Originally published by Brainz Magazine.
“I wish my team acted more like owners of our business [like I do].” ‒ Founder
Wanting teams to show more ownership is a regular topic of conversation amongst founders and CEOs. Why? It’s exhausting for a leader to feel they need to keep their eye on every ball all the time. The fatigue comes from fear and frustration. If no one else acts with the same level of accountability as me, I need to do it all.
Having everyone act like an owner is a worthy, and sometimes unrealistic goal. This is true even in teams where every member is a shareholder. It’s the ownership mentality that sets founders and CEOs apart. That said, taking purposeful steps in boosting team accountability is worth the effort. Like a flywheel, it will take time and effort to get things moving. Once the accountability wheel picks up speed, cultural momentum takes over.
From shifting your own mindset to introducing repeatable actions, improvement is possible. Pick one or two or three of the following tips. Experiment and watch accountability across your team increase.
Champion the concept of radical responsibility
Author Fleet Maull defines radical responsibility as “the voluntary choice to assume or embrace 100 percent ownership for each and every circumstance we face in life.” How do your words and actions champion radical responsibility across your team? Start by asking yourself the following questions:
“How often do I talk about radical responsibility (or accountability or ownership)?”
“How do my actions encourage and discourage others to embrace accountability?”
“What could radical responsibility look like for our team?”
Not sure how to answer these questions? Ask your colleagues for their input.
Ask rather than tell
Think about the taking of responsibility as the act of stepping in. We can ask someone to step in. We can hope they choose to step in. We can even nudge them in a direction. But only the individual can will themselves to move. We all desire to be treated as adults. When we tell our colleagues what to do, we’re drifting into adult-child territory. Ask rather than tell. What’s the worst that can happen? A “no can do” response will let us know where we stand.
Clarity, clarity, clarity
We each risk falling for a dangerous belief: how we perceive the world around us is how others perceive it too. To you, a situation and path forward is clear. Others must see it that way too! This overestimation of agreement is at the heart of miscommunication. Miscommunication is at the heart of accountability failures. The chance of misunderstandings in the commitment-making process is high. To reduce miscommunication, experiment with your own version of these three R habits:
REFLECT back: Take time at the end of a conversation to share back with each other. What did you each hear and agree to?
RECAP by email: Ask your colleague to send a quick email recapping conversation highlights.
RECORD live: Pop open a shared document and record the important parts of your conversation live.
We are communal creatures. When commitments become visible, a sense of peer pressure kicks in. The team is now watching. Rely on the sense of responsibility inherent in daily stand-ups, open presentations and regular company meetings.
To keep accountability alive, ritualize it. One of my clients found that team members weren’t tracking project time. They decided it would be helpful to post-completion rates for all team members monthly. Within two months, tracking rose significantly.
Another team incorporated a massive whiteboard metrics wall into their space. Team stand-ups take place in front of the metrics wall and it’s a stop on all office tours.
What rituals could boost shared accountability for your team?
Use checklists and agendas
Even the most committed forget. Experiment with adding an accountability checklist within an existing meeting. Make it a standing agenda item. Our team gets so busy we forget to publish our newsletter. To help keep it on our radar, we’ve added it to the checklist section of our team meeting. If we’re on track, great! If not, we get a helpful reminder every two weeks.
Handle the Misses
Team culture is set by the worst behaviours allowed to continue.
Commitments will get missed. If those misses don’t get called out, a culture of regular commitment-breaking emerges. Responding to misses is tough. Our automatic reactions tend to be silence (passive-aggressively ignoring the issue), punishment (attacking and blaming) or making excuses. None of these approaches solve the problem. Instead, they diminish trust and rob your colleagues of a valuable development opportunity. Relationships get strengthened through honest, respectful and timely conversations about missed commitments.
Let’s circle back to the idea of championing radical responsibility. What happens when you fail to deliver on one of your accountabilities? Be honest, it happens. To build a culture of accountability, acknowledge when you fall short. Share what you will do next time. Encourage your colleagues to hold you accountable. Respect them when they do. Until others can call you out your misses, a healthy culture of accountability will elude you.
Now it’s time to break some unhelpful habits and create new accountability patterns. Choose something from the above list and experiment. If you get stuck, email me at [email protected] and tell me about your unique situation.
I help Founder CEOs of companies between 5 & 40 people experiencing early-stage success and ready to scale — especially those wanting to build shared responsibility and accountability within their teams. Ready to take the next step on your scaling journey? Start by completing the Scale Together Scorecard. It takes less than two minutes and provides you with a personalized report for your organization along with suggestions to improve your score.