What 'Team Accountability' Really Means – And 7 Ways to Cultivate It

team working together


Anouare Abdou for Hive
Anouare Abdou for Hive
April 13, 2024 at 3:9PM UTC
Accountability is the foundation of a dream team. Without it, deliverables fall through the cracks and underperformance becomes the norm. A lack of team accountability can also hurt morale and company culture. On the other hand, accountability creates an environment where even small teams deliver mighty results while enjoying the process of working together. Below is everything you need to know about the importance of team accountability and the actionable ways to cultivate it.

What is team accountability?

“Team accountability relies on each individual team member to follow through on their commitment, timelines, and goals for the short and long-term shared success of the team,” says Darren Nix, the President and Founder of Steadily, a venture-backed Series A insurtech startup.
So it’s about individual responsibility in the service of the group. When all individuals in a team feel individually accountable for their common goals, it results in a strong sense of team accountability.

The benefits of strong team accountability

This creates a win-win situation for contributors, leaders and organizations–and the clients they serve.
“Team accountability not only provides a shared sense of purpose for individual contributors but is also crucial for the organization to achieve its goals,” says Nix.
“Each team is a critical part of the broader organizational efficiency and every member is a core contributor. Accountability towards yourself, and your teammates, increases the sense of purpose and drives momentum to achieve shared success.”

How to cultivate accountability in your team

According to van Eyk, accountability also means that the team is accountable for any failures. This can scare some people, but when those fears are appropriately managed, it can be a good thing. You have skin in the game, and you also don’t feel alone in carrying the responsibility.
Here are the best ways to bring out this productive sense of responsibility and shared purpose in your team.

1. Use project management tools.

John Baule, CEO and co-founder of FutureView Systems, an accounting, financial planning and analysis software company, says that project management tools such as Hive are necessary for fostering accountability:
“Not having visibility into who is working on what task and when presents costly bottlenecks that prevent the completion of projects and dramatically hinder productivity. It’s a domino effect that, when left unresolved, frustrates team members and leaves upper management wondering who or what is causing the issue.”
“Productivity tools hold team members accountable by providing a clear picture of who is responsible for which task to move a project forward. It sets the plan of action for each person, who understands the expectations and timelines required.”

2. Define your vision.

As a leader, operational processes are one piece of the puzzle when it comes to having a team of accountable A-players. You need to present a clearly defined vision to your organization and team, recommends Nix.
“If an organization is committed to a clear vision, it creates enthusiasm about the future of the organization and increases the commitment of individuals to work towards this vision. A vision establishes a sense of connection between individuals and the organization, and helps them find meaning in their work.”

3. Set a standard of excellence.

And don’t shy away from setting the bar high. Accountable teams thrive on striving for excellence.
“A standard of excellence serves as a continuous goal that motivates improvement and provides a measure of the individual and organization’s worth,” says Nix. “Individuals hold themselves and others on the team to a standard of excellence, and provide ongoing feedback and encouragement to achieve personal and organizational growth.”

4. Have financial accountability.

Financial accountability and the right financial management software also matters as it creates a sense of responsibility around resource management. Do you have budget owners and P&Ls (profit and loss statements)?
“When it comes to finances, accountability provides a way to control expenses and ensure a return on an investment as well,” says Baule.
Set budget owners responsible for forecasting and reviewing monthly expenses. Then, at the end of the month, compare the actual outcomes with the forecast. “This creates a P&L for each budget owner to be held accountable.
They use the results, good or bad, and update their forecast for the remaining months of the year. Following this cadence regularly guarantees the ROI of any expenditure being evaluated and drives new strategic developments.”

5. Focus on context, not control.

That being said, you want to approach any type of accountability-related measure with a mindset of providing context, not exerting control. “Empowered contributors want autonomy to be their best selves at work, and value both freedom and accountability,” says Nix.
“Setting context enables individuals to be accountable for their decision-making and results; whereas control places accountability on leadership. Leadership’s role is to define vision, establish a standard, and provide the context for success.”

6. Emphasize communication and collaboration.

“Conversations are a necessary component of accountability that provide teams an opportunity to reveal any updates, brainstorm solutions to overcome roadblocks and empower team members to reach their intended target,” adds Baule, who suggests having both one-on-one and group meetings weekly with your team. “Clear communication ensures everyone is on the same page and helps eliminate confusion.”

7. Ensure psychological safety.

Finally, communication also helps build psychological safety, an essential component of team accountability.
“Micro-managing, failing to provide adequate information or resources to set the context, and cultivating a culture of fear” are things to avoid at all costs if you want accountability to flourish in a team, according to Nix.
“In order for accountability to flourish in a team, members must feel they are operating in a safe environment, whereby errors are an opportunity to learn. Accountability requires acknowledging your missteps, and facing the consequences of decision-making without fear of punishment.”
This article originally appeared in Hive — the world's first democratically built productivity platform. Learn more at Hive.com.

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