“The best kind of accountability on a team is peer-to-peer.”
– Patrick Lencioni
Most co-workers typically offer supportive comments and pats on the back to their peers, but rarely will they say, “If you just did ‘X’ better…” They don’t typically go there. The interpersonal discomfort is too much.
And therein lies the problem.
How can any organization achieve more when its leadership complacently accepts the status quo and neglects having the tough conversations that bring about transformation?
In his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, author Patrick Lencioni encourages leaders to prioritize supporting each other – their First Team – before considering their own self-interests or those of their direct reports.
Your First Team are your peers, the people you should be relying on for insights to challenges you face. They are the ones who can offer you an informed and timely assessment because they have previously addressed similar issues in their own department or project. Unfortunately, these much-needed conversations do not happen organically when you and your peers are siloed off, working independently from one another.
So, how do you foster a team culture that promotes open dialogue and accountability when everyone seems to be on an island to themselves?
Here are five critical success factors.
1. Remember Your Purpose is to Help the Team Improve
Whenever holding a peer accountable, it is best to frame the conversation in the context of how their performance impacts the overall team outcome.
Sometimes, people disagree with a management decision. So, they sabotage the initiative either subconsciously or intentionally with subpar or counterproductive actions. This indicates a foundational lack of commitment to the direction the team is moving.
“People aren’t going to hold each other accountable if they haven’t clearly bought into the same plan.”
– Patrick Lencioni
Diverse opinions in the workplace are good and valuable. Unanimity, though, is seldom reached. Often, individuals will not get their preferences met when a final decision is reached. Just because a teammate cannot completely agree with all details of a plan, doesn’t mean they can’t commit to it.
Have your ideological debates. Let everyone’s voice be heard. Declare, unambiguously, what the plan is going forward. Then, go back to the dissenters and ask, “Are you willing to disagree on these points but still commit – which means no drilling holes in the team’s boat when our backs are turned?”
If saboteurs do strike, and we find out about it as a peer, most of us run the other direction. These are times that demand we find the coachable moment and have an uncomfortable discussion. Ask the teammate to help you understand why, for instance, they’re sending emails saying exactly the opposite of what they agreed to do to help the team?
Call them out on performance issues vis-à-vis their impact on team success.
2. Set Ego Aside
You always risk being met with defensiveness whenever you hold a co-worker accountable.
The best approach is to talk with your peer humbly and aim to problem solve. Set egos aside and seek to deepen your professional relationship “as iron sharpens iron.” Remind yourselves that being honest and open with each other can grow trust and may strengthen your alliance.
The main ingredient to building trust is courage, not time.
Once your intentions are properly set and the air is clear of pride and office politics, sit down to a really good discussion about how a specific behavior impacted a particular outcome.
Focus your conversation on doing what’s right for the broader team.
3. Gain Permission to Give Feedback
All the right motives and carefully worded questions can go for naught if the timing is wrong. Just because you’re having a good day and feel prepared to tackle this sticky issue doesn’t mean your teammate is. They could be having the worst day of their life, and your feedback will only be seen as piling onto their woes.
Always ask for permission before offering your observations to make sure the timing is right.
Sometimes you may want to lead with asking your peer to give you feedback on something you’re uncertain about. If it leads to a meaningful conversation, they may organically ask you for your opinion in return. Much of the time, when you ask someone for input, it’s usually reciprocated.
This approach seems to work best with a peer who has not established a high level of trust with you or feels threatened and becomes combative when confronted.
Regardless of whether you take the direct or indirect approach to getting permission to give feedback, always make sure the recipient is prepared and willing to hear it at that time.
4. Take the Initiative by Asking for Feedback
A surefire way to encourage your peers to be open to receiving your feedback is to model vulnerability for them. Do for others what you want them to do for you, and do it first. Be known among your peers as that approachable co-worker who is willing to be held accountable and receptive to help.
The biggest compliment you can give someone is to ask for their opinion.
Most people love when their opinion is being asked, as long as they don’t feel they’re being painted into a corner with an ulterior motive. When you vulnerably ask your peers for help, you’re establishing relationships and working together to achieve better outcomes for the team.
In the future, your peer will reach out to you for help. When the feedback loop becomes bi-directional, you have a group primed for better performance and accountability.
5. Continue the Conversation
The last piece to this puzzle that hardly anyone does is to keep the momentum going. We tend to treat feedback like a hot potato. We pass it off. We say “good luck and please don’t hate me for this” and try to leave the awkward situation as quickly as possible.
Accountability in the office place is not a “one and done” conversation.
It takes practice to reinforce a new behavior. It’s totally appropriate, in a peer-to-peer relationship, to ask, “Can we monitor this situation and let me help you, if I see you doing ‘X’ for the next 60 days? Can I be your coach on this?”
Offer to be their partner and continue the conversation at some point just to help your teammate make greater contributions to the team. When you position your offer as a constructive gift, your chances of being accepted improve.
The most effective means of maintaining high standards on a team is peer pressure.
“Peer pressure is more efficient and effective than going to the leader, anonymously complaining, and having them stop what they are doing to intervene.”
– Patrick Lencioni
There is nothing like the fear of letting down the team that motivates people to improve their performance. When is the last time you confronted a teammate, whose performance was holding the team back? When is the last time you asked your peers for feedback?
Many organizations consider the inclineHR 360 Feedback Assessment (i360FA) as a complementary process to help their top talent shine. Our 100% confidential assessments help our clients understand the true “word on the street.” Then and only then, can they build out a development plan based on any pervasive themes of feedback that exist. Contact inclineHR for your i360FA. We build exceptional leaders.