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The Power of Team Peer Accountability



We received several comments and questions from our last post, What Shows Up at the Top is Amplified Below. The primary question or concern was related to our position that one-on-one meetings with direct reports are not a good idea.

First, let’s address our position on having one-on-ones with your direct reports. We do believe there are at least a couple of good reasons for having some one-on-ones.

Examples:

  • mentoring a direct report in their area or a particular competency in their department or line of business

  • when a personal issue is present that is not related to team dynamics or team outcomes, such a health concern, a personal issue, or a relationship interfering with productivity

There are others, but these are two situations that easily come to mind for why having one-on-one sessions is helpful.

However, we believe that too many leaders use one-on-one sessions to address strategy and team interpersonal dynamics. This approach undermines team accountability and team creativity.

To maximize the potential of teamwork, it is important that teams have collective outcomes and goals that align around the organization’s long-term vision and purpose. To build cohesion on a team you must have collective goals. Without a focus on collective results and regular team meetings to drive these outcomes forward, team members fall back on focusing on their departments, areas of expertise, or personal advancement.

These collective goals provide the container for the team to come together and play in each other sandbox, so to speak.

Too often we have leaders tell us that they prefer to take things “off-line.” They think it’s counter-productive to have the whole team talking about something that would best be solved by those few most directly involved.

Here’s our concern about the “off-line” approach. Sure, it can be easier, less conflictual to only gather the experts or leaders of a ‘problem area.’ However, when it comes to team strategy, as well as team commitment – it’s critical to get to the best solutions. To do that, it is powerful to include input even from people who may not have the same level of expertise, yet are committed to the broader vision and collective goal.

Often new ideas come from someone on the team who thinks differently or questions a strategy which otherwise may be implemented without bringing the IQ of other team members into consideration.

Yes, sometimes the team approach results in more conflict. It can be messy, less efficient, and harder to control rather than managing the one person responsible for the task. However, with clarity and practice, teams begin to develop their own ability to create the right level of debate and discussion.

What happens next is even more powerful. Team members start calling each other on unproductive behaviors that are stalling action, commitment, and are not achieving results. This is the power in team/peer accountability. No longer does the responsibility fall solely on the leader to call people on their unproductive behaviors. Once you, as a leader, model holding people accountable in front of the team, others will begin to call their peers on these bad behaviors.

You want that team peer accountability, not just leader accountability. Peer accountability will only come from having on-going team meetings which build the container for team members to interact and develop the trust and a willingness to provide real-time feedback to each other.

My Personal Lesson In this Area

I, Susan, work on a number of different teams and boards. In the situation where I’m the leader of these teams, I often wrestle with this team approach and my desire to take things “off-line” with one member of the team in order to drive my own agenda.

Recently, I’ve faced the challenge of being the leader on a team created to develop next year’s adult education program at the community college. I had my own strong opinions and views about the best direction. So, I imagined this would be a fun and productive use of my skill set.

However, I’ve been humbled by the challenge presented. My team members had very different ideas from my own. The direction I wanted to go, and was convinced would be most effective, was not aligned with a couple of team members. I confess, I wanted to drop the two members whose ideas seemed so far out in left field and not aligned with the purpose and vision. At the very least, I wanted to talk to them one-on-one and try to convince them of the error in their view point.

However, as team leader it was not in my best interest to just push my ideas through or dismiss team members who disagreed with me. So, I shared my biased on our approach with the team and asked the team to call me when I was shutting down debate, pushing my agenda. I said I’d do the same for them.

It helped when I modeled what I wanted them to do with me with some of the other team members. It has been a developmental edge for me, to be confronted with how often I take over with strong opinion and persuasive style. With the help of the team, I’ve learned to encourage more open debate and dialogue. I’ll admit, it’s hard to listen to ideas radically different than my own and that could potentially threaten I vision I hold as dear. Yet, it has moved us forward towards our collective goals.

I am invested in ensuring the best dialogue occurs in our meetings. It hasn’t been easy or fun. What I am finding is that something new and quite incredible is emerging. The team is very engaged when we have meetings, and they will call each other out, including me, when one of us is stalling, over persuading, or going silent.

In other words, the outcome in terms of next year’s adult programming is helpful. The team has a strong commitment to ensuring that the adult program reaches more people. The response from prospective students is already proving to be significantly better than in the past.

So, I am humbled but also encouraged to find that the principal's I believe related to developing healthy and smart teams is solid. I think I can manage my ego and take the sting for a stronger team and an awesome adult program.

I share this story because I know it is hard to hold the space and not get in the way. It is the leader’s challenge and the best leaders know their own weaknesses so that they can keep working to ensure they don’t undermine a team, a project or a whole organization.

Take care,

Susan

P.S. If you want help building peer accountability on your team, check out our Kickstart Your Team Overview


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.


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