In relation to teamwork we define accountability as the willingness of team members to remind one another when they are not living up to the performance standards of the group. Most leaders we know have a far easier time holding people accountable for their results than they do for behavioral issues. This is a problem because behavioral problems almost always precede results issues.

Why are a leader’s actions so important when it comes to setting a tone? Because if the rest of the team knows that the leader will eventually step in and call someone on something, they won’t feel like they’re stepping over the line doing it themselves. “(S)He’s going to call you on this anyway, so I thought I would save you the time and trouble by telling you now”.

But if everyone knows the leader doesn’t have the courage, the time, or the focus to hold people accountable for their behaviors, they’re going to reason with themselves “Why should I play the heavy? Besides (s)he’ll probably let them off the hook anyway.”

The most important challenge of building a team where people hold one another accountable is overcoming the understandable hesitance of human beings to give one another critical feedback. Sometimes the tightest teams are the most reluctant to do this, even when the feedback is clearly constructive, because they do not want to risk the positive environment that exists, which they value greatly.

Of course, when teammates stop holding one another accountable, what ultimately happens over time is that they lose respect for each other, and those good feelings begin to fade. Still human beings often choose a path of slow, uncomfortable decline rather than risk a dramatic drop in morale caused by an ugly incident.

By holding back, we are hurting not only the team, but also our teammates themselves. When we hold back and fail to provide constructive feedback, we are letting the other person down personally.

Where do you need to step in and hold other accountable?