I recently came across an article by Joseph Grenny on the importance of accountability in teams, and who holds who accountable. Joseph tells the story of a highly successful firm that he had consulted with. He knew that the CEO’s name was Paul, and that Paul would be attending the first meeting Joseph sat in on with the firm’s executives. During the meeting, one of the team members arrived late. A man at the end of the table called him out on his tardiness – Joseph assumed this was Paul as he seemed to be in charge. However, throughout the meeting a number of people around the table started asking hard, pressing questions of the others present. Each time Joseph wondered if they were in charge, and each time he was wrong. Paul was the quietest person in the room because he rarely needed to say anything – he had created a culture where it was expected that his team held each other to account.
When I first read the story it seemed like the team members were trying to outdo each other, but what was actually happening was universal accountability. Paul had created an environment and a team that were comfortable holding each other – and their boss – to account when needed. This meant that the leader didn’t have to police his team or spend time settling disputes, because the team members were able to do it themselves. They would also support each other to do better.
It would seem like Paul had made himself obsolete as many of the roles we traditionally associate with the boss were being handled by the team. But Paul was crucial – as a leader he was able to create and maintain this working environment. Without a strong leader, willing to accept criticism and trust their team, this universal accountability would never have been possible.
Creating an environment where we all readily hold each other to account is hard and requires deliberate effort, but the rewards are certainly worth it. As a leader you need to be willing to listen and accept feedback from your team, and encourage your team to be open and honest with you and each other. In return, problems will be resolved better, faster and with less intervention. You’ll see productivity increase as your team becomes a more cohesive unit. And perhaps most importantly, you’ll be enabling your team to perform to the best of their ability.