By Dave McKeown
July 12, 2023
Building a culture of accountability and ownership in your team and organization is a holy grail for leaders today. It finally allows you to emerge from the need for heroic leadership and instead sit back and watch your team achieve even greater things than you would.
The biggest challenge in creating a fully autonomous team is that accountability is not something you can teach. Sure, you can share the overarching principles of taking ownership, but it will always be a decision your team has to make.
And that decision is becoming more challenging to nudge toward self-accountability. The question most people ask (even subconsciously) every time there’s an opportunity to go the extra mile is, “Is it worth my time and effort to do this?” Is there some form of reward, either intrinsic or extrinsic, they will reap for putting in the hard yards?
Side note: You need to create alignment before injecting ownership; otherwise, you’ll have a team eager for empowerment without a shared destination. You’ll get a large dust cloud of activity, but it’ll be hard to see if it adds up to anything.
Build an Ownership Map
Having created alignment, your team should see how what they do every day adds to your guiding principles. You can take that further by actively building an individual Ownership Map.
An Ownership Map lists the key projects that each person on your team is working on over the next 90 days, their goals for those projects, and the pathways they link to.
It’s a way of helping team members’ put the blinkers on’ and stay ruthlessly focused on the work that matters most over the next three months.
If you find that someone on your team is spending more than 10 to 15% of their time on a project not listed on their Ownership Map, you need to encourage a slight course correction. Either they’re getting distracted, or there’s a gap in your understanding of the projects that make up your pathways.
Good questions to help build your team’s Ownership Maps:
- What are your main projects for the next 90 days?
- What would you like to achieve?
- How can I best help?
Use Performance Levers
Once your team members have their Ownership Map in place, your role becomes one of coaching and feedback.
Coaching involves being available for your team when they hit an obstacle or a roadblock and asking them the right questions to help them overcome that challenge. It does not mean jumping in to tell them what to do or, even worse, fixing it.
Feedback involves providing the space for your team to reflect on what’s working well for them and what they’d like to do differently. The best feedback comes from within. The more your team can identify their areas of improvement without your input, the better.
Coaching and feedback can occur at the task level and at a higher level of behavior patterns. Make sure to spend the right amount of time on both.
Questions to help your performance levers:
- What’s the issue?
- What have you tried?
- What will you try next?
Create an Accountability Culture
Most leaders I talk to mistakenly identify one of their roles as holding their team accountable. The challenge with this approach is that it personifies your accountability practice. If you are not around to have the necessary conversations or to follow through, accountability will fall by the wayside.
Instead, build a culture of accountability within your team. Give them the tools to hold each other accountable to achieve their shared goals.
Start by having everyone share their Ownership Map, then hold monthly review sessions to discuss where they’re excelling and struggling.
Impress on your team that if one person fails, we all fail, and encourage them to view these review sessions as an opportunity to extend a hand, a resource, or even just an ear to their colleagues when someone is lagging.
Oh, and remember to encourage them to celebrate the victories. No matter how small they are.
Questions to help your team build an accountability culture:
- What worked well?
- Where do you need help?
- What did you learn?
If you make it a regular practice for your team to review their Ownership Maps collectively and for you to provide coaching and guidance, you’ll see individuals, and then the whole group, take increasing amounts of ownership and self-accountability.
About the Author
Dave McKeown is a leadership speaker, consultant, and the author of The Self-Evolved Leader – Elevate Your Focus and Develop Your People in a World That Refuses to Slow Down.
His signature keynote and workshop, The Leader’s Horizon, helps leaders achieve the extraordinary by elevating their focus and aligning their teams.
He has shared his leadership strategies at the Inc. 500 and Growco conferences for Bank of America, the British Government, Entrepreneur’s Organization, Bamboo HR, and countless others. He has worked with leaders at some of the world’s most innovative organizations, including Apple, Google, Salesforce, FedEx, Spectrum Health, and Renewal by Andersen.
He is the host of the podcast ‘Lead Like You Give a Damn’ and writes a leadership column for Inc.Com. Learn more about Dave and his work at davemckeown.com.
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Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.