Accountability — it’s the willingness to accept personal responsibility for our own actions. And successful teams can’t thrive without it.
Ever worked on a team routinely plagued with missed deadlines, broken promises, or vague expectations? Or where managers constantly nagged and micromanaged? It’s likely the team didn’t have a culture of accountability.
Accountability fosters better work relationships, improves job satisfaction, and helps teams work more effectively together. It empowers ICs with ownership over their work and fuels more effective teamwork, since folks know they can count on each other to get things done. Mastering team accountability can help teams have better performance discussions and hold each other accountable in a more supportive way too. It inspires individuals to exceed their goals and improve their performance, and it’s intrinsically linked to results (and revenue). Employee engagement, according to Gallup, helps companies outperform their competitors, and can result in 21% greater profitability.
Despite the clear benefits, if your team struggles with accountability you’re not alone. 25% of remote managers say lack of accountability is one of the biggest hurdles their team needs to overcome. According to another study, 93% of employees don’t understand what their team is trying to accomplish (let alone how they can contribute to help get there), and 85% of leaders aren’t defining clear enough expectations for employees in the first place.
On a team, accountability means the team follows through on its commitments, finishes projects on time, and meets its goals. Team accountability requires each individual to be accountable for their own piece too — both for long-term goals and day-to-day work. On teams with strong accountability, ICs take ownership of their work, communicate openly and often about commitments, and complete tasks they commit to in a timely manner.
So often, teams only discuss accountability when things go wrong. It can be a term charged with negative connotations including stress, fear, and even disciplinary measures. But it doesn’t need to be.
Building systems for team accountability — like regular planning and goal-setting, or standards around sharing progress updates — ensures accountability feels fair and non-judgemental. It’s less about a manager or teammate nagging you for information, and more about adhering to a process everyone has agreed upon. The system holds you accountable, not just the people.
When you work remotely, you miss out on natural opportunities to build alignment and ask questions. It can be harder for folks to know what’s expected on any given project or of certain roles, which can lead to unnecessary work and misunderstandings. Teammates might feel like someone is dropping the ball, when in fact, it’s actually not that person’s responsibility or they didn’t even know it was in the first place. Plus, when you’re spread across multiple time zones, it can be challenging to know what’s expected in terms of ways of working, online hours, or response times over Slack or email.
Developing remote practices for communication that successfully keep everyone in the loop can be daunting at first. Teammates often feel like they’re spending more time reporting on their work than getting work done. For managers, it can feel like there are endless status updates floating around in their inbox, project management systems, or both. Some people share too much; others share too little. Important updates can easily get lost in the mix and, if there’s not a single source of truth, it’s hard to track down what’s been shared in the past.
The pressure to report on progress: Especially for teams new to remote work, there’s often added pressure from leadership to report on progress. Leaders want to know teams and projects are running smoothly. Generally, this comes from a place of good intention, but can quickly create a trickle-down micromanagement effect as managers and leads scramble to stay on top of their team.
When you work from home, it can be easy to forget about the rest of the team and how your work fits into the bigger picture. It’s harder to keep tabs on team goals, especially if they’re not being talked about regularly, and oftentimes folks start to doubt whether their work is impactful, resulting in a lack of engagement and lower levels of motivation. When individuals lose momentum, projects stall, and the team is more likely to experience burnout. When you’re remote, it’s also easier to focus on individual work over collaborative projects — which ultimately changes what work gets done.
When you WFH, things that were naturally resolved or aligned upon when you sat together in an office can take a lot more effort and intentionality. To fill these gaps, it’s important to develop standardized practices that focus on communicating expectations with specificity and clarity.
To be accountable to yourself and your team, first you need to define what you’re actually trying to accomplish.
Daily progress updates — whether through a team standup, scrum meeting, or async Check-in — encourage more individual accountability by building expectations around sharing and moving work forward. When folks know the team cares about their work and is following their progress, they feel more motivated to get it done. When done right, daily updates can also improve transparency and make remote communication less burdensome and more impactful.
“As a manager, Check-ins really helped me do away with all the weekly status reports in email." – Kristin Toole, Adobe
Accountability should be something your team talks about daily, not just when there are gaps in performance or when things go wrong.
Building systems for accountability into your team’s workflow can help ICs feel more empowered and help managers support them, without micromanagement. You can have better performance discussions, build healthy habits around planning and goal-setting, and achieve better results. If you want your team to be more effective, invest in team and individual accountability.Start improving accountability with Range