Group Accountability for Effective Teamwork

November 19, 2012

Effective teamwork depends on many things. At a minimum, it requires capable people working together cooperatively to achieve a common goal.

According to author Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, truly cohesive teams trust one another, engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas, commit to decisions and plans of action, hold one another accountable for delivering those plans, and focus on achieving collective results.

Effective teamwork ultimately requires practicing a small set of principles over a long period of time, says Lencioni. “Success is not a matter of mastering subtle, sophisticated theory, but rather of embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence.”

Unlike individual accountability, which I’ve written about in previous posts, group accountability is about the willingness of all team members to call each other on performance or behaviors that are detrimental to the team. This requires a great deal of trust and commitment, and it also requires courage.

Holding one another accountable can actually demonstrate respect as well as maintain high expectations for everyone. This peer pressure encourages everyone to take part in achieving the team’s goals through shared leadership, which I believe is vital to successful teams.

Teams that avoid holding one other accountable:

  • Create resentment among team members who have different standards of performance
  • Encourage mediocrity
  • Miss deadlines and key deliverables
  • Place an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline

Teams that do hold one another accountable:

  • Ensure that poor performers feel pressure to improve
  • Identify potential problems quickly by questioning one another’s approaches without hesitation
  • Establish respect among team members who are held to the same high standards
  • Avoid excessive bureaucracy around performance management and corrective action

In addition to a foundation of trust and commitment, clarity around individual roles and responsibilities in relation to the team’s goals is vital for group accountability to occur. There can be no ambiguity and every member must know exactly what is required in order to achieve the group’s goals.

It is helpful to encourage group accountability behavior so individuals feel more comfortable speaking up with regard to each other’s performance level. Providing specific feedback on witnessed behavior demonstrating group accountability during meetings can go a long way toward encouraging others.

Keep the focus on achieving team goals and not individual accomplishments. In fact, rewarding individuals can actually be counterproductive and often undermine group goals. In the same way a basketball team suffers if players refuse to play as a team, so too do workgroups when individual performance is praised above the group’s achievement of goals. This is not to say individuals shouldn’t be rewarded, however, if their accomplishments are singled out too frequently then group goals may become secondary.

Ultimately, there should be both an internal and external focus on accountability. Each person must be internally focused with full accountability for his or her own goals. And to be an effective group member, there must also be an external attention focused on accountability for the group in order to meet its goals.

This external focus on accountability requires holding each other to the same standard you hold for yourself, helping each other stay focused on the task necessary to achieve the group’s goals, and challenging each other to raise their level of performance.

As Lencioni says, effective teamwork is simply about embracing common sense with uncommon levels of discipline and persistence. And group accountability is one way to ensure your team can raise its performance and reach its goals.

7 Keys to Highly Effective Virtual Teams

September 2, 2009

Virtual teams are on the rise in every industry and with good reason. The ability to accomplish goals as a team without being located in the same physical location can accelerate processes, reduce costs and enable true global collaboration. However, the challenges of virtual teams are also greater than those in co-located teams.

A virtual team can be defined here as a group of people who work interdependently with a shared purpose across space, time and organization boundaries using technology. However, all the existing technology that connects people on virtual teams has limitations. Without the benefit of sitting next to or across a conference room table from others, much is lost in terms of clear communication, mutual trust, and overall group dynamics. Communication is especially difficult without nonverbal clues such as body language and facial expressions. And anything that can go wrong face-to-face can also go wrong with virtual teams—only faster and less gracefully.

The key requirements for highly effective teams (co-located or virtual) include:

Trust – People work together effectively because they trust one another. With trust, groups converse easily, organize tasks more quickly, and manage themselves better. Without face-to-face clues, trust is harder to attain and easier to lose.

Respect – Everyone on the team has something to contribute and everyone’s opinion needs to be welcome. Only through this mutual respect can teams expect to function well.

Cooperation – In order to function effectively as a team, it is vital to fully cooperate with one another. This means allowing for disagreements and welcoming challenges with regard to one another’s view.

Commitment – Perhaps the most important requirement for a highly effective team is the commitment we each make to the team. Only through our commitment will we persevere through difficult periods when we otherwise might lose hope.

To be highly effective, virtual teams need all of the above as well as the following key requirements:

1. Appropriate Technology – Using the right technology to enable effective collaboration and communication is vital. This technology may include email, conference calls, video-conferencing, remote presentations, text messaging, chat-rooms, bulletin boards, web-conferencing, and other tools. Encourage the use of a variety of them to deepen collaboration and broaden perspectives.

2. Outstanding Communication – Choosing the appropriate medium (video conferencing, email, telephone, etc.), depending on the message, can be as important as the content itself. You should also carefully consider your audience and the context for your message. Then ensure that the words you use will not be confused or misinterpreted.

3. Shared Vision & Goals – Establishing a clear and inspiring vision as well as team goals shared among all members is vital to optimal performance. In addition, clarity among individual roles as well as group and individual expectations are necessary for all members to be on the same page.

4. Sense of Community – Every community requires mutual trust, respect, fairness, and affiliation. These are essential on virtual teams because individuals can often feel isolated across time and space, and requires creative ways to build a sense of community among all members. This can often be accomplished through team building and team bonding exercises, but requires continual attention.

5. Strong (and Shared) Leadership – With the absence of an opportunity to “manage by walking around,” leaders should check-in with individuals spontaneously to discuss issues or opportunities that arise. Leadership on virtual teams is often shared and this should be encouraged whenever possible so bottlenecks don’t slow progress.

6. Coordination and Collaboration – Because we don’t physically see each other working on a specific task, it is essential for a greater level of tracking and coordinating on projects in virtual teams. This coordination often transcends organizational boundaries and requires the collaboration of every team member.

7. Appropriate Electronic Body Language – Our tone of voice in conference calls, word choice and sentence structure in emails, and the speed of our response can all impact how our messages are received and interpreted. Virtual teams require that we are mindful and more deliberate in how we convey our messages.

All teams require trust, respect, cooperation and commitment to be highly effective, and virtual teams require this and more. By paying particular attention to the seven key requirements, your virtual team can be highly effective as well.

Mark Craemer                                                                     

Five Major Pitfalls for Leading Effective Work Groups

May 18, 2009

Building high performing work groups is important for all organizations, but achieving them is easier said than done. For the sake of this discussion, an effective work group depends upon whether the output meets the quantity, quality and timeliness established, how well the process of the work can be carried out by the individuals interdependently in the future, and whether the group experience contributes to the growth and well-being of the individual members.

To be an effective work group leader involves creating favorable performance conditions for the group (either on one’s own authority or by exercising influence upward or laterally with colleagues), building and maintaining the work group as a performing unit, and coaching the group as it evolves.

Work groups can be ineffective for many reasons, and it’s important for a leader to first recognize the nature of the problem. For instance, is the difficulty due to a lack of effort, inappropriate talent or a flawed strategy? Each of these areas would require a different intervention in order to make the team more effective.

The best way to keep a group from becoming ineffective in the first place is to avoid these five major pitfalls:

1. Work group in name only. When people are told they are a team but treated as individual performers, this sends a mixed message. This is also untenable as individual goals are likely to trump group goals. The team’s very existence is to achieve group goals, and it is therefore vital to emphasize that there is no “I” in the word team. Make it clear that all individuals will prosper only when the team prospers. Encourage team building activities that build trust and open communication between every member. Acknowledge and reward team achievements as well as encourage collaboration among individuals.

2. Lack of authority, responsibility and accountability. Managers should insist on exercising their authority with regard to the direction and constraints on group behavior. With clear direction, the team can align their efforts with the objectives of the larger organization. Ideally, group leaders should define the outcomes they are looking for and then give the team the flexibility to accomplish them on their own. By providing clear direction, the team can then choose the appropriate performance strategies. This can often generate and sustain energy within the team.

3. Inappropriate structure. Groups that have appropriate structures tend to develop healthy internal processes, whereas groups with inappropriate structures tend to have process problems. It is crucial to have the right people in the right roles, but without the right structure around these roles, the process breaks down. A leader should assemble a group of people in the correct roles and provide a structure that is suitable to contributing to them accomplishing the work at hand.

4. Inadequate support. If you specify challenging team objectives but skimp on organizational support, the team is bound to fail. The full potential of work teams can be realized only when organizational structures and systems actively support competent teamwork. And this must be done in deeds as well as words. The potential of a well-directed, well-structured, well-supported team is tremendous.

5. Limited training and coaching. It is helpful for leaders and managers to provide some hands-on training and coaching as group members develop the skills they need to work well on a team. Favorable times for this intervention include when a group is first launched, when it reaches a natural break in its work, and when it has completed its product or reached the end of a performance period. Providing adequate training and development ensures the continuation of the team’s performance.

Being an effective group leader involves (1) creating favorable performance conditions for the group with appropriate structure, accountability, and support, (2) building and maintaining the team as a performing unit by encouraging collaboration, open communication, and trust, and (3) coaching and helping the team in real time with appropriate training and development.

When all three areas are focused on, a group leader can help avoid the five major pitfalls and help their work group prosper.

Mark Craemer