Developing a Culture of 3-Way Accountability

In Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, avoiding accountability is dysfunction #4. Lencioni describes it like this: “Without committing to a clear plan of action, even the most focused and driven people often hesitate to call their peers on actions and behaviors that seem counterproductive to the good of the team.”

As leaders, we need to develop a culture of 3-way accountability…accountability with direct reports, with peers on our team, and with our boss. Let’s look at some ways to develop that culture.

1. Accountability with direct reports. This is a basic function of leadership and management. The boss must develop, communicate, and clarify job descriptions and performance measures (i.e., what the “win” looks like). I’m amazed at how infrequently this happens. As leaders, we often assume that people know what they’re supposed to be doing and what success looks like. But there are often different expectations because of a failure to communicate and clarify roles and expectations. Ensure that job descriptions are clear, up-to-date, and reality-based. Develop action plans with outcomes and metrics on what success means.

2. Accountability with peers. Here’s the tell-tale sign that this isn’t happening. One team member goes to the boss to complain about the actions (behavior or performance) of another team member. Often the boss will say, “Okay, I’ll go talk with them about it.” If that’s your response, you’ve just failed to develop a culture of peer accountability. The best response is, “Have you talked with them about it? If not, you have 24 hours to go talk with them about it. If after several conversation, you can’t work it out, then come back to me. And then and only then will I get involved.” Coach them through the conversation. Help them to understand the best way to go about it. But expect them to go to their peers directly. If not, you’ll become the arbitrator of every conflict.

3. Accountability with your boss. This is where it can get dicey. If you are a team leader, the sign of a healthy team is that your team members can come to you and share helpful feedback about how you’re leading. You have to develop this culture. You have to be the one who begins by asking your team, “How can I lead better? What do you see that would increase my effectiveness in serving and leading you and our team?” If you do this earnestly, honestly, and regularly, you will begin to develop a culture of trust and accountability. If you do it because the HR department is forcing you to do a 360 peer review, it will be contrived. Nobody will be honest. This is not to say that 360 peer reviews aren’t helpful. But if you haven’t develop an authentic culture of accountability, the tool won’t work.

What are you doing to develop a culture of 3-way accountability with your team? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

2 Replies to “Developing a Culture of 3-Way Accountability”

    1. thanks brian. i’m a lencioni “disciple.” his books are some of the best, most practical, intuitive books on organizational leadership!

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