We’ve all encountered them at some point: the colleague or co-worker who seems to run on their own internal schedule, puts off getting back to us and delaying our own timelines in the process, or simply drops the ball on a task or project, resulting in a scramble.

Without trust in our teams, things can fall apart quickly. A previously good manager becomes a micro-manager. We decide it’s easier to push ahead on a project alone because it’s so much easier than dealing with someone who doesn’t pull their weight, and then miss out on key feedback or course correction. We start to view our colleagues with suspicion: if they can get away with something, why can’t we?

To me, accountability and trust are two sides of the same coin—and an essential coin for getting great work done. Will this person do what they say they will, by the time they’ve said they will do it? Can I trust them to have the best interests of the team at heart? If I think the answer to either of these questions is no, I’m likely to view a person with suspicion. I’m also more likely to use my valuable time and energy (which could otherwise be used on, you know, actually getting work done), trying to manage those relationships. Of course, I’m not perfect by any stretch. Sometimes I miss deadlines, completely forget about a commitment, or react to something purely out of self-interest without considering the full needs of the team/organization. When that happens, I try to correct my mistake, and then consider how I want people to view me professionally: as someone trustworthy and accountable.

Building a Culture of Accountability

So, what can you do if you’re working in an environment that’s low on accountability and trust? Below is some advice for individuals and leaders to consider to help build a culture of trust and accountability in their organizations.

Individuals on Low-Trust Teams

As I wrote in a previous post, for better or for worse, we cannot control the behavior of others. What we can control is our reaction to it. If you are working in a team or organization that has low trust and accountability, the only thing you can really address is your own behavior. I’m also willing to bet that your circumstances are a symptom of a bigger problem of dysfunction as well, which can lead to disengagement. Compounding the issue even further is that fact that workplaces can warp our sense of professional norms. If you’re rarely held accountable for your work, and you consistently see team members who don’t hold up their end of the bargain, it’s not difficult to slide into complacency.

We can all help move the needle on the culture of our teams by consistently acting in accordance with our values.

My best advice is to resist moving into a place where your work suffers. Continue to hold yourself to the standard of being accountable and trustworthy. Meet your deadlines. Avoid gossip. If a project gets held up because of someone else, don’t throw that person under the bus with your manager, but do be frank and calm about what happened. When it’s time to move into a new position, you will have a reputation for getting things done, for being a valued member of the team, and for being a trustworthy contributor. Think of it as an investment that will pay off in the future.

Of course, there are other tactics to try out as well, though to me, none are as effective as simply acting consistently in ways that demonstrate you are accountable and trustworthy (though I’m not above asking for an earlier deadline than necessary if I know a team member is chronically late).

Leaders Building a Culture of Accountability

If you have some authority over a team or part of the organization, there are some high impact tactics that you can use to develop a culture of accountability and trust. As is also true for individuals, the most important thing is to model the behaviors you want to see, and act in line with what you want your professional reputation to be. Not only will you be doing the right thing for your career, you will be modeling back to the team what you expect from them. The actions of leaders can have a powerful effect (both positive and negative) on folks below them in the org chart.

Be accountable to your team, and ensure that they are accountable to you. In my experience, this is best done in weekly one-on-one meetings (gives enough structure to provide direction, but doesn’t tip over into micro-managing). These conversations shouldn’t simply be about reciting a list of what got done and what didn’t—instead, think of them as an opportunity to dig deeper into potential issues, coach your team through challenges, and engage with and listen to your team. Over time, these conversations will also help you build the foundations of trust, as you get to know your people better and listen to and support their ideas.

Lastly, leaders and managers have the opportunity to publicly acknowledge good work, to thank and reward individuals for their contributions, and in some cases, to promote or give raises to high performers. People pay attention to this kind of stuff, and a well-deserved thank you or promotion shows the rest of the team that their work is appreciated. However, it’s important to be judicious and fair—watching someone who drops the ball regularly get promoted because of politics, or pre-existing relationships is a very fast and effective way to destroy trust and credibility in the organization.

We Can All Make an Impact

Accountability and trust are critical elements of an effective team, organization, and relationship. And, being accountable and trustworthy are both extremely low-cost ways that we can position ourselves as capable professionals. While we can all only control our own behavior, I believe that we can also help move the needle on the culture of our teams by consistently acting in accordance with our values. And, if nothing else, it always feels good to take the high road, when those around you let their standards slide.

Featured Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by Mia Baker on Unsplash
We can all help move the needle to create a culture of accountability on our teams by consistently acting in accordance with our values.