Do you worry that a lack of accountability is swamping your organization with overall ineffectiveness and bad feeling? Regardless of your rank or role, here are four ways to build a floodwall against further inefficiency and confusion.

1. Avoid These Typical Accountability Pitfalls.

  • To ensure that everyone’s activities are aligned and aimed in the right direction, spell out the link between required activities and the mission. Focus discussions on the purposes behind the commitments you’re requesting, rather than on who’s done well or messed up in the past.
  • Get granular. Make work plans explicit so that rather than relying on assumptions, people detail how they intend to handle things. Ask for concrete commitments regarding timing, content, and ongoing communication.
  • Verify that everyone has the tools, resources, and time needed to get the work done. Don’t assume that team members will perform per their job descriptions — or come through simply because no one has openly declined to commit. And don’t accept commitments that appear to be made only out of deference or fear of appearing oppositional.
  • Assess the logical conclusions of all planned activities. If the outcomes are misaligned, figure out the problem before work commences. If errors continue, help the team map the process to identify aspects that can be standardized or checked at crucial points.
  • Acknowledge people who get the job done. Praise people who take responsibility for failures and those who perform every day without fuss or complaint. Thank anyone who highlights the truth, takes responsibility, is willing to share resources, or operates in ways that benefit others, not just themselves.

2. Coach for Accountability.

Speak privately with anyone who has trouble meeting deadlines or keeping commitments. Probe to determine whether their failures stem from lack of understanding about expectations, capability to execute, or judgment about what actually matters. Specify those behaviors that need to stop and give detailed recommendations for accomplishing desired behaviors.

Add resources, training, or even hand-holding as necessary — and don’t begrudge the need for them. It’s usually less expensive to give an incumbent support to succeed than to replace that person.

3. End the Blame Game.

When people are afraid of finger-pointing, it’s tough to get them to take responsibility, so make accountability positive, not negative. If people blame each other — whether in groups or one-on-one meetings — redirect the conversation toward what needs to be done rather than any individual’s flaws or weaknesses. Similarly, don’t let people triangulate or hold meetings within separate factions regarding an issue. Instead, bring all parties together to work out a mutually beneficial solution.

Sometimes team members act as if there are clear dividing lines between their responsibilities and a colleague’s. Remind them that everyone is on the hook for the entire team’s success — not just for their own piece.

4. Take the Lead.

Irrespective of your location on the organizational chart, always hold yourself accountable first.

If you’re the leader, get engaged enough in the real work that you’re able to have practical insights about how to improve it. Leaders who wait for things to get better on their own, rather than taking action, sidestep their own accountability and inadvertently help spread negative conditions throughout the organization.