Team traps: the question of accountability

Team traps: the question of accountability

“Is this really my responsibility?” Does this sentence sound familiar? If so, most likely you yourself have already been a member of a team where accountability was worth taking into consideration. Perhaps a team which fell into a trap, which they couldn’t free themselves from alone. But why is accountability a pertinent question for teams and what can be done about this phenomenon?  

In recent times, I have started to observe the teams that I have worked with from a different perspective: the quality and dynamics of accountability in teams, what forms it can take, and what other aspects of teamwork it is connected to.

Let us take a look at two different executive leadership teams.

Members of team A are all very competent in their own areas of responsibility. Each individual focuses on the running of their field as well as possible, to maximize their own success with little awareness of supporting each other and of the challenges others are facing. Collective issues are being raised at weekly meetings where actions are defined but not implemented afterwards.

Members of Team B are also very competent in their respective fields and they do their best to succeed on a personal level. BUT in contrast to Team A, Team B members are fully aware of how their areas’ goals contribute to the success of the whole organization and understand how other member’s achievements affect the entire company. They are willing to sacrifice their own immediate goals for the greater good of the team, which means sometimes they are ready to prioritize supporting each other above their own goals. In most instances when they agree on something, it comes to fruition. They manifest it by reminding each other of the agreement and holding each other accountable. If a team member is facing difficulties they are there for him/her, they create an emotional safety net. 

Let us examine some of the differences between the two setups:

  • Members of Team A take accountability for their tasks, but accountability as such stays on an individual level and does not go further. They maximize their own success. Accountability for team level issues is not taken. In contrast, Team B members’ accountability does not stop on the individual level, but goes further and covers a team level dimension as well.  Even if it means that the individual is less successful, they are ready to make this sacrifice for the team’s greater good.
  • Accountability of Team B’s members does not only relate to operative team (not individual!) tasks but also includes less tangible aspects (e.g. well being, integration of new members) of results, ie. those soft considerations which are more implicitly related to team performance. If  someone gets stuck, they are there for each other. They have a deep knowledge and understanding that the individual cannot succeed without the team being successful. 

The differences between individual vs team accountability has a major impact on organizational and individual levels. Stay tuned to learn more about this and what can be done about accountability in teams in the following post.

Tamara Szabó

OD consultant, trainer, coach (MCC), team coach

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