Accountability is a loaded word that has come up A LOT lately. Questions like “what does accountability look like?”, “how do we act more accountable?”, and “how can we get others to be more accountable?” have been discussed at length in the communities I’ve been a part of. Often, I hear leaders asking how to get accountability on their collaboratively managed team without a “boss” that has traditionally held everyone accountable. These discussions have been crucial and have taught me that to be accountable is an action rather than a static destination. With that (perhaps obvious) realization, the whole conversation is re-framed for me to “What does a culture of accountability look like?” and what do we want it to look and feel like?

What does the word accountability mean to you? It can function differently in every team; but, how do we get a system that is really working for us? For this piece, I’m using Cecile Green’s definition of accountability: “the ability of individuals and teams to collaboratively determine and deliver on their commitments” (see more at her blog ). In this piece, I’m focusing on a key part of accountability in our team: (part of) the process and also what it feels like.

As I’m diving into my understanding that accountability is a dynamic process that has to be worked at continuously, I’m finding that there are key practices that help to keep us on track. What this means and what I’ve noticed, is that when accountability looks and feels good, it’s not the main part of the conversation. It’s underlying. Foundational. It’s the lungs exercising the breath and the heart beating in the background, in order for the body to build, create, and envision other activities.

In your team, what are the practices that hold up accountability with ease and effortlessness?

Take some time to think about how that works in your team. Just as we come back to our breath and our heart rate to notice hardship or struggle, we need to be able to tend to the beat and breath of our team’s accountability. When our team’s heart is beating faster or breathing is more of a struggle, we need to be able to diagnose and treat those issues.

I’d like to tell you about a practice that works to keep our accountability beat and breath easeful, and that we come back to mindfully as needed to address challenges. Our team is self-organized (i.e. dynamically organized according to mission and resources, non-hierarchical, and no “bosses”) via Collab, a collaborative operating and management system (see more here).

In Collab, one of the biggest factor to our heart beats in our accountability practices is continuously clarifying our (current and relative) strategic priorities. We revisit our priorities as a team whenever it is needed and it’s posted in a place that we all have access to all the time. We also have a policy by which we come back to the priorities to set up our time and projects for the week. It’s understood that we can never get to everything and this helps us to be accountable to the relevant strategic priorities that the team has consented on. This prevents any argument or disagreement in the team about where a person’s time should go as long as it’s based on the priorities.

accountability in collaborative teams
The benefits that come from establishing strategic priorities to align projects and team members cannot be overstated. And, the process of coming up with our priorities together and consenting on them is also incredibly powerful for tending to our culture of accountability. I believe that a big part of accountability for collaborative teams is the consent – consenting to the priorities of what we will spend our time and resources on collectively. This process strengthens the team’s communication, cohesion and interpersonal relationships.

To paint the picture, in Collab we hold our strategic priorities as a “proposal”. So one person holds this proposal and integrates feedback and any objections through our collective decision-making process (see our online course Collab 101 if you want to learn how to do that). In a “round”, everyone gets a chance to speak while one person is holding all of those details and making changes to a proposal that reflects a new set of priorities.

This process is so energizing because it’s the time that we’re talking about some of our small and big dreams for the short or/and long term future together.

It’s a time that feels incredibly aligning because it’s eye opening to hear about what my co-workers are desiring for our team’s work together. Then, we get to talk about what does success look like for us. This sets a strong and steady beat for us as we go about our work together.

So, to go back to “What does a culture of accountability look like?” and what do we want it to look and feel like? For me, a culture of accountability involves:

  1. my input to what’s timely and important for our success;
  2. an open space to voice my concern and disagreement (and for my teammates to do the same);
  3. and, one of the most crucial pieces, building trust with my team to collectively deliver on our goals and, dare I say, dreams.

Are you curious about how to integrate these practices of accountability based on consent, mindfulness, and alignment? We hosted a webinar focused on these questions and issues of accountability. It was recorded, so you can follow along at a time that’s convenient for you. Sign up here to get access to this invaluable resource on accountability.

And, are you simply ready for the next steps and hands on training for getting your own accountability systems set up and working for you? Take a deep dive with us to strengthen that “heartbeat” and add skills and practices to your tool belt to  your to build a culture of accountability in your life and teams. Join our next Collaborative Leadership Certification Program cohort for support in strengthening your leadership goals, including comprehensive accountability systems training. Get all the information here.

Share your accountability practices in the comments below!

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