How To Hold Your Team Accountable

Have you ever struggled to hold your team accountable?

A while back I was talking with a CEO of a growing company, and as he expressed his frustration that a particular step of the customer service process wasn’t happening consistently, he said, “I keep telling them but they just aren’t doing it consistently.”

I said, “well who’s accountable for Customer Service?”

He said, “They all are.” (Referring to at least a dozen individuals in 2 different departments.)

And I said, “then no one is.”

See, if more than one person is accountable for a particular task or process – then NO ONE is accountable.

So while the CEO thought he was covering his bases by making it everyone’s job, it was more like an ameteur volleyball team where everyone thinks another player is going for the ball, so they all stand there and stare while the ball drops in the middle of the court, right between them.

What is employee accountability in a workplace?

Employee accountability means each person on the team takes responsibility for their actions and performance. It requires expectations to be clear, so each team member can take ownership over their work output, quality and deadlines.

Benefits Of Team Accountability

A culture of accountability empowers team members to be productive, increase efficiency, improve communication, and foster greater trust and collaboration. Teams can work together toward achieving outcomes, while keeping clarity on who is doing what, by when.

This also increases each person’s sense of accountability to their peers and to the customers, rather than a top-down pressure that can be demotivating, and unintentionally train employees to do the bare minimum that the boss demands. In other words, team accountability makes it easier for leaders to hold your team accountable without being a micromanager, and makes it a more enjoyable place for a great team member to work.

Team Accountable

7 Ways To Build Accountability In Your Workplace

1.Start with Your Core Values.

Accountability does not need to be written in your company’s core values. However, if you are clear and intentional about the values of your organization, and have a process to hire and train people that is rooted in those values, then accountability is a natural byproduct.

For example, if you have a core value such as “excellence” or “do the right thing” or “continual improvement”… you can see how any of these values can create a platform for holding team members accountable – without the need for micromanaging every detail.

The more frequently your values are discussed, acknowledged and celebrated, the more “alive” they will be in everyday behavior. Over time, this will reduce your need to personally hold employees accountable to every minor task, because they are working to honor shared values, not to avoid getting in trouble.

2.Let accountability trickle down

Start with the big picture, then zoom in.

If your company has a major goal or initiative, there are probably multiple steps or phases, likely involving a cross-section of people and departments. So in order to effectively delegate, the desired results need to be clear – in other words, what does success look like for this initiative overall?

From there, you can begin to break it down, perhaps with sub-projects that keep your team on track with the smaller tasks, while keeping a line of sight to the big picture objectives.

3. Assign clear ownership to projects and initiatives

Every project, initiative or function needs a clear owner, along with a clear definition of what success looks like.

Note that this does not mean that individual is solely responsible for doing all the work! In many cases they can share responsibility through delegating or collaborating with others, but at the end of the day, there is one primary person to be held accountable for the overall success of the initiative.

Additionally, assigning a clear owner encourages the team member to take ownership over their work, and feel more invested in the results. This can lead to better motivation, higher job satisfaction, professional growth, and more successful projects.

4. Lead by example, whether you’re a manager or an executive

As John Wooden famously stated, “A strong leader accepts blame and gives the credit.”

Every leader has a lot on their plate, and a million good “reasons” why they were late to that meeting or didn’t finish that project. But allowing this type of behavior from yourself is creating a culture of excuses, and you are likely to see that reflected back to you from those you lead.

Therefore, leaders must set the tone for the culture by being accountable for their own commitments, and taking ownership when something goes wrong.

5. Be trustworthy and trusting

Creating a culture of accountability requires a 2-way commitment.

Being trustworthy means that you follow through on your part. In fact, consistency is the cornerstone of trust, so lack of follow-through will erode your team’s trust in you as a leader.

However, it’s not enough for your entire team to trust you – you also need to trust them. If you’ve ever found yourself thinking, “I can do it better and faster myself…” then you might be undermining your ability to trust your team member and hold them accountable.

If you really can’t trust your team member, you should evaluate: 1) are they the right person? 2) have I set clear expectations and standards? and 3) Do they need additional coaching or training?

Otherwise, it’s time to let go of perfectionism and trust your team.

6. Prioritize employee growth and development

Great employees want to work in an environment where they are able to utilize their gifts and abilities, and know their contribution matters. When employees see the company making their growth and development a priority, it has a positive impact on their commitment, loyalty, and overall team morale.

Additionally, when employees are trained and provided with the resources they need to do their jobs well, they see how they can take ownership over their results, rather than feeling tasked with achieving outcomes that are outside of their control. Feeling empowered, they begin to hold themselves accountable and take pride in their work.

7. Celebrate and reward accountability in the workplace

This is the best part – when you, as a leader, get to acknowledge your team for a job well done.

However, this can be challenging for high performance leaders. Possibly because you don’t personally need the pat on the back, so you’re not always conscious of slowing down to give it to others… or because there is simply too much left to be done to pause and celebrate the past.

But don’t overlook this step!

Celebrate what you want to see more of.

Celebrating successes, big or small, is a great way to reward employees for taking ownership of their work and being accountable for the results. It doesn’t always have to be a grand occasion (although public acknowledgement does send a powerful message to the team), but it’s mostly about meaningful gestures that make your employees feel seen and appreciated.

What happens when there’s no accountability in the workplace?

The risks of not having accountability systems are significant: tasks can be neglected or forgotten, deadlines missed, mistakes made… ultimately leading to a poor customer experience and damage to the bottom line.

And that is only the start of it.

Even more serious is the immeasurable impact on employee morale, motivation, and feelings of mistrust and dissatisfaction amongst coworkers, as well as between management and employees. It’s a fast track to frustration and burnout for you and your team members that are genuinely doing their best.

The Difference Between Responsibility vs. Accountability?

The terms responsibility and accountability are often used interchangeably, but there is an important distinction between the two.

Responsibility is about answering the question of “What needs to be done?”

This could be anything from completing a project, making sure tasks are completed on time, or ensuring customer issues are addressed.

Accountability is about answering the question of “Who is responsible for making sure it gets done?”

In other words, the accountable person gives an account – seeing to it that those responsible get the job done, and reports back on progress.

As stated earlier, responsibility can be shared, but accountability cannot.

Final words

In the Scaling Up platform, we use a tool called the Functional Accountability Chart (FACe) to help companies set clear accountabilities and key performance indicators.

Here is an overview of how it works:

1. List every key function in your company – particularly those that you feel things might be falling through the cracks too often.

2. Assign ONE person to be accountable for each. (So who’s accountable for sales, marketing, finance, technology, customer service…?)

3. Look out for potential weak spots where:

No one is accountable
2+ people are listed as accountable (this seat can’t be shared!)
When a single person is listed in too many areas, and might be overburdened

4. Next, list the outcomes that you’ll use to measure success in that area, so that everyone involved clearly understands the goals, the standards for success, and they are equipped to take full ownership of their area of responsibility.

Clarity is power.

When all your key leaders are free to take ownership, you’ll find a lot less falling through the cracks, and your company will be scaling up at a much faster rate.


How do teams hold each other accountable?

A boss holding someone accountable is one thing… but how do foster accountability within your team?

It starts with clear expectations and goals. Make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding responsibilities, deadlines and tasks by putting it in writing, or having everyone recap their individual commitments at the end of a meeting.

Having a defined reporting structure also helps to hold the team accountable without micromanaging. For example, if everyone is asked with updating the project plan with status updates prior to a meeting, the system does the heavy lifting and takes some pressure off the other team members. Now accountable team members can be asked, “just a reminder to update the spreadsheet by ___…” rather than, “I need you to send me an update on the status of…?”

But that doesn’t mean you let people off the hook. Check in with people. Remind them of commitments they might have missed, while connecting their responsibilities to the bigger impact, i.e., what is the positive impact of their contribution, or the negative impact without it.

What is the best way to hold people accountable?

As Brené Brown said, “clear is kind.”

To have a positive culture of accountability, expectations must be clearly outlined. Ensure the team member not only knows what to do, but also the expected results of their efforts, in order to help them connect the dots between the task and its greater purpose.

Next, let the accountable employee know how and when you want them to report in on any status updates, deadlines or potential challenges. Less experienced team members might need check-ins daily or weekly, whereas more experienced employees might need less frequent status updates, or to notify you only if something is off-track.  Keep in mind, frequent check-ins is not micromanaging if a team member is not yet as competent or productive as they need to be – it is simply part of the training and development process, and likely won’t be needed long-term.

Lastly, if you see a person is struggling, lead with questions instead of criticism. Aim to understand what is getting in the way, and how you can support them to get back on track.