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How to Start Team Accountability When You Never Have Before

by | Aug 2, 2018 | By David Dye, Commitment, Results & Execution, Winning Well |

It’s never too late to begin team accountability.

“Karin and David, can I ask you a question?” We had just finished a keynote where we gave leaders the tools to have the tough conversations. Sarah, a middle-level manager, came up to talk to us, looking nervous. “I’ve been a pleaser manager my entire career, but I hear what you’re saying. It’s time for team accountability, but I don’t know what to do next. Where do I begin? How do I change my leadership style now?

What a great question, and one we hear frequently. If you’ve allowed your team to slide and have chosen being liked at the expense of achieving results, you’re not alone. In our surveys of managers, over 2/3 have a preference for getting along over getting results.

The good news is that when you recognize the need to practice team accountability, you can start with a few achievable steps. We have worked with many managers who have transformed their leadership from people-pleasing to human-centered results and accountability. Here are six steps you can take to transform your leadership and your team’s accountability when you haven’t done it before:

1. Take responsibility

Before starting a new initiative, it’s vital to let your team know what you’re doing. You are a role model for everything that happens going forward so you need to demonstrate accountability right now.

You can say something like: “I haven’t been the best leader in this area. Frankly, I’ve preferred being liked over achieving the results we’re here to achieve. I haven’t done the best job when it comes to accountability, but that changes today. I owe it to you and we owe it to one another and we owe it to our customers.”

You don’t want to say this unless you’re serious about making a change. When you take responsibility and reset expectations, can massively improve your credibility and role model what it looks like to make a positive change. At the same time, if you aren’t serious and don’t back up your words with actions, your credibility will suffer.

2. Reset Expectations

The word “accountability” can be scary to your team, particularly when you haven’t talked about it or practiced team accountability in the past. Take time to talk about it. Be clear about what success looks like going forward.

Eg: “Accountability doesn’t mean beating people up for poor performance, it means we’re going to keep our commitments to one another. When we do, we will acknowledge it. When we don’t, we will work to understand why and what to do next time (or to make it right, now).”

You may need to reframe or emphasize the values you’re working from. For example: The team’s success is more important than our individual discomfort and when you don’t hold me or one another accountable, you’re hurting the team and the people we serve.”

Finally, start small. Try confidence-burst strategy for accountability. Pick a time period between two team meetings. Eg: “For the next 10 days we’re going to practice accountability. We’re going to keep our commitments to one another, and when we don’t, we’re going to address it directly.”

3. Equip Everyone with the Basics of Team Accountability

Unless they’ve been part of a highly effective team in the past, most team members won’t have the skills to hold one another accountable. You will need to teach them to Ditch the Diaper Drama and share the INSPIRE model with them. Here is a quick refresher on the INSPIRE method.

I – Initiate: Create space for the conversation.

N – Notice: Make an observation of the behavior in question. Eg: “I noticed that you didn’t bring the report you committed to…”

S – Support: Offer supporting evidence as needed.

P – Probe: Ask “What’s going on?” or a similar question that brings them into the conversation.

I – Invite: Ask them how they can remedy the situation.

R – Review: Check for understanding to ensure you have understood their commitment.

E – Enforce: Set a follow-up meeting when you will both check to see you’ve kept your commitment.

4. Reinforce expectations

If your team is a rock band, you are the drummer. Keep the new accountability commitment in front of them. For this accountability confidence burst you can literally review it daily. Remind everyone what you’re doing. This is the MIT (Most Important Thing.)

5. Celebrate every success

You get more of what you celebrate and encourage so be on the lookout for acts of accountability, especially when a team member holds YOU accountable. Stop the meeting, congratulate them, draw attention to it, encourage and celebrate the team for holding one another (or you) accountable. Then return to the meeting.

6. Practice accountability about accountability

This is a powerful opportunity to reinforce new behaviors. When the team doesn’t practice accountability, stop the meeting. “We’ll get back to the sales strategy in a minute, but first we need to talk about what happened. I noticed that I didn’t bring the data I said I would – and no one said anything. What’s going on?” You’re using the INSPIRE model to reinforce that they didn’t hold you accountable – and they should.

Your Turn

It’s never too late to begin practicing team accountability. When you take responsibility, reset expectations, equip your team to practice accountability and celebrate as you practice new behaviors together, you create a foundation for transformational and breakthrough results.

Leave us a comment and share your best strategy to start practicing team accountability when you never have before.

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Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!


  1. Steve L. Wintner, AIA Emeritus

    David, this is one of my favorite articles that you have authored. It resonates deeply within me and is brilliantly presented, thank you.
    I especially like the INSPIRE acrostic; simple, direct and easy to implement one step at a time.
    Steve L. Wintner, AIA Emeritus

  2. David Dye

    Steve, thank you for the kind words. I’m glad it is helpful. This is such an important issue and one that many leaders wrestle with as they improve their skills.

  3. Jacque Reandeau

    As our company heads into FY19 and new strategies are being rolled out, this article could not have come at a more perfect time for a reminder. Although I am not a people person manager, I took a lot from the advice and how I can do more to INSPIRE. Thanks!

    • David Dye


      I’m so glad to hear it was helpful. You remind all of us that accountability is everyone’s responsibility and we can all INSPIRE one another!

  4. Steve L. Wintner, AIA Emeritus

    Hi David, Karin, I continue to re-read your article and seem to always discover something that I might have ‘glossed over’ in previous readings. This is a positive reinforcement for me. Because I am so passionate about accountability in the workplace, especially in my profession, I am continually seeking ‘wisdom’ on the topic. Before you became known to me, the best I had learned about accountability was from, “Winning With Accountability”, by Henry J. Evans. Your ‘INSPIRE’ method acrostic is the next level in my edification of the topic.
    Thank you again and again,

    • David Dye

      You are most welcome – again and again. Thank you for modeling the deep learning we can all use!

  5. Ashish

    I think there is a hidden gem in step #4 in that a constant reinforcement is both essential for success and can actually multiply results by constantly reminding people of the new path the team is on. Humans have the propensity to fall back on old habits which can hamper change. By getting team-commitment and then reinforcing that commitment in a daily standup, the chances for success in this endeavor to restart this “wheel of accountability” skyrocket as opposed to without reinforcement.

    • David Dye

      Ashish, thank you for taking the hidden gem and exposing it to the light. Totally agree that the cadence of accountability is vital for high performing teams – and that it’s not just the leader’s work. In high performing teams, everyone practices full circle accountability.

  6. Steve Wintner, AIA Emeritus

    Hi David, Karin, it’s me again.
    Having just re-read your article, yet another issue has occurred to me. Please take this in the spirit it’s intended, as constructive feedback, not criticism.

    There are two things that now have ‘jumped out’ at me as I read the article again.
    1. It is my preference to avoid using the word ‘expectation(s)’. I have learned by my firsthand experience, that having expectations of others eventually leads to my being disappointed. In lieu, I prefer to express my so-called expectations in the form of either effectively explaining what I would like from others (family, co-workers, peers, subordinates…), or my second issue-
    2. No mention in the article or the ‘inspire’ acrostic, of ‘effective delegation’. My experience has been to find cooperation and a successful outcome, through effective delegation, not expectation.
    It also reinforces the concept of team accountability, which I agree is so important to the overall success of any organization, firm, family, etc.

  7. Jay Brantley

    Once INSPIRED it’s time to take ACTION:

    A- Active Engage with energy and purpose
    C-Caring Demonstrate interpersonal caring
    T-Trust Build trust through encouragement
    I-Insight Gain knowledge regarding barriers
    O-Open Listen for alternative solutions
    N-New New confidence in leadership skills

  8. Denise Guile

    Great information and ideas.

    • David Dye

      Thanks Denise – glad to hear it was helpful!

  9. Bob Gravely

    David you make that great and critical point that holding people accountable isn’t micro-managing or looking over their shoulder. If a person is part of a team then their role, job, process, etc. is needed for the entire team to succeed. Not doing their part is selfish and holds everyone back. That moves the focus away from a “management” function to a success focus.


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David Dye helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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