As we continue to explore the concepts developed by Patrick Lencioni around developing healthy organizations we come to the issues of commitment and accountability. You have now built your team to the point where they have learned to operate together with a vulnerable trust and they have figured out how to manage conflict in a productive way so that the company mission is being advanced. The last two behaviors that are required for building a cohesive and healthy leadership team are achieving commitment and embracing accountability.
Once your team have mastered managing conflict, achieving commitment becomes a relatively simple step. It may look messy to the uninitiated but it is effective and easy if you have made the effort to guide those first two behaviors (trust and conflict). The thing about achieving commitment is that by far the best way to ensure this with your team is to create a structure for meaningful input into the decisions that impact the them. It may be that they won't actually be able to change a decision but the necessity of giving them an opportunity to provide input is important. Most people realize that they don't get their way on all things. They will however move forward with you if they feel that they had a genuine opportunity to provide input. I say genuine because if you are just going through the motions, giving the appearance of feedback, you will actually have a detrimental effect on that initiative. It has to be genuine, there should be the possibility that the feedback will be heard and yes, when pertinent, incorporated.
This is where it can look messy for you as a leader but remember even if this is your project or initiative other people have a stake in it as well. It will be hard but you must learn to share and realize too that they may actually have insights that will further enhance what you want to accomplish.
It is not by accident that embracing accountability comes last in the order of what is required for building a cohesive and healthy leadership team. I won't sugar coat it, it is the hardest behavior to master. In fact statistically this is the biggest challenge that leaders face across all the other behaviors that they need to master. This takes us back to the initial challenge that companies face which is there is no lack of process, no lack of expertise on the "hows" of running a business. We can hold people accountable for performance measures and metrics because in our minds those things are quantifiable and therefore easier to deal with. But true organizational health requires embracing accountability that deals with behaviors on the team and the teams your team may run. Did your heart skip a beat? It should have, this is where things can get personal particularly if you have not taken the time to build the other behaviors that make up a strong leadership team. Jumping to holding someone accountable for undesired or potentially destructive behavior before building trust and learning how to manage conflict can be problematic.
In reality though your biggest challenge will not be jumping ahead of the process to hold someone accountable for a negative behavior but rather it will be in holding them accountable at all. If you are like most of us (and I mean most of us) you are not going to want to hold that team member accountable for a negative or non-productive behavior. Rather you will probably make note of it during your meetings or in passing and perhaps mention it to others on the team or in your department. Regardless of how you try to spin it this is indicative of a lack of respect as there is nothing respectful about withholding information from a peer that could help them improve their performance. If you think about it from a personal perspective wouldn't you want to be told that something you were doing or not doing was not only noted by your peers but was impacting their ability to do their jobs as well? This will date me a little but in the spirit of walking in that mutual vulnerable trust let me use this old adage - "Only your friend will tell you when your fly is open." As difficult as it may seem, the idea of holding each other accountable for behavior that impacts the team has to be done and is one of the hallmarks of a strong and cohesive leadership group.
Let me give you an example. As we discussed in an earlier post getting to know each other and creating that vulnerable trust in the leadership group is important for embracing accountability. After one of my team meetings with a leadership group that reported to me I was approached by one of the team members and the conversation went something like this;
"Do you know that some of the comments you made regarding that last initiative really hurt Betty's feelings?"
"Really? What did I say? I thought I had kept my comments on the concept and not aimed at her?"
"Well, for the most part you did but you were pretty forceful and passionate and I think she took it the wrong way."
"That is true, I do feel pretty strongly about that issue but I really was just arguing the facts, I did not think I was attacking her?"
"Try to remember she was asking for specifics on some of the details. She put a lot of thought into her questions and was really just looking for clarity and you just sort of shot them down. I know you thought you were engaged in a vigorous discussion around those ideas but it is how it came across that was hurtful."
I will admit at this point I was waaaaay out of my comfort zone and bringing emotions into the mix scared me to death. But, I trusted this team member and I knew she was not trying to put me on the spot but was actually watching my back. So I took her advice and headed to Betty's office. I didn't defend myself I just apologized for coming across so poorly and hurting her feelings. (Yes, I had indeed hurt her feelings.) And then we spent the next 30 minutes going over her questions and coming to a consensus on them. Done. That's it! There was no need for any strange dynamics at the next meeting or second guessing any agenda behind the go forward discussions around that issue.
Was it hard for that team member to call me on it? You bet. Was it hard to go and humble myself and be vulnerable with Betty? Absolutely! But what it saved me down the road in hurt relationships, lack of engagement and loss of productivity and unity on the team cannot be calculated. A healthy leadership team will come to understand that truth and embracing accountability will come easier as they practice that behavior.
No it never gets easy, just easier and once you have experienced working on a team that is cohesive and healthy and practices the behaviors of vulnerable trust, managed conflict, achieving commitment and embracing accountability you will wonder how you ever managed to get things done any other way. And whats more, it will be rewarding, enriching and fun! So tell me, how healthy is your team?