Peer-to-peer accountability is a challenging task. You may work in a cross-functional team, a virtual team, a matrix situation, or in a more traditional, stable team setting. In each of these situations, holding each other accountable to team goals and commitments is challenging, especially since you are not the person’s boss. Even though these conversations may are difficult, below suggestions address how to conduct an accountability conversation with a team member in a structured, respectful, transparent and problem-solving manner.

Preparation for an accountability conversation – 5 tips

  • Assess the level of safety for this conversation, defined as: Do we both perceive the relationship as respectful? Can we speak our minds freely without concern about damaging the relationship or other possible negative consequences? If not, you have trust building work to do.
  • Assure that the timing of the conversation fits you both. Overly strong emotions and feeling time-pressured will most likely negatively impact the interaction. Be present there and then and be ready for anything, expected or not, that may come your way.
  • Keep an open mind. First about how the conversation may develop and what the emotional intensity might be. Regardless of your preparation, positive intent, and approach, you never know nor control what’s going on at the other end of the table. Second, be open to the idea that you could be wrong. Ask yourself: What may I be missing or misinterpreting?
  • Know your internal chatter. Ask: What story am I telling myself about this person, their intentions, and the circumstances? Is it a victim story, a villain story, a helplessness story etc. Where’s the proof? How do I know? Could I be totally wrong? Will this story help or hurt the conversation?
  • Reflect on your own possible role in the present situation: What may I be not willing to address myself? How may I be contributing to the performance / delivery gap?

Execution of the accountability conversation – 5 tips

  • Describe the situation: ‘What happened as I see it.’ Focus on the gap between expectation and reality as you see it. In this stage separate ‘What happened’ from ‘Why’ it happened. Refrain from speculation and judgment. Move away from blame and focus on understanding and analysis.
  • Ask for the person’s response, for their version of what happened. Remain focused even if you are confronted with an emotional response. Respond empathetically yet keep focused on the facts. Be ready to listen intently and ask questions to clarify. Refrain from jumping to conclusions and from judgment – for many the hardest thing to do. Work towards agreement on where the stories align and where they do not.
  • Identify impacts – Explain what you see as the consequences of not meeting expectations. What are the results of what happened or didn’t happen and of what was not accomplished? Ask/address: What’s the impact? Ask/address: Why does this matter? Ask/address: What are some potential implications? Also consider which of these consequences may the person care about most?
  • Explore the barriers – What is getting in the way of this person delivering and performing up to expectations?

Content – Knowledge – Information

Ability – Skills – Coaching

Motivation – Drive – Values

Relationships – Influence – Style

Processes – Procedures – Resources – Tools

  • Collaboratively explore possible remedies and move to action:

How can barriers be removed?

What does the person need to improve?

Who can help, support?

Is the person truly committed to the changes?

What is the time frame?

How will you both know there’s improvement – success?

How will you follow up? When?

Lastly, but actually firstly, a safe and transparent climate where fact finding outweighs fault finding, where learning from mistakes prevails covering up mistakes, is the only way for people to openly admit to and share near misses, small mistakes, and big failures.

This will be the topic of one of the upcoming blog posts.