In Rising from the Ashes I told the story of how Donna led a team to success after having failed previously.
One key learning, which made the difference between failure the first time and success the second time, was how to create an accountable relationship with team members.
There are two things that often get in the way of creating sufficient accountability in relationships on cross functional teams: (1) people don’t report directly to the team leader; and (2) they often volunteered to be on the team.
Those two things were clearly in the way in this situation. Despite the fact that she set the expectation at the first meeting that everyone needed to pull their weight, there were 3 people on the team who were not.
Donna was frustrated and so were the other team members, but she did not know what to do. She was waiting (and hoping) they would volunteer to take on work as the project plan was further defined and others were stepping up to take on the work. They did not seem to be getting the hint and tension was building.
If they reported to her she would have naturally taken action by delegating. But they didn’t report to her and she didn’t believe she had the power to “tell them what to do’. She was assuming that since they volunteered they were committed and expected them to do what was needed.
To find a way to solve this problem a mindset shift was first required:
- Team members are not volunteers even if volunteering is how they ended up on the team.
- Just because someone doesn’t report to you on an org chart doesn’t mean you can’t hold them to account.
What did she do? She made a request of each of them to take on a specific task. It may sound obvious and it certainly was simple, but until she could distinguish the mindset that was in her way, she couldn’t see what to do.
Two of them accepted her requests and got into action. One was actually waiting to be asked. The third however did not. They continually made excuses for why they couldn’t get to what they had promised. Donna was faced with having a tough conversation and she was procrastinating.
She thought holding someone to account required that she confront them about their failure. That was hard enough when someone reported to her and she had little experience with people not keeping their promises to her. Once again the belief that “I have no power here” came to the surface.
Another mindset shift was in order.
Holding someone to account is not about confrontation. It is about helping someone be awake to the consequences of not keeping a promise they made, and giving them the opportunity to choose to be responsible for those consequences in a way that serves their commitments.
And by consequences I do not mean punishment. I mean things like the affect on the overall project’s success, the other team members workload or time lines, morale, and trust to name a few.
The conversation she ultimately had addressed the full extent of the breakdown caused. She also gave this person a choice: “If you do not feel you can put things back on track and deliver what you promised, I will need you to step down from the project so I can put someone on the team who has the time and focus required to do what is needed to support our success.” There was no shame or blame, only a clear choice. That was how Donna was able to be accountable for the results and her relationships, not just with this individual but with the entire team.
The team member chose. Integrity among the team members was restored along with a belief in Donna as the leader. The choice this team member made is not important. There was not a good choice and a bad choice. Either choice would have worked for both of them as individuals as well as for the team.
Donna showed a great deal of character and leadership in how she handled this conversation. Her confidence increased and it showed throughout the rest of the project as she led the team to a big success for their department.
Accountability is not about power.
It does not flow downward; not down the org chart from top to bottom, nor from the person with the most power to the person with the least. It is at it’s most fundamental level it is about creating relationships based on making requests of and promises to each other to deliver on shared commitments.
If we ever hope to break the unproductive grip of the traditional management structure, the hierarchy, we need to stop relating to accountability based on position or title and from a context of one person having power over another. If we are to succeed for the long run we must learn to relate to accountability from a context of personal integrity and responsibility with our focus on what really matters.
What do you think it takes to create truly accountable relationships?
To learn more about how to successfully create and sustain accountable relationships check out The Art of Accountability. The next Webinar /Group Coaching Series starts on October 11, 2010.