Nearly everyone is a team member for one team and, possibly, a team leader for another. Whether a functional team or a cross-functional team, I often find that team members and leaders are frustrated by a lack of ownership of the ultimate team outcomes. This is particularly true when:
- Team members answer to another “solid line” manager, especially if that team member is deployed to multiple teams. I am always stymied by the regular confusion of matrixed team member accountability. Doesn’t it make sense that the team member is fully accountable to their dotted-line manager for their contribution? Then, why do timelines and quality slip with attribution to pressures from the matrixed “functional” manager (you know, the one who does their performance rating)?
- The work is complex and long-term. When the work is highly complex, making deadlines and outcomes are naturally challenging and often difficult to keep in front of the team. The leader has a particular challenge of anticipating set-backs while relying on each and every member to perform.
- The team leader has not clearly been anointed as the leader. This is a particularly challenging issue. If either team member or leader experience an ambivalence or lack of clarity about the team leader’s accountability, each person is on his or her own to decide about their own accountability.
First, remember we’re not talking about task completion; we’re talking about that sense of and the resulting actions that demonstrate ownership for the whole.
Second, remember that not only the team leader can be frustrated, probably the best-performing team members are frustrated too.
What’s the answer or actions you can take? Every situation is different, but here are five actions to consider.
- Clarify your understanding of accountability, team leader and team member accountability. If you approach this work in a nonjudgmental way, you will at least understand what’s clear and what’s not.
- Declare your expectation of team members. In fact, most people want to “own” and be part of the larger outcomes. Consider whether you have truly enlisted that ownership.
- Get ahead of the pressure points. Visit and revisit the plan of action and call out and check on current status against not just the tasks, but the big outcome.
- Hold people accountable to you. Again, this can be done as team leader or team members. Not a “poke in the chest” kind of holding accountable. Rather, a reinforcing and engaging approach to holding people accountable.
- Work the extended stakeholders. Especially if you are the leader, you may have to put an accountability building plan in place, engaging and holding extended leaders accountable to the ultimate outcomes.
This can be hard work, especially if you live in a “nice” culture or the clarity on accountability for big outcomes has been undeclared for a long time. The most important ingredient for success is your own solid sense of ownership and personal accountability. Use that part of your persona to move the needle around you.