The definition of accountability is “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or account for one’s actions”. But that’s not all. Because we’re social animals, we tend to feel obligated to others: we’re accountable to others because it’s harder to make excuses when we’re in a relationship.
In one of my courses at the university, I formed some groups of students and gave them a project to develop. The project is so complex that no one can succeed alone. Therefore, they have to work together. The first and main handicap is that they’ve never worked together before.
During the last quarter, we worked on understanding the basics of team building. Now it’s time for them to put them into practice.
I just set the project goal, and let them decide everything else: roles, rules, standards, and processes.
For the first two weeks, they let the uncertainty take over. Having to work with people you don’t know is challenging for a 20-something student. As good sons and daughters of their age, they relied on various asynchronous communication tools to establish initial contact: WhatsApp and email. The results weren’t what they expected. Most of the groups didn’t get enough traction to engage in the work.
Many people didn’t feel like they wanted to start working with strangers, and even when they agreed to meet virtually, many didn’t show up.
For some groups, this changed radically after they talked and decided to meet in person. Suddenly, the man who was known only by his phone number and the woman who was only an email address had a face and a voice. They acknowledged each other and, more importantly, they acknowledged the group.
That was the first time they realized they were in this together: their grade would be the result of their combined efforts. That’s the first step in building a team: realizing there’s a common goal.
Once they met and the group was formed, they began to make decisions together, giving all members a chance to be heard, and the sense of belonging began to grow.
Accountability is impossible without trust. And you can’t have trust if you don’t know anything about the people you’re working with.
In addition to trust, a team needs its members to take responsibility for their actions and commit to their roles. Therefore, establishing roles and rules that are accepted by all members is essential to moving the team forward.
People need to agree on how they will share the work, what the expected outcome is, how they will make decisions, what the preferred channels of communication are, and how they will manage their time.
It’s not just about shared goals. Accountability is about being clear about what is needed and what the individual contribution and commitment required is. It’s about wanting the best for the team.
Accountability starts at the top. Modeling and teaching accountability also helps eliminate the need for perfectionism, improves communication, and builds stronger bonds within the group. Without it, a team can’t afford high standards of performance and behavior.
Image by Andrea Tummons at Unsplash