The Precursor to Success? – 4 Actions To Drive Leadership Team Accountability

It was a harsh lesson in accountability.

I don’t remember why I was late, but I was late.

I was dishevelled, probably hungover and looked like crap.

The rest of the soldiers in my platoon were on time, looked good and were all formed up.

I fully expected to be punished for screwing up, but I did not anticipate that the entire platoon would be confined to barracks for my mistake.

I was responsible for my friends and peers losing their freedom. I knew it, and to my great horror, they knew it.

You see, the Army knows that as an individual, you might be willing to let yourself down, but you would rather die than let your peers down. They drive accountability to your peers.

Accountability is the glue that holds high-performing teams together.


The Sticking Point

Even with the proven success of high-performance teams with high levels of peer-to-peer accountability, leaders always seem hesitant to make it central to their organization.

Over 200 teams have taken my Team Online Assessment, and of the five critical behaviours of high-performing teams – trust, healthy conflict, commitment/decision-making, accountability, and team-oriented results – it is accountability that teams rate as the most problematic.

Why is this?

For some leaders, there is a temptation to be popular with their team. Who doesn’t want to be well-liked?

Read what leaders won’t do.

Others don’t want to confront a high performer whose behaviour is bad, even when it hurts team results.

In some cases, hesitancy can be caused by a friend in their organization whom the leader can’t bear to confront because of their personal relationship.

Read about tough conversations.

While this discomfort is real, the implication for not facing these issues is often poor results. It is fair to say those in your organization won’t like you if you fail.

A leader’s avoidance of accountability can start a feeling of resentment from those with different personal performance standards. And this resentment is deep.

Think about this on a personal level…have you ever had a job where you performed well, met your numbers, had a good attitude, arrived early and stayed late while the person sitting near you rarely hit their numbers, had a bad attitude and did as little as possible?

How did you feel about it? Resentful?


Accountability in Action

Improving an organization’s ability to gain advantage using peer-to-peer accountability is less complicated and quicker than it may appear.

The leadership team must set an example and openly commit to holding one another accountable. As leaders model this behaviour, it will permeate the rest of the organization. For most, this causes a sigh of relief because people ultimately want to have a sense of accomplishment at work.

Once leaders commit to accountability, some simple but specific guidelines are needed for it to take root. Discussing and coming to an agreement regarding the following four questions is a great place to start:

What behaviours/actions are acceptable on the team? Team members need to identify what behaviours are acceptable. Some examples include not holding back in meetings, avoiding back-channel politics, fully engaging in meetings, meeting commitments on time, and staying off email during meetings. Discussing, understanding and committing to these expectations in advance helps team members feel comfortable calling out these behaviours that detract from the team.

Where will these conversations happen? The most common question regarding accountability is, “Should it be public or private?” We’ve found that high-performing teams do this much more in public than private. The whole team benefits from knowing the team standards are being upheld, and the group often learns from observing the process.

When will we bring it up? Team members must consider the time frame for holding one another accountable. Should teams talk about it the moment an issue is suspected? A day later? A week later? However, allowing a specific commitment to go unmet over a few days can make discussing it more challenging.

What manner/style should be used to bring up issues? Team members tend to be more comfortable when they know how their colleagues will deliver feedback. Will teammates be careful not to offend, or will they come across straight forward? Will the feedback come out of anger or a desire to help?

The key to success in accountability is that everyone on a team feels empowered to hold other team members accountable, according to one (or more) of the four agreements. For accountability to become ingrained in the culture, exceptions should not be allowed. Additionally, no team member should be above accountability, and all team members, not just a select few, should be responsible for enforcing it.



Accountability is essential in developing a high-performing team.

Read about results

Behaviorally and intellectually aligned teams have constructive conflict and make firm commitments. They need to be able to push each other to stick to those commitments in the spirit of achieving results.

When teams suffer from a breakdown in accountability, results do suffer.

It may seem harsh for teams that have never engaged in this direct form of feedback. In reality, it is quite the opposite.

Holding a team member accountable for their actions shows that you care about them enough to take the interpersonal risk to discuss the issue. When feedback is given according to the outlined agreements, it can help a team member’s personal/professional development and the team’s progress. Those with effective peer-to-peer accountability will avoid costly and challenging situations and freely march toward their desired results.

I have seen the power of accountability play out in several settings. In my previous careers, I was fortunate to be part of high-performing teams, and if I could point to one distinct behaviour of those highly successful teams, it would be peer-to-peer accountability.

Regardless of your organization’s size or industry, a solid commitment to accountability is perhaps the most significant indicator for achieving long-term success.