Fostering remote accountability within teams is essential to ensure employees and managers alike feel supported.
by Dan Pupius
November 26, 2021
If you’ve ever worked on a team plagued by missed deadlines, vague expectations or broken promises without follow-through, you’ve likely fallen victim to the consequences of a lack of accountability.
You’re not alone; 25 percent of remote managers say a lack of accountability is one of their biggest hurdles as a team and well over three-fourths of employees don’t understand what their team is trying to accomplish – or the role they have to play in those goals. Employees also reported that leaders aren’t defining clear expectations for their success.
According to The Oz Principle, accountability is a “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.” While this may feel like a responsibility imposed from leaders on workers, it is a two-sided coin and requires leaders to be intentional about the environment and culture they create.
When you have a culture of personal accountability, employees take ownership for driving their own improvement and delivering on projects. They seek feedback, identify new opportunities and drive projects forward. In fact, data shows that accountability for results always produces higher levels of engagement, which in turn helps companies outperform competitors.
That’s a solid case for mastering team accountability, right?
If your team is accountable, it follows through on its commitments, finishes projects on time and consistently meets its goals. Each individual is accountable for their own work and communicates openly when they are able to help those around them.
All too often, we only discuss accountability when things go wrong. The term “accountability” may even conjure up negative connotations such as anxiety, fear and disciplinary measures. But at its core, team accountability should be about teamwork and processes, not judgment and stress.
That said, perfecting the art of fostering team accountability can be challenging when your team is working remotely. Employees may miss out on natural chances to build alignment, ask questions, communicate effortlessly and see the progress made toward team goals day over day, week to week or quarter to quarter.
The trick is to build systems for team accountability that feel fair and non-judgmental and that work for remote teams spread across time zones and projects. It’s less about teammates nagging you for information and more about setting processes in place that hold everyone accountable – leaders and employees alike.
By putting simple frameworks in place to make accountability seamless and simple, you’ll set yourself and your remote teams up for success – no consistent follow-ups required.
Being in the office allowed for more informal, ad-hoc observations and collaborations among the team, while remote work requires teams to create explicit moments to ensure alignment. Understanding this, and shifting your mindset accordingly, is crucial to putting together accountability measures that will be successful in a remote environment, whether those measures are mental tasks such as placing a higher value on specificity and communication, or considering the roadblocks teams and employees may face when communicating their needs.
When we went fully remote, our team found it helpful to create a policy that outlined clear expectations around working expectations. Things such as core work hours, vacations, absences and flexibility were all discussed and written out in detail so team members never had to stress about this policy or that unspoken rule. The key is transparency – be abundantly clear about your expectations and any potential consequences, but also keep in mind the work-from-home lifestyle likely presents other limitations for employees outside of their workplace. Show empathy; you never know what else team members may be dealing with at home.
To return to the topic of employee engagement for a moment, people who know their role are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and take charge of their work, which heightens accountability by default. In the same vein, team members who understand one another’s roles will be more inclined to collaborate and communicate with one another because they know who to turn to for which needs. Make it a point to publicize everyone’s roles and revisit expectations on a regular basis.
Since going fully remote, we’ve found that having each team member share their individual plan for the day as part of their daily check-in to be a helpful tool in building individual autonomy and self-awareness. Teams also have regular conversations about projects and outcomes that impact the group, which holds everyone accountable for delivering results and follow-ups on time. Whether it’s holding weekly standups with the intent of planning out sprints or projects, or ensuring every team member posts a plan for their day each morning, find little ways to make planning a habit.
We use our check-in system to make the process of delivering written project updates as smooth as possible for teams that work asynchronously as ours do. When not everyone’s working hours align, it can be challenging to connect for meetings and other real-time tasks. Anything you can do to take that stress away – such as putting check-ins and other consistent updates in writing – is essential.
Accountability should be a daily task for your team, not something that arises when there are gaps in performance or when things go wrong. Building systems for accountability into your team’s workflow will ensure employees feel supported, managers aren’t micromanaging and everyone is focused on their work and the habits that support productivity and amazing results.