What Shows Up at the Top is Amplified Below
With the release of our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage, we’ve been doing more speaking, corporate team off-sites, and leadership development programs. As a result, we have gathered some empirical data that we thought worth sharing.
One of the biggest challenges for teams is accountability. We’re not talking about accountability for deliverables, that is usually something executives are willing and able to address easily. “Tom you were supposed to get me the plan last Friday. It’s now Thursday, where is it?”
What we’re talking about accountability for behaviors. We aren’t talking about deeply personal issues. We’re talking about underproductive behaviors like coming late to meetings, answering a phone in a meeting, interrupting, checking your email during a meeting, yelling, gossiping about teammates, blaming, not playing well with others, or not taking ownership of your mistakes.
These are all things that happen – in meetings, in the hallway, over the phone. Usually, team members are very aware of difficult team dynamics. They just don’t get that they are equally responsible for addressing these behaviors.
The reason this is so important is that behaviors are the precursors to results.
Plus, time and time again, we’ve noticed that the same unproductive behaviors show up at the leadership level and are amplified lower in the organization.
Let me share an example.
A while back we worked with an executive team of a large technology start-up company. The executive team was made up of different business units: legal, product development, operations, information technology, and marketing.
We were doing our first two-day offsite with the executive team. We had them take Pat Lencioni’s Five Dysfunction of a Team, team assessment. As is often the case, the lowest score was accountability. This is the area where almost all teams struggle.
This team had the added challenge of being in multiple locations across the country. The team stated that due to the distance and limited time together, they weren’t able to give each other a great deal of feedback about unproductive behaviors.
This may sound reasonable. However, we asked if the team was aware of behavioral issues. Yes, they were. In fact, they had heard from their direct reports about how their peers had committed to decisions in the meeting and had done the exact opposite when they got back to their business unit.
The team left that first off-site agreeing to get better at holding each other accountable for what they had committed to doing during the meetings.
Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.
While we were working at the executive level, we were also developing both front-line manager training and senior level manager training for this company. When we were developing input into the frontline manager’s behavior issues, the very same issue was reported. People agreeing to one thing in the meeting and doing just the opposite.
We passed this information on to the executive team. Their response, “That’s just not acceptable.”
“Really? It’s the same behavior your own team is struggling with.” I, Susan, responded.
“You guys don’t hold each other accountable across business units – why should the people reporting to you be any different.”
This highlighted the issue. It’s hard to stop a behavior lower in the organization when what those people see is leaders doing the exact same thing. You have to model what you want people to do.
Here’s the deal—It’s not easy to give or receive feedback about unproductive behaviors. However, it’s so much better to know a teammate has your back, rather than hearing about it from a direct report or a client.
Plus, if you’re the leader of the team, the critical issue is that people need to know you will hold team members accountable. They also need to see it. So, if you give feedback only in a one-on-one session, other people don’t know it’s happening.
That is one of the biggest errors leaders can make. Why? Because people need to see real-time feedback modeled. This isn’t about being mean or undercutting a teammate.
It is about being honest, open, and direct about behaviors BEFORE they lead to poor team results.
When a leader models this type of real-time feedback and lets the team know the expectation is that team members will also hold each other accountable, teams transform.
P.S. Want to improve your team’s accountability and use it to drive increased employee engagement and bottom-line business results? Reach out to us, we’d love to help.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke
Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict
CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.
They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.
Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.