This is the third in a series about accountability for sustaining team effectiveness breakthroughs after your offsite sessions.  The first was about the shared responsibility. The second provided instructions on how to hold yourself accountable for sustaining the change.  In this post, I’ll share the make-or-break approach to helping a teammate who slips up.

Helping your teammates live up to their commitments

At a recent offsite session, the team I was facilitating came up with a really great set of expectations for how they need to show up to be a high performing team.  It had been a great day and there was a lot of energy around these commitments.  As the team members went around the table making their concluding comments, one person said “we need to hold each other accountable for living up to these commitments.”

I hear language like that all the time.  It’s understandable.  People are tired of going to offsites and writing great lists of ground rules that are really inspiring but for the fact that no one ever follows them.  Worse, no one on the team does anything when someone blatantly breaks one of the agreed upon rules.  So I get it when the language of accountability is used.

As you know from my previous post, the place where accountability language belongs is with the individual.  You need to hold yourself accountable for living up to whatever commitments you have agreed to.  Unfortunately, when teams use the language of accountability to refer to how they will treat one another, it tends to create a punitive, “gotcha” climate that really isn’t conducive to a high performing team.

Instead of thinking of it as holding your teammates accountable, think of it as helping them live up to their commitments.  It’s subtle, to be sure.  Yet it makes all the difference.  People don’t like holding others accountable. It’s confrontational, adversarial, and aversive.  (Heck, even team leaders stink at holding people accountable—but more on that in my next post).  People do like helping people.  It’s nice and it makes them feel important.  So don’t try to hold your teammates accountable—just help them.

If you are going to help your teammates live up to their commitments, you will need to do a few things:

Pay attention.  You have to notice behavior and listen closely to what is being said in your team interactions.  If you’re going to help your teammates, you will need to have data about how they’re doing.

Give feedback. Often at the end of a team session, someone will say “I give you all permission to give me feedback when I mess up.”  That’s a nice sentiment that really underplays how critical feedback is.  I always interject when I hear someone give permission and I replace the permission with an obligation.  Permission makes it an option and it’s not optional. You have an obligation to provide feedback when you perceive that your teammate is not delivering on commitments.  Here are some specific instructions on how to give that feedback effectively.

Have their backs. If your teammates are getting themselves into trouble, help out.  If words are overly aggressive, try restating the point in more neutral terms.  If it’s obvious that they are mishearing or making assumptions, try reframing what you heard.  Don’t let your teammates flounder—pitch in.

Above all, don’t try to “catch” your teammates messing up.  Help them succeed.  That’s how you help your teammates live up to their commitments after the offsite.

View the rest of the “After the Offsite” series…

Part I: After the Offsite

Part II: Personal Accountability

Part IV: When the Team Leader Needs to Step In

Further Reading

How to Increase Accountability

How to Decrease Accountability

What to Say to a Teammate who is Resistant to Change

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