. Perhaps you need to consider dialling back the level of responsibility they’re given. You may want to monitor their work more closely in the future and consider their role within the business.

In another case, if an employee fails to deliver and you realize it’s due to you not providing them with the clarity they needed at the outset or the right resources for the task, then you should hold yourself accountable. Let the employee and team know you’re taking the hit for this one and provide them with the tools and clarity they need to succeed going forward.

Finally, if an employee truly exceeds expectations and smashes their targets then be sure to recognize their achievement. This could be through public appreciation, a cash or prize bonus or even consideration for promotion.

Showing you have an appropriate response to different outcomes shows you are fair in your treatment of the team and demonstrates the benefits of putting your all into your work.

Making Accountability the Core of your Workplace Culture

Managers must take responsibility for accountability in the workplace, starting with themselves. To lead by example is an overused phrase but that’s because it works. Accountability should be a core element of your workplace culture and it can be instrumental in improving the overall atmosphere and effectiveness of your office.

Put well in Harvard Business Review, where there is no accountability then managers are fostering  “a culture of mediocrity and lackluster organizational performance” and this can’t be what you want for your business. When you provide all members of the team with transparent insight into objectives and expectations and the tools to complete their tasks well, then accountability becomes an intrinsic part of all they do.

Without accountability, there is no reason or motivation to comply with expectations, so management has to push for and create accountability when it is lacking. Practice what you preach and set your teams up to win and accountability will follow.