Mutual accountability is a quality that neither develops on its own, nor can be coerced. Instead, mutual accountability must be co-created between you, as team leader, and individual team members – that way everybody knows what outcomes are expected and who is being counted on to achieve them. Your job here is to be a participant with and a partner of the team, encouraging members to hold themselves accountable for their individual actions and contributions, as well as their collective contributions to the team and the team’s collective results.
Successful co-creation of mutual accountability hinges on your ability to define rules and structures for working together, fostering an environment that values interdependence, and laying the groundwork for powerful team meetings. Strive to avoid traditional language around “roles” and “responsibilities,” as these are words that foster the building of organizational silos. But be specific in your expectations so there’s no confusion around who to rely on for what.
The ultimate goal is to create a supportive environment within the team where the overall performance of the team improves as a result of mutual trust, encouragement and cohesion.
Understand, however, that individuals (especially top performers) may initially be wary of mutual accountability. Trust and commitment can take a long time to fully develop among team members. And past career experiences that cultivated a survival of the fittest mentality provide little guidance and direction for individual team members to draw upon when it comes to mutual accountability.
A future path to partnership
What does it mean to be a partner in a firm? It means you’re a co-creating equal contributor…a great self-manager and self-coach who understands the value of mutual accountability structures. If your intent is to build future team leaders and potentially future team owners, then mutual accountability and interdependence are even more imperative to teach early on in people’s careers.
During coaching and/or mentoring conversations with team members you envision as potential future leaders, make sure to stress the themes of mutual accountability and interdependence. Encourage these key individuals to lead by example – fostering a more inclusive team approach and holding themselves personally responsible for team results.
When mutual accountability is firmly engrained, you‘ll notice a meaningful shift in language, questions and behavior – with team member’s starting to regularly speak in terms of “we” rather than “ I,” and a widespread willingness to offer assistance to other team members without prompting.
Coaching Questions from this article:
- Actively identify where collective thinking or collective work would be more powerful than individual thinking or individual work. How can you go about turning these into opportunities for team collaboration rather than solo work?
- Think about the current interpersonal dynamics of your team. What actions can you take to break down existing silos and encourage more interdependence?
- Examine your compensation structure. What changes could you make to shift the balance from rewarding individual accomplishments to rewarding team accomplishments?
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