Accountability: Four Ways to Manage Team Expectations


Leaders get what they expect, and they get what they tolerate.

What are you tolerating? What are the low expectations that you are “putting up with” that shouldn’t be happening?


Maybe you’re telling yourself a story that allows you to tolerate unacceptable behaviors. “Well, I don’t have the skillset on my team to backfill for this person?” Or, “I need to choose my battles.” Or “It’s no big deal.” Or, “I’ll burn the relationship if I give her feedback.” How about this one – “I can’t hold her accountable for (fill in the blank) because she’s a good producer.”


When leaders tolerate behaviors that they shouldn’t, accountability always becomes an issue between the leader and the team member. It’s always externally driven. If the leader doesn’t hold the team member accountable, the work product is usually late or doesn’t get done at all. Or, it gets completed only to the minimal standards. We recently had an experience with a few software developers who stopped responding to our requests. They missed several deliverable dates that were mutually agreed upon, and it took an enormous amount of energy and time to even get a simple status update. And, worst of all, they delivered a product that was missing the most important feature we originally asked for because they operated in a complete silo. They lacked ownership and engagement and, in the end, externally blamed others and myself for the issues that they created.


It doesn’t have to be that way. When we found new developers, they were easy to work with, they exceeded our expectations every time and they were motivated to be part of the team. And, it took almost no “management” on our part.


Your workplace can be filled with the same type of people – the type of people who are committed instead of compliant. And, when you find those committed people and communicate a vision with high expectations, the accountability mindset shifts from a leader-to-team-member mentality to a team-member-to-team-member mentality. In other words, people take ownership and there is less dependency on the leader to manage and motivate them and hold them accountable.


Sound like a healthier workplace to you? It does to me too. And these are four critical components that we know need to be in place to create that type of environment.

Four Ways to Manage Team Expectations

Take inventory of your role. For any issue or frustration, the leader first has to start by assessing the extent to which they are contributing to the issue at hand. What are you putting up with? What are the limiting mindsets that are driving your behavior? I have a coach, just like many other executives. Through the coaching process, I uncovered a blind spot – that I was not addressing certain performance issues because, in my own words, “they were not a big deal.” So, to build awareness of this tendency and create behavioral change, I measure and reflect on it everyday. Literally every day, I ask myself a set of questions and score myself on a scale of 1 – 5 on how I am performing. Some of the questions have to do with allocating my time toward writing and strategic thinking. Other questions are related to my personal health and fitness and how I treat others.  “Did I do my best not to let things pass by that are not a big deal?” was a new question placed at the top of the list.


Hire right the first time. Getting the right people in the right seats is perhaps the most important thing you can focus on. The difficult part of this is making the mindset shift to see selection and onboarding as “real work” and not a distraction from all of the other tasks on your plate.


Set clear agreements. Great leaders always establish clear agreements. They do this at the beginning of meetings, when they coach people 1-1, with quarterly goals and when creating contracts with vendors or suppliers.


Coach consistently and frequently. Great leaders coach their people ongoing. It’s just part of their daily routine. Sometimes it comes in the form of an “ah ha moment” between meetings. Other times it’s more formal, like in a 1-1, daily huddle, or quarterly goal review.


When leaders consistently put these four components in place the conversations fundamentally change. They become less about holding others accountable and more about the possibilities for the future.