How to Bring Teams Together in Remote Work Environments

Remote, cross-functional, and co-located teams come with pitfalls, such as lack of contact and demanding challenges from family stresses. Winning strategies include establishing strong team relationships, and developing gameplans to hold your remote workers accountable. The goal is to develop strong trust, establish clear structures, and manage social relationships — not to mention, observe for specific behaviours. 

Here are three tips for managing, understanding, and developing strong remote, cross-functional, and co-located team environments. 

Manage Your Teams 

The difference between remote work and traditional office settings is just that — it’s different. Projects are different. Meetings are different. It even makes for different teams. At the same time, it also calls for a different approach to maintain, and even encourage, higher levels of productivity1. One of the benefits of remote work is the smaller team size. Teams that can split into smaller groups offers opportunities for easier communication — and less time standing around the water cooler. 

Working in remote environments does come with its rewards. You get to sleep longer, there is no commute, the kitchen is always open, and pyjama pants are the new normal2. It also advocates for transparency in communication regarding best practices in video conferencing and shorter meetings. This extra time, if used properly, adds the benefit of thought and ability to see yourself as a part of the whole and connected on the bigger picture3

That being said, social isolation is a real issue for remote workers. Add a global pandemic on top of that, throw in some family stresses and disrupted schedules, and you have the perfect formula for acute distress — that could potentially only get worse4. Address this challenge and schedule more face-to-face interactions with individual video meetings. Build stronger relationships with trust and even better communication. When given a chance, offer flexibility and understanding, such as extending deadlines when possible, or accommodating last minutes schedule changes. Make it the exception, and not the rule, but be prepared to make adjustments5

Keep remote employees updated on small and big updates, and ask for the same in return for their own updates or new information. Take and review notes from all communication and video meetings, follow-up on key details and avoid duplications, and share the information in a central drive6. Use this moment to lead versus micro-manage, and allow your employees working in different timezones to give you input on timelines. Start stand-up meetings with an ice-breaker or brag about recent team work. This is the time to unite your team — not divide it. The more you embrace a remote work environment, the more you will see its benefits far outweigh its challenges. 

Establish Clear Structures 

Cross-functional teams offer streamlined processes — team performance can dovetail into individual employee evaluations. Everyone on the team gets to contribute and play a role in the bigger picture. It is also an approach that applauds the workers with proper credit and recognizes individual contributions. 

Cross-functional teams do come with challenges, and a recent study indicated that 75% of cross-functional teams are dysfunctional7. The study is based on failed criteria such as poor budget planning, failing to meet customer expectations, and team communication. The biggest challenge is holding the team accountable. You can avoid these common pitfalls and approach cross-functional teams with an outcome in mind — this engages the group to determine appropriate roles. Assign and establish clear structures and define clear roles of team responsibility.  

Cross-functional teams offer deeper levels of collaboration and add a layer of opportunity for internal buy-in and equal voice in projects8. Employees normally working in silos now get a chance to gain valuable input for internal and external perspectives. Not to mention, they now have more access to high-level support and can network with leadership. There is also the opportunity for a clear feedback loop and the chance to encourage an organization to think strategically. It helps you identify the best team leads for projects, and it removes barriers to project success. 

Build Stronger Bonds 

In the COVID-19 crisis, co-located teams offer a chance to build social relationships. As teams operating in the same space, there are many benefits for co-located teams, such as regular face-to-face interactions and the opportunity to develop strong interpersonal bonds. The continuing shift to remote work as the new normal indicates a new range of behaviours9 — including an emphasis on higher levels of social orientation versus remote employees. A risk of co-located teams is the chance that the team will value their social relationship over the work product. They might even be reluctant to speak out on important issues if it affects team harmony. 

The fact is that social relationships and face-to-face interaction matters. It opens dialogue and encourages your team to communicate and feel comfortable with each other. Developing a team with strong interpersonal bonds creates a unique position. It facilitates better relationships and confirms that teams see themselves as part of the team. Be the leader that helps them set and follow boundaries to keep the balance. 

How to Coach Strong Performances in Remote Work Environments

Facing the challenge of the COVID-19 crisis is essential for leaders managing their remote workers from a social distance. This includes common challenges such as declines in job performance and lack of voluntary engagement[1] due to social isolation and home distractions. One best practice is to not wait until the team morale is low – address it now. Set the stage with expectations for team success, build meaningful connections, and reward strong performance.

Getting in front of these challenges requires an unselfish, generous and creative leader who understands the value for rewarding strong performances. Here are some tips for investing in your team, learning from mistakes, and managing team behaviours.

Invest in Your Team

When it comes to workplace distractions, it’s safe to say that focus at work is the exception — not the rule[2]. If you want to reinforce the behaviours you want to see, start by looking at performance rewards as more than monetary compensation. Widen your optics, think creatively, and, most importantly — know your team. Rewards come in many different forms, and while money does make the world go round, a sound investment in developing your team is the gift that keeps on giving[3]. Think of more creative ways to reward your team, and consider other rewards such as flexibility for paid time off.

This is the time to be a remote and visible team leader, share great work going on in the company, and recognize team members[4]. Brag about their great work at stand-up meetings and appreciate your team for their efforts. Offer incentives and rewards for the team to win together as a group. Create a team holiday and reward everyone for their meeting significant deadlines. Collaborate with your high-performing remote workers and ask them what they want. Have a brainstorm session for creative reward ideas outside of annual bonuses or salary bumps[5].

How to Learn From Mistakes

Open dialogue is critical to establishing a culture of accountability. To build and develop team trust, you have to let mistakes grow organically. As a leader, it is easier to take care of things yourself, but it makes more sense to resist the urge to jump in and save your team[6]. See naturally occurring consequences as a learning moment to discuss failures and lapses in team processes. Fail early and let your team learn quickly from incoming train wreck situations — you are setting the stage for good teachable moments. Sometimes, the best time to step back and support your team is to let them miss the mark — so they can feel the disappointment.

Avoid common pitfalls and choose the right timing for teachable moments — a high-profile deliverable is not the right time for a learning experience. Avoid saving the day. Let your team learn from the disappointment and frustration of failure. Don’t sugarcoat the mistake, but embrace the experience and grow from it as a result.

Sometimes, train wrecks need to happen. By letting naturally occurring consequences run its course, you can teach and support your team to discuss failures and lapses in team processes. Open the conversation during stand-up meetings to prevent the same mistake twice. Understanding how to prevent mistakes as a team makes for a great business story. Now, they can grow through the growing pains, develop their game plans for reading warning signals, and avoid future pitfalls. You can’t give them the answers — but you can celebrate the overall learning. Play the same game and not the blame game.

Managing Team Behaviours

Problematic behaviour or underperformance can create issues for your team in any work environment. The first step in any issue management is to acknowledge there is an issue — hopefully, identified by a fine-tuned early warning system. This is a teachable moment and a valuable opportunity for you as a leader. Approach the problem with transparency and schedule time to sit down for an open and two-way discussion.

See this through the lens of the employee and understand the source of the behaviour. There might be potential reasons for the challenges that could indicate bigger issues. Maybe team morale is low, and remote work is making them feel insecure about their skills. Approach your discussion with an outcome in mind and source the root of the problematic behaviour. See it as a learning moment and place the responsibility in the employee’s hands. Document the management and team action plan to encourage future prevention methods. By leaving it up to the employee to come up with ideas for success, you simultaneously address the issue and demonstrate trust. Place the responsibility on the employee and open up opportunities to create pride of ownership in behaviour. It is also a solution for increasing positive change for future issues.

Difficult behaviour is an energy drain. The best way to deal with it is to address it quickly — and get the results you and your team want. Bring up concerns and observations — but resist the urge to point fingers. Play the same game instead and make a long-term investment in your team — and your productivity.

Remote work comes with challenges and requires an unselfish, generous and creative leader who understands the value for rewarding strong performances. Create realistic expectations and hold your team accountable — but let the team learn from the disappointment and frustration of failure. See problematic behaviour or underperformance issues through the lens of the employee. Understand the source and identify indications of bigger issues. Use it as a learning moment to coach your team to improve and grow.


[1] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[2] Thibodeaux, W. (2018). Distractions Are Costing Companies Millions. Here’s Why 66 Percent Of Workers Won’t Talk About It. Inc.

[3] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[4] Davies, N. (2020). Remote Team Morale Is About To Plummet, Here’s What Leaders Must Do. Forbes.

[5] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[6] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

How to Set Expectations for Teams in Remote Work Environments

Operating in the new normal of COVID-19 requires embracing remote work for your team. There are endless obstacles to overcome, such as isolation factors, interruptions and distractions — not to mention, accessibility to technology for disabled workers. One way to address this challenge is to take a strategic approach to meet worker requirements and still encourage voluntary engagement[1].

So, what are some other ways to set clear expectations to help create a culture of accountability for your remote work teams? Here are suggested methods for communicating and setting clear expectations, delegating team tasks, leading by example, and tracking team performance.

Communication and Preferences

Developing an inclusive and accountable team requires clear direction, asking the right questions, and getting your organization on the same page. This includes removing clutter and confusion and sourcing feedback on work, goals and budget.

A collaborative culture takes time and is reinforced by understanding your expectations as a leader or manager. Get the ball rolling by sharing your non-negotiable preferences, clearly communicating expected results, and creating opportunities for your team[2]. Take the lead during stand-up meetings, and facilitate discussions to help your team determine their work expectations and establish team norms. Share meeting notes on a central drive so the team can access it for reminders.

Remember that expectations are a two-way street. Hold yourself accountable and honour your end of the deal. Agree and follow through on decisions together as a team — but set clear consequences if the team fails to meet expectations. Be deliberate on agreements and invite the team to participate in discussions regarding consequences. In the end, non-negotiables are more likely to get the results and deliver the high-performing work you want.

One best practice to open lines of communication is to listen to all expectations and avoid losing credibility by ignoring unreasonable expectations. Adjust expectations for the results you need. Reaching team performance is more than giving up control. It requires accurate and crystal clear expectations, opens the ownership process to include the overall team — and increases accountability as a by-product. It only makes sense to set your employees up for success as they transition from a more structured traditional work environment to an unstructured remote environment[3]. Setting expectations allows your team to focus on their work, and their connection to the overall team.

Clearly Define Work

What is your delegating strategy? Do you have a system for delegating projects? And do you schedule time to discuss upcoming tasks with your team? Follow the three Ws to delegate tasks, and ask what needs to get done, when is the final deadline, and who is in charge of specific tasks[4]. By clearly defining the task or project, you can be flexible with time ranges, and avoid interpretations. Specify what successful draft completions look like — versus reports that are ready for client submission.

Look for common pitfalls when it comes to proposing a new project, such as waiting for volunteers, instead of correctly choosing the right fit for the right job. Take some time to avoid playing favourites for assigning challenging and high-profile work. Don’t let trust in your leadership decisions erode because you unfairly delegate work. Your team will feel overlooked and perceive your behaviour as a barometer for predicting future actions. Instead, equip your team with the right experience and trust them to produce[5].

Prepare your team with a defined work scope and share it in a central drive. Establish strategic structure and systems and keep your remote workers engaged and accountable. Know your project needs, follow and meet strict deadlines, and share the project reins to prepare the foundation for future success. And, match the right employee to the right project and set the stage for team accountability. This will make it easier to find volunteers, delegate strategically, and increase the odds of accurate work on time, on cost and on budget.

Always Lead by Example

Leading by example, is more than a cliché — it’s action that sets the tone for how your team will approach tasks and projects. If you want to tap into your team’s full potential, start with a clear vision and the bigger picture, and give your best effort. Your team will listen carefully to what their leader says. But they will also look intently at what you do. Remote teams working in seclusion, or on cross-functional teams, need to share ideas and feedback for both you and the overall team. Your demonstrated ability to demonstrate openness will help your team feel comfortable with giving feedback.

This is the time to set and follow defined expectations for projects and deadlines, and create opportunities for your remote workers to take meaningful responsibility[6]. Be flexible to challenges, and make adjustments when necessary — but stick to the playbook. It will help you navigate any storms and inspire your team to follow suit. Get in front of potential problems and communicate early, and often, to trouble-shoot and make quick decisions. Own your mistakes and be purposeful and deliberate with your decision. if you are wrong — admit you are wrong and address the mistake.

You will also need to understand that team members will approach projects in many different ways. Some are quick with ideas, some prefer to take a planning approach, and others feel they work best under pressure. Allow your team to determine their timelines and track project success to hold them accountable. By giving your team a voice in setting milestones, and even encouraging sprint timelines of three weeks or less, you are promoting ownership of joint deliverables[7]. Keep an eye on team performance with regular performance reviews and conduct one-on-one sessions for open dialogue on opportunities for team collaboration[8].

Accountable teams need accountable leaders. If you want your team to perform at high standards, your actions must set the tone for their expected behaviours. Give your best efforts and lead by example — both verbally and visually.


[1] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[2] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[3] Carosa, C. (2020). How Can You Still Communicate Effectively With Staff And Coworkers While Working From Home. Forbes.

[4] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[5] Neely, T. (2020). 15 Questions About Remote Work, Answered. Harvard Business Review.

[6] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[7] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda. 

[8] Lovelace, D. (2020). Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

Constructive Tension: The Cornerstone to Creativity

Some teams try to avoid conflict and tension in the belief that it contributes to negativity in the workplace.  While this is certainly a possibility for a poorly managed team, conflict is an important and valuable aspect to the creative process because it raises diverse views, which can lead to otherwise unexplored ideas and processes. In a well-managed team, healthy conflict leads to constructive tension. Instead of causing stress and anxiety, constructive tension propels the team to further discussion and excitement about moving from point A to point B. It creates the space for creativity and innovation and leads to productive, positive outcomes.[1]

Peter Senge describes constructive tension, also called creative tension, as the “gap between vision and current reality”. It is where possibility and constraint meet and is vital to create peak performing organizations. [2]  For this necessary and delicate balance to exist, employees must feel that there is value in filling the gap. They need to believe that, as part of the team, their participation matters and that they directly contribute to the actions needed to move from their current reality to the articulated vision. Without this gap and buy-in from employees, there would be little incentive or desire to take the action needed to move from vision to reality. [3]   

Being comfortable with creative tension is a must for effective managers. To achieve this, organizations need to create a “conflict positive” environment where differences are encouraged and discussed freely.[4] Creating a balance between two seemingly opposed ideas, such as expecting maximum work performance while at the same time encouraging professional development, is critical to improve both results and relationships.[5] This calls for ambidextrous leadership, which recognizes the inevitability of conflict, maintains focus on ideas instead of individual, and understands that conflict exists on a continuum. These leaders recognize their strengths and where they are lacking, engage others with diverse skills to foster and maintain constructive conflict, and create processes to work toward shared goals.[6]

Important to ensuring constructive versus destructive tension is balance: too little tension and there is no incentive to take risks or actively engage; too much, and it goes from being constructive to anxiety-inducing.[7] Research strongly supports the link between constructive tension and creativity and innovation, with some studies finding that competition can be as valuable as collaboration.[8]  Among the benefits of constructive tension are increased focus, which helps maintain critical productivity, as well as greater innovation and out-of-the-box thinking to get the job done and move it towards the desired future state.[9] Conversely, if tension stifles rather than encourages creatively, team members can become concerned about their psychological safety, lose trust in one another, adopt a groupthink attitude, or otherwise lose confidence and fear failure. [10]

A key attribute essential to create and maintain constructive tension is transparency. When everyone is on the same page and shares the same understanding of what is happening, employee buy-in is high, and the team maximizes the benefits of constructive tension.[11]  In fact, employees identify transparency as the number-one contributing factor to workplace happiness.[12] Everyone knows and understands how their contributions affect the ability to achieve their collective vision and keeps them focused on the same target.[13] Genuinely transparent organizations encourage information sharing, which improves employee relationships through better ideas and creative problem-solving. Employees also are more likely to promote the company and its products when they have had a role in its successes. Customer relationships also are stronger when companies adhere to the values they proclaim and clearly report how they demonstrate their support for their values. [14] This also contributes to profitability: most consumers (94%) saying they would be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency, [15] with a similar number (90%) saying they would stop purchasing products from brands that lack clarity.[16] Further, 81% of consumers are willing to try a brand’s “entire portfolio of products” if the brand is transparent, and 73% are willing to spend more for products that offer complete transparency.[17]

Tension exists in all workplaces, and the way it is managed determines how meaningful the resolution and outcomes will be.[18] Constructive tension is inexorably intertwined with creativity and innovation and contributes heavily to success.  History is rife with examples of businesses that failed due to a lack of change (e.g., Blockbusters, Blackberry, Kodak, MySpace)[19] or transparency (e.g., AIG, Enron, Tyco). This issue continues to across sectors today.[20] Consumers have spoken – shouted! – and organizations that listen and respond will reap the rewards of their loyalty, while those who don’t come under greater scrutiny and risk the fate of these former powerhouses who have become synonymous with failure and continue to exist only as a footnote in business texts.


[1] Isaksen, S.G. & Ekvall, G. (2010). Managing for innovation: The two faces of tension in creative climates. Creativity and Innovation Management, 19, 73-88.

[2] McGoff, C. (2017, Nov. 30). This psychological theory will motivate your team to achieve more in 2018. Inc.

[3] McGoff

[4] Isaksen & Ekvall

[5] (https://steverudolphcoaching.com/constructive-tension/)

[6] DeGraff, J. (2018, Dec 19). The creative power of constructive conflict. Psychology Today.

[7] McGoff

[8] Isaksen & Ekvall

[9] McGoff

[10] Baril, M. B. (2019, Sept 18). Five team attributes that are killing your creative tension. Forbes.

[11] McGoff

[12] Craig, W. (2018, Oct 16). 10 things transparency can do for your company. Forbes.

[13] McGoff

[14] Craig

[15] Label Insight. (2016). Driving long-term trust and loyalty through transparency. Label Insight Food Revolution Study.

[16] SproutSocial. (2019, May 2). #BrandsGetReal: Social media & the evolution of transparency. SproutSocial: From Risk to Responsibility: Social Media and the Evolution of Transparency.

[17] Label Insight.

[18] Isaksen & Ekvall

[19] Aaslaid,K. (2018, Nov 22). 50 examples of corporations that failed to innovate. Valuer.

[20] Pegoraro, R. (2019, Sept 29). Tech companies are quietly phasing out a major privacy safeguard. The Atlantic.

How to Share the Value of Accountability in Remote Work Environments

As the COVID-19 crisis shifts a radical departure from traditional office environments, it also opens many opportunities for embracing a culture of accountability for your remote work teams. A culture of accountability comes with many advantages. It can encourage trust, motivate high standards, and establish credibility for leaders.

The freelancer, the copywriter, the founder — everyone is working remotely. So, how do you engage them with meaningful responsibility[1]? Start here with some tips and best practices for sharing the value of accountability and promoting pride of ownership across your remote work teams.

Ask the Right Questions

Fundamental to any business or organizational success is understanding why your team exists. One way to understand what makes an actual team is first to determine work that’s better suited for team collaboration. Resist the urge to task each individual to do their own thing, and instead, shift focus to the employee group. The challenge of communicating effectively with remote team members is not easy — but it can be. Creating and facilitating better collaboration opportunities can be done in multiple ways, such as asking why your team is a team?[2] Why is your work important — and why does that matter?

You might be surprised at how these answers set the stage to discuss your work’s essence and uncover the reasons why your team contribution is valuable to overall business success. Facilitate this discussion at your weekly stand-ups, or in the new normal — your weekly sit-downs. Have each team member share their answers, note overlaps or wild departures from why the work matters, and boil down solutions to find mutual agreements[3]. This will help your core purpose, align your team, and garner a broader understanding of why your team is essential. This will do more that put work into perspective — it also adds a bonus layer of appreciation for that same work.

Connected Teams Are Responsible Teams

Building a successful remote work environment requires a collaborative approach and voluntary engagement[4]. In a nutshell, connected teams are stronger teams. That being said, with the COVID-19 crisis, how will businesses and organizations face the challenge of getting all of its team into one room[5]? Start by setting expectations for shared responsibility of work. There are subtle differences between how teams and groups look at work projects. A group flaw is to focus on individual goals, and it defeats the purpose of being on the same page with a shared vision or objective. See your team as a group of individual fingers[6]. Although you need each finger, and each can operate on its own, it causes a challenge since each finger can shift in different directions. Instead, see your team as a fist. It’s much stronger with everyone grouped and working toward common goals. Your role as a leader is to connect your team to a shared purpose and operate in unison.

Learn to manage expectations, job demands and personal work styles of your team — and yourself. The team defines a shared goal approach — and not by a manager or leader. Your role is to give your voice to the team — including the quiet ones. Adjust your perspective and adapt to needs. The more you can help your team contribute to the overall purpose, the more you can show their true value to the bottom line. A connected remote team knows that their insights and contributions are valued. It accepts the shift in responsibility to the overall team because it has a voice in the decision-making. This includes having a say on the potential and future direction for work projects. The key to success here is authenticity — don’t open the floor for team voting and make a solo decision. Create an opportunity for them to take meaningful responsibility[7].

It might not always be possible to develop a connection with your team. But, effective team management requires connecting your organization as a unit. By sharing responsibility for the work, you foster more than a culture of accountability — you also foster a culture of belonging. Your team will feel connected and will see the bigger picture of contributing to overall success.

 

Pride and Ownership of Shared Work

Taking an inclusive and collaborative approach to creating a culture of accountability is a critical factor for getting your team on the same page – but it does take time and attention to detail. Start the ball rolling by removing formal and informal hierarchies, and associations with higher titles[8]. Encourage a culture of democracy — and applaud collaboration, problem-solving, and the bottom line of completing work projects. A team that takes pride in high-level work is a team that delivers on its promises.

See your team’s potential, make your expectations clear, freely trust others to do their work, and let them take charge. You already assembled a strong team. Now your job is to step out of the way and empower them to proceed. A leader’s role is to embrace discomfort and give away control — it demonstrates trust and frees up time for you to deliver on other tasks. Always make time to circle back with open dialogue for any potential ideas, questions and concerns. When you establish clear channels of communication, you are telling your team more than the fact that you trust them — it also indicates that you care about their psychological health and safety.

Asking the right questions to your team is critical for developing a broader understanding of why they are essential. It connects your team to a shared purpose and helps put your overall work picture into a bigger perspective.


[1] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[2] Lovelace, D. (2020) Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[3] Lovelace, D. (2020) Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[4] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[5] Neely, T. (2020) 15 Questions About Remote Work, Answered. Harvard Business Review.

[6] Lovelace, D. (2020) Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

[7] Dhawan, E., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2018). How to Collaborate Effectively If Your Team Is Remote. Harvard Business Review.

[8] Lovelace, D. (2020) Holding Your Team Accountable. Lynda.

Radical Transparency and its impact on our teams

Radical transparency in the business world is the theory that everyone who works at a particular company should be fully honest about all matters from the top leadership to entry-level new hires [i]. It effectively means that everyone in the organization knows almost everything about the company both internally and externally. 

Company transparency has been around for a long time and has shown to improve employee engagement, reaction times to problems, alignment to overall goals and better performing teams. The term “Radical Transparency” was popularized by billionaire hedge fund owner, Ray Dalio. He went a step further by empowering employees to bring ideas, mistakes, problems and other matters they might typically hide to the forefront for open discussion. The thought was that giving this freedom would remedy problems, make decisions and uncover new ideas much quicker and mitigate being blinded by confirmation bias (Only seeking evidence that agrees with your view). 

The concept has excelled as the business evolves and populations want more equalized distribution of resources. Numerous well-known brands champion radical transparency such as Patagonia, Got Junk, Fiix, Fit Bit, Narrative Science and Buffer. Many go so far as to publish employee salaries and discuss lay-offs in the public forum. As ethics, traceability and sustainability continue to shift into societies view so too will radical transparency [ii].

Introducing radical transparency to your team after the company has been founded is not a simple task. Provided the company fit with this model, it must be championed directly from the leadership team and permeate all the way through the company culture underpinned by high levels of trust. [iii]. Leadership exemplifying these attitudes is the only effective way to offer confidence to the workforce and inspire trust without fear of exposure, punishment or embarrassment. Displaying financials, discussing pain points, targets, weaknesses, competitors, and many more allows a company to promote employee inclusion and develop trusting attitudes. Full trust, clear expectation and free-flowing employee contribution are key performance indicators of successful radical transparency [iv].

At first glance, the concept may seem utopian and simple with the sense that every organization should adopt these practices. However, there are practical considerations to raise and accept. The degree to which the model relies on trust between all members of the organization is fundamental. Trust gives the foundation for psychological safety which is what any team member requires to contribute, admit mistakes and share ideas [vi]. Psychological safety is regarded as the confidence and safety from embarrassment, social risk or punishment for contributing to their views and issues. Unfortunately, the Edelman Survey reflected in the World Economic Forum suggests that as many as one in three employees do not trust their employer [vii]. In a cyclical sense, this survey also suggests that trust issues are rectified by further transparency [vii].

Introducing radical transparency also invites interpersonal challenges. Decisions taken by CEO’s and upper-tier management have implications for everyone involved. Enacting full transparency demands courage and ownership from middle management and employees who need to avoid being viewed as incompetent. Specifically, leadership figures as the key influencer must deliberately structure and communicate the goal of transparency to their team. Fostering psychological safety implores leaders themselves to exemplify this attitude by asking for help, admitting mistakes, and accepting that a ‘subordinate’ may contribute better ideas on occasion than them [viii]. Demonstrating courage and championing this requirement is inclusive of correcting discouraging behaviours and actively removing fear and uncertainty from the employee base [ix]. Leadership must also understand the complexity of sharing good and bad feedback and the different weights each needs to be delivered with. Additionally, knowing when your team needs to move on from a topic or decompress from a discussion is very important. 

The successful introduction of radical transparency can show impressive results. Having an employee base able to disagree with leadership and ask questions undeterred by fears has resulted in failures being avoided and quicker and more varied solutions [ix]. Further to this, full disclosure of company finances instils trust but also removes the nature of people to question their earnings against the peers. Finally, by understanding organization problems and threats and feeling involved in the direction taken, teams become more invested in the success and thus take ownership of outcomes [ix]. Each of these benefits improves productivity and efficiency while also boosting sales. Individuals and teams who feel fulfilled in their roles tend to champion their employer.

As exceptional and inviting as those benefits are, there can be drawbacks as not every stakeholder might want full transparency. Radical transparency makes significant demands of the leaders who can cause burn out from the weight of difficult conversations and the possibility of doubt in themselves occurring [x]. When there are negatives to share, valid concerns for staff internalizing feedback arise, which damages psychological safety [xi]. Employees tend to steer clear of people who give feedback that contradicts their own self-view [xii]. The Big Brother effect can also set in when everything is open for discussion as employees can feel monitored. Employees are shown to be less productive under surveillance [x]. Many of these issues can be mitigated by effective preparation of management staff, accepted norms of safety and careful hiring processes [x].

Similar to the impact on the company, it is worth considering the impact of radical transparency on the emotional safety of teams [vi]. The workload, successes and failures of each team are made visible, which exposes a team positively and negatively depending on how effectively established psychological safety has been [viii]. Transparency takes the decision to share any concerns or problems encountered away from a team. While exposure of concern to peers can be intimidating to teams, well-established norms of safety prevent this from being a negative experience [ix]. Rather than feeling alone in problem-solving or unable to make mistakes, teams can benefit from the support and collective input of others. Likewise, it empowers teams to assist their counterparts and a sense of mutual achievement in success. The sharing of success and the support through challenges allows teams the freedom to feel safe but also become more efficient at problem-solving [viii].

Discussion of the organization and team funnels perfectly into the individual impacts. Radical transparency is experienced differently throughout an organization and is entirely dependent on how it approached in the company. For management figures, delivering negative feedback may challenge their own safety and that of the individual team member, but the pressure and stress of decision making is shared among each contributor. Where it is correctly enacted, transparency fosters trust [vii], and when a climate of safety is enforced individuals are free to ask more questions, feel a sense of belonging and relieved of numerous concerns. A reduction of in-house dramatics, elimination of salary comparisons and welcoming platforms for ideas and input positively benefit each person and their emotional safety. When emotionally safeguarded, team members are seen to actively contribute and challenge in a supported and fulfilling manner [viii].

As an industry professional working with teams on company culture and values, there are many lessons to be derived on transparency practices. While there is no one size fits all remedy, and every organization is different, the most agile, adaptable and problem-solving companies have a higher degree of transparency. From experience, these companies tend to lose less time on the wrong projects or making mistakes and have a far more involved and motivated staff body. Giving space for the employees to contribute to solutions by providing an open environment improves their decision making drastically. Although challenging, correct transparency implementation results in much tighter knit teams, who are aligned in their focus on success. In fact, this opinion corroborates with Google’s Project Aristotle findings which showed that psychological safety underpinned by trust gained from transparency was the most significant factor in team performance [vi], [viii] and [xiii]]. The evidence from companies, economic reports and employee satisfaction statistics suggest that radical transparency, while challenging, can be exceptionally rewarding. 

Reference list:

[i] Heemsbergen, L. J. (2013) Radical Transparency in Journalism: Digital Evolutions from Historical Precedents. Global Media Journal (2013).

[ii] Bonanni, L. (2011). Sourcemap: Eco-Design, Sustainable Supply Chains, and Radical Transparency. The ACM Magazine (2011).

[iii]  Zak, P (2012). The See-Through Organization. The Drucker Institute (2012).

[iv] Veselinova, E., Gogova Samonikov, M. (2018). Building Brand Equity and Consumer Trust Through Radical Transparency Practices (2018).

[v] Myers, J. (2016). Why don’t employees trust their bosses? World Economic Forum (2016).

[vi] Delizonna, L. (2017). High-Performing Teams Need Psychological Safety. Here’s How to Create It. Harvard Business Review (2017).

[vii] Edelman Trust Barometer 2016: Employee Engagement Executive Summary (2016)

[viii] Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams. Harvard Administrative Quarterly (1999).

[ix] Edmondson, A. (2002).Managing the risk of learning: Psychological safety in work teams. International Handbook of Organizational Teamwork (2002).

[x] Gino, F. (2017). Radical Transparency Can Reduce Bias — but  only if it’s done right. Harvard Business Review (2017).

[xi] Bernstein, E. (2014). The Transparency Trap. Harvard Business Review (2014).

[xiii] Duhigg, C. (2016). What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team. The New York Times Magazine

[xii] Gino, F. (2016) Research: We Drop People Who Give Us Critical Feedback Harvard Business Review (2016).

The Human Factor in the Workplace of the Future.

Integrating artificial intelligence (AI) continues to be an increasingly necessary workplace improvement to help organizations become more competitive. Automating mundane tasks streamlines business functions to improve delivery, increase quality and reduce costs, and while routine processes are ideal for AI, in a newly reimagined workforce, human contributions are equally important. Far from eliminating human workers, the number and types of people jobs created as a result of AI will increase and be in high demand. This includes technical areas such as programming and technology design, as well as roles that deal with workplace changes resulting from the increased use of AI, such as user and employee experience, ethics, and, of course, the need for AI training. Further, AI can be used to complement existing roles so that certain positions can be upskilled and supported by AI, particularly those requiring a more personal, intuitive, and empathetic touch.[i] 

Acknowledging the challenges of “fusing people and technology”, Deloitte’s notes in its 2020 Global Human Capital Trends that, “The power of the social enterprise lies in its ability to bring a human focus to everything it touches…”.[ii]  Organizations need to consider how AI can best serve their mission and goals and how to develop an AI ready workforce. To achieve such balance and successfully operate in this future workplace – one that is on our virtual doorstep – requires a range of diverse skills and talents melded in harmony. In other words, it will be a team sport.[iii]

Teamwork is a staple in virtually all areas including sports, military, medicine, marketing, IT, human resources, and more. Students learn the importance of working in groups at an early age and study groups long have been a fundamental component of MBA programs to foster bonds and prepare students for the inevitability of future workplace dynamics.[iv] Research on team effectiveness is prolific, and theories abound on what makes the “perfect” team. Across fields, there is growing recognition that skills and abilities, while important, have less to do with a team’s success than its psychological makeup.

Although team members each have an important functional role, too much emphasis has traditionally been placed on skills and experience rather than considering each member’s psychological role and how that affects the team.[v] [vi] This explains why the best minds don’t necessarily make the best teams and why what should, theoretically, be the “A Team” can turn out to be more of a B or even C team. Instead, the personalities of the members are better predictors of the success of the team.

For the past twenty-years, the “Big Five” personality traits have been widely accepted as appropriately representative of most individuals. Not surprisingly, these dimensions – openness to new experience, conscientiousness, extroversion/introversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism[vii] – often are used to assess employees and job candidates based on the assumption that they are  indicative of superior job performance. However, while there is consensus that these attributes are desirable, specific attributes may not be appropriate or necessary for all jobs.[viii] Certainly  extroversion is a plus for a sales position, but it may not be a critical attribute for a librarian or mechanic. Conscientiousness may be coveted by some supervisors, but others may find that it inhibits highly desired creativity and spontaneity. And while agreeableness is important among team members, at the same time highly agreeable people may be uncomfortable posing challenging questions or playing devil’s advocate, which are critical to innovation and identifying gaps.[ix] As such, a bigger picture view that factors employees personalities in conjunction with the type of project and its ultimate goals should be considered when determining team composition.[x]

Major enterprises have come to recognize the importance of this and, in an effort to create highly effective teams, have poured extensive resources into identifying characteristic associated with the most successful teams. As a result of their research, Microsoft developed an entire curriculum based on the five key attributes they found to be common in successful teams: team purpose, collective identity, awareness and inclusion, trust and vulnerability, and constructive tension[xi]. Google hypothesized that the best teams would consist of the best people, so they initiated Project Aristotle to find out.  As with most workplace groups, they found that some teams clicked immediately while others struggled to make it through a meeting. Ultimately, they identified two shared behaviors common to successful teams. First, each member spoke about the same amount. This occurred in different ways but at the end of the day, everyone had the opportunity to speak and be heard. Second, members on the “good” teams were more intuitive about how others felt and were more sensitive to team members feelings.[xii] This reinforces the importance of uniquely human roles as the use of AI continues.

Another area that characterizes effective teams is their comfort with conflict. Conflict, in reasonable quantity, is essential in teams because it helps members stay motivated and innovative, encourages creativity and communication, creates bonds, improves morale, unifies direction, and discourages groupthink.[xiii] Finally, as with all relationships, trust is always a key attribute. This is especially important in  virtual teams[xiv] where members might miss each other’s nonverbal cues and other more nuanced communications.


[i] Meister, J. (2019, Jan 8). Ten HR trends in the age of artificial intelligence. Forbes.

[ii] Volini, E., Denny, B., Schwartz, J., Mallon, D., VanDurme, Y., Hauptmann,…Poynton, S. (2020, May 15). The social enterprise at work: Paradox as a path forward. Deloitte Insights, 2020 Global Human Capital Trends.

[iii] Meister

[iv] Duhigg, C. (2016, Feb 25). What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team. The New York Times Magazine.

[v] Hogan Assessment Systems Inc. (2016). Conflict: The secret to successful teams.

[vi] Winsborough, D., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2017, Jan 25). Great teams are about personalities, not just skills. Harvard Business Review.

[vii] McCrae, R.R., & Costa, P.T. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60, 175-215.

[viii] American Psychological Association. (2020). Which traits predict job performance?

[ix]  LePine, J.A., Buckman, B.R., Crawford, E.R., Methot, J.R. (2011). A review of research on personality in teams: Accounting for pathways spanning levels of theory and analysis. Human Resource Management Review, 21, 311-330.

[x] Weir, K. (2018, Sept). What makes teams work? American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology.

[xi] Spataro, J. (2019, Nov 19). 5 attributes of successful teams. Microsoft.

[xii] Duhigg

[xiii] Hogan Assessment Systems Inc.

[xiv] Ford, R.C., Piccolo, R.F., Ford, L.R. (2016). Strategies for building effective virtual teams: Trust is key. Business Horizons, 60, 25-34.

The Value of Playbooks Based on Scenario-Based Learning

Providing a quality product or service requires the coordination and balance of hundreds of discrete, interrelated steps. An error or oversight at any point in the process can contribute to a domino effect that ultimately could have disastrous outcomes. To avoid this, organizations can benefit from scenario-based learning that provides team members’ with hand’s on experience to address issues that may arise relevant to their role and the tasks they must complete, as well as the opportunity to contribute to successful results. These scenarios can then be used to create workflows, or playbooks, for their teams to ensure consistency and positive outcomes.

Scenario-based learning, also called problem-based learning, provides an opportunity for teams to work though and identify solutions to authentic, complex or ill-structured problems.[i] This requires critical thinking and analytical, problem solving skills.[ii] Participating in the process empowers individuals and teams to consider multiple scenarios in a risk-free setting and allows them to see how project outcomes are affected by the decisions made at each stage in the process.[iii] By pre-emptively considering a wide range of scenarios before issues become real-life problems, teams can work together in an environment free from counterproductive emotions that create tension and muddy the process. Instead, they can focus on the decision-making process and how and when to escalate to achieve targeted outcomes.

The need for escalation occurs from not knowing who owns a problem. Operational scenarios alleviate this problem by working through various alternatives to identify the best and most effective route, which becomes institutionalized in the playbook. This also helps overcome poor managerial decisions by those who are more likely to pass off decision making rather than empower their team to solve their own problems.[iv] For these managers, escalation is the norm rather than the exception, when the reverse is the optimal goal.

A scenario-based playbook encourages problem solving and provides the necessary training and support to increase accountability. This increases the reliability of decision making[v] and helps alleviate the uncertainty that comes with change because team members know what is expected of them and can react immediately.[vi] Each “play” represents a way of doing something that moves the task forward in a direction that will improve outcomes.[vii] A playbook may refer to a simple but critical task or a complex project, or it might be updated to reflect a minor change or a complete overhaul. Having clear, written guidelines is critical, especially in a crisis situation, so that employees are all on the same page and work toward the same results. It makes them accountable in their roles, lets them know when issues should be escalated, and identifies the specific processes and systems that should be engaged in doing so.

This approach is more critical than ever in times of uncertainty because having defined positions, responsibilities, and processes becomes even more imperative to provide crucial consistency and accountability when it is most needed. Organizations and their leadership benefit because it allows them to plan ahead for future events, both intended and unintended. Their informed decisions can better direct allocation of staffing, budgets, and other critical resources in advance of imminent challenges, [viii]ensuring responsiveness and reliability in how actions ultimately will be undertaken.[ix] While playbooks provide the important guidelines for task completion, they also recognize the value of human involvement in decision making and how that maximizes the effectiveness of human-machine interface. This will continue to be an area of growth and development as machine learning advances and becomes more indoctrinated in the workplace.

So, if you’re not already doing it, find time to incorporate scenario-based learning as part of employee development. The benefits far outweigh the costs and, in fact, are more likely to result in a long-term cost savings. Scenario-based playbooks are a proactive means of empowering employees to action by eliminating any confusion about who’s in charge, what to do, and how to get it done. Employees and teams know what is expected of them and are knowingly and willingly accountable for their part in the process, benefitting everyone across organizational levels.


[i] Rosenbaum, H., & Shermis, M. (2010). Making a case for scenario-based learning in IS and executive education. Paper presented at the 16th Americas Conference on Information Systems, Lima, Peru.

[ii] Noroozi, AL, Khakzad, N. Khan, F., MacKinnon, S., & Abbassi, R. (2013). The role of human error in risk analysis: Application of pre- and post-maintenance procedures of process facilities. Reliability Engineering and System Safety, 119, 251-258.

[iii] Stewart, T. (nd). Scenario-based learning. Massey University, University of New Zealand.

[iv] Grenny, J. (2017). When to solve your team’s problems, and when to let them sort it out. Harvard Business Review.

[v] Accenture. (2016). Scenario-based planning: Exploring the best chance on success. Accenture Insights.

[vi] Accenture

[vii] Notter, J. (2018). Creating a playbook for improving employee engagement. Forbes.

[viii] Office of Personnel Management. (nd). Scenario-based workforce planning. Office of Personnel Management Human Capital Framework.

[ix] Accenture

Creating Safe Teams – and what does that mean?

In today’s workplace, employees often are hired for their unique skills and experience. While this hyper-focused knowledge helps create a competitive edge, it also creates demand for teams where multiple individuals can bring together their specific skill sets to strategize and respond to more complex, organizational goals.[1] To do this successfully requires more than simply uniting appropriately credentialed members, however, it needs collaboration. 

Because collaboration does not always occur organically, leaders may need to intentionally create an environment where employees can come together in exceptional ways. For this to happen, all team members needs to feel their voices are heard and matter. In other words, they need psychological safety, that is, a climate where they are comfortable being and expressing themselves.[2] Team members need to know they can be wrong and at ease when having difficult conversations with colleagues and supervisors without causing insecurity.[3] While  organizational culture has its influence here, individual behavior is more of a key driver.[4]

Psychological safety exists only when there is  a willingness by all team members to be respectful of each others’ opinions and willing to engage in healthy debate. When it comes down to it, psychological safety means being vulnerable, and that scares people. It’s not only about being comfortable speaking up yourself, or admitting to your boss that the idea you convinced her to execute was a flop, it means sticking your neck out for a colleague who may be in the hot seat.[5] At the same time, it also means that you know that the feedback you receive, whether encouraging of your ideas or not, will be constructive and supportive.

Leaders can contribute to psychological safety by creating shared understanding, proactively seeking input, and responding appreciatively.[6] This is important because employees perceive the level of psychological safety to be higher when leaders have positive relationships with followers.[7] It is also important for leaders to measure employees’ views on psychological safety. This means team members, including managers, should asks for feedback, and  there should be metrics in place to periodically assess how team members feel[8] because damages to psychological safety must be repaired to ensure its continuity.[9]

Employees want this in their workplace! A Pew Research survey found that 89% of adults think it is “essential” for top executives to create a safe and respectful workplace, making it a top  three priority for businesses (along with honest and ethical leadership and providing fair pay and good benefits).[10] However, only 30% of U.S. workers strongly agree that their opinions at work count.[11] This is a huge – and costly gap because psychological safety impacts important organizational outcomes.

Psychological safety leads to greater engagement and comfort in experimenting and taking risks because employees don’t fear retribution, punishment, or embarrassment.[12] They are comfortable being collaborative and asking for or offering help. Psychological safety has a reciprocal effect in terms of engagement in that this type of environment encourages greater engagement, which itself adds to the psychological safety.[13] Google conducted a two-year study on team performance and found that psychological safety was, by far, the most important dynamic associated with high-performing teams. Individuals who were on teams with higher psychological safety brought in more revenue, were rated as effective by executives twice as often as other employees, embraced diverse ideas, and were less likely to leave the company.[14] High-performing teams also demonstrate higher engagement, increased motivation, better performance, and greater opportunities for learning and development.[15]

Although psychological safety is a characteristic of the whole team, it starts with the individual. As such, team members need to get in the right headspace to create a psychologically safe team. To increase psychological safety and be more accountable in a team, members should focus on collaboration and curiosity, rather than competition and blame.[16] Recognize that even when teams disagree, every member is a person with their own hopes, anxieties, and families who love them. Like you, they want peace and happiness in their lives.

You can be accountable for your contribution to creating a psychologically safe, collaborative team by  adapting a new perspective. Start by reframing your perception of failure as having only disastrous outcomes.[17] Anxiety is wasted if it turns out your boss loves the idea you agonized over bringing forward. Even if it’s rejected, you might get feedback  to help you refine it, but either way, it’s very unlikely you will lose your job if your boss doesn’t like your idea. Reframing failure as just one of the many, albeit less desirable, steps on the way to success can change your attitude and approach towards conquering it.

Creating a truly psychologically safe environment means that all team members, regardless of level or location, share and benefit from the values established by the organization. In a face to face environment, team members benefit beyond formal interactions because they also can interact more casually, over coffee or lunch. Remote workers are unable to engage in the same ways.  With more people working from home, by choice or need, it is increasingly important for organizations to actively and deliberately create opportunities for all team members to interact.[18]

There are many ways to engage employees across geographical barriers and learn about their views, but the best way, hand’s down, is to ask them. This could, and should, be done on several levels. When creating a new team, or adding a member, ask each team member’s views on their skillsets, what they believe to be their greatest asset to the team, where they might need support, and so on. Don’t be afraid to include more personal information for team-building. Ask how each person got their name or a surprising fact about themselves. Be sure to document or graph responses as a reference to foster collaboration across the whole team.

Beyond work-related projects, teams should also incorporate regular “events” to develop a collaborative and supportive environment.  Have coffee or happy hours (maybe at the same time, depending on where team members are located!) where conversations are focused on individuals instead of work. You can also maintain a private team site or YouTube channel where employees are encouraged to post content, such as their children’s first day of school pictures or #DreamVacation links. Building social bonds helps build positive and trusting relationships, which are critical to psychological safety and successful collaboration among teams.

[1] Jones, B.F. (2017). The science behind the growing importance of collaboration. Kellogg School of Management, KelloggInsight

[2] Herway, J. (2017). How to create a culture of psychological safety. Gallup Workplace.

[3] Lagace, M. (2018). Make your employees feel psychologically safe. Harvard Business School, Working Knowledge.

[4] Borysenko, Karlyn. (2018). How to create your own psychological safety at work. Forbes.

[5] Borysenko

[6] Lagace

[7] Frazier, M.L., Fainshmidt, S., Klinger, R.L., Pezeshkan, A., & Vracheva, V. (2017). Psychological safety: A meta-analytic review and extension. Personnel Psychology, 70, 113-165.

[8] Delizonna, L., (2017). High-performing teams need psychological safety. Here’s how to create it. Harvard Business Review.

[9] Frazier et al.

[10] Parker, K. (2018). Many Americans say women are better than men at creating safe, respectful workplaces. Pew Research Center.

[11] Herway

[12] Herway

[13] Frazier et al.

[14] Rozovsky, J. (2015). The five keys to a successful Google team. Google; re:Work

[15] Delizonna

[16] Borysenko

[17] Borysenko

[18] Menabney, D. (2019). Why you need even more trust with a remote team. Forbes.

Creating Accountability in Task Management

Reasonable, Possible, Understood

Some leaders believe that accountability is intrinsic, with some employees going above and beyond every time, on every task, while others do the bare minimum of work to stay under the radar. Creating an environment designed for accountability, where all employees proudly take ownership of their tasks and outcomes can significantly improve performance at the individual, team, and organizational level.[i]  

Accountability is the expectations about what an individual or organization is obliged to explain, justify, or take responsibility for. Traditionally, leaders too often have opted for  hierarchical approach to accountability, enforcing a top-down chain of command. This anachronistic view reflects a workplace in which superiors delegate authority to subordinates and hold them accountable for their decision and behavior by dictating what needs to be done, how it should be done, and the expectations for outcomes.[ii] This rarely, if ever, is effective and more likely results in unresolved issues and frustration on the part of leaders and employees.   

Fostering an environment of accountability must be fundamental within an organization’s culture.[iii] Knowing and being invested in the organization’s goals, objectives, and key results set the standards for accountability and other expected behaviors and contributions. To that end, everyone in the organization, from the line workers through the CEO, must have a unified understanding of the organization’s goals and what it stands for. Unfortunately, this clarity is glaringly absent from most organizations. A Workplace Accountability Study of 40,000 employees across industries found that 85% of survey participants were not sure what their organizations were trying to achieve.  With such a staggering imbalance it is no wonder that there is a lack of alignment and focus in understanding and successfully completing mission critical tasks.[iv]

Other factors beyond culture also influence accountability. Large or complex organizational structures can be challenged in creating an expectation of accountability because projects often involve multiple, and perhaps geographically disparate teams, which can result in blurred leadership and boundaries. Another challenge in large organizations is that decisions or changes in direction may be made by one office, but are not quickly, accurately, or effectively shared with other entities who continue to proceed under different guidelines and goals. With so many moving parts, it is not surprising that inconsistencies arise for which few, if any, participants are willing to assume responsibility. [v]

To create trusting and collaborative relationships that serve as the foundation for accountability there are three areas to consider when assigning tasks.

First, is the task reasonableDoes what you are asking an employee to do make sense in terms of its  structure, duration, and priority within the individual’s and organization’s schedule? Ensuring that roles and processes are clear is critical, and eliminating confusion and providing clear guidance on how the proceed is essential prior to implementation. Expectations must be clearly defined if organizational short- and long-term goals are to be met.[vi] The Workplace Accountability Study found that 50% of those surveyed disliked accountability because they didn’t know how to effectively implement it.[vii] Leaders cannot expect employees to be accountable without a clear understanding of what the company is trying to achieve.

Next, ensure that the task is possibleand resources are available to support its completion.  Leaders must provide support and resources, along with advice on how to improve. This helps create a learning environment where employees feel like they have the freedom to be more innovative and are comfortable seeking guidance if needed. Creating genuine accountability involves giving up the reigns, so while setting clear goals is critical, it is also important to allow employees the freedom to determine how to achieve those goals.[viii]

Employees who feel their managers care for them want to help the organization succeed; those who don’t, are unmotivated to take any initiative above and beyond their identified requirements.[ix]  [x] Teams who are motivated and work well together will identify existing gaps and create new processes that enable them to handle tasks even more efficiently.[xi] Again, this must be reflected in the organization’s culture. To encourage commitment to reaching goals, engage employees in the goal-setting process.[xii]  This helps ensure that they understand the expectations and increases their commitment to the project. Conversely a lack of clarity contributes to a lack of accountability.

Finally, the task must be understoodKnowing the goals is one thing, but being aligned on what successful completion of a task looks like might be something else entirely!  Once goals are clearly understood, leaders should provide specific, individualized metrics for each role. Further, they should be clear on how each individual’s contributions impact the overall success of the project. This requires feedback and updates on progress, which should link specifically to the goals individuals are tasked with completing.[xiii] [xiv]

To be clear, accountability is a two way process. Inherent in the assignment of a task is a supervisor’s accountability to deliver the appropriate resources to complete the task and to provide the employee with an evaluation of her effectiveness based on pre-determined and agreed upon criteria. This iterates the need for being very clear in identifying which individuals or teams are responsible for each task and letting them know the criteria by which they will be measured, individually and as part of the overall project success.  This is particularly critical with cross-functional teams. [xv]

It is also important to note that accountability shouldn’t be viewed as a precursor to punishment. Among those surveyed in the Workplace Accountability study, 80% said feedback was something that happens to them only when things go wrong, if it occurs at all![xvi] In such an environment, employees will be afraid to speak up about issues that may prevent them from task completion, and will most assuredly make them think twice before offering suggestions about a new or more efficient approach.[xvii] Certainly consequences for failing to complete tasks that are reasonable, possible, and understood should be made clear at the outset and enacted when necessary. However, penalizing employees who are unable to complete their tasks because they were not properly prepared or were required to follow an established but ineffective process is unfair and punitive. Of course, when employees know the expectations, have the resources to complete tasks, and receive feedback during the process, the likelihood of failure is virtually eliminated.

To experience the benefits that occur when accountability is an organization-wide expectation, leaders must “walk the talk” and demonstrate by example. Accountability in organizations builds trust, reduces unnecessary repetition and unproductive activity, and achieves better compliance. It may take some effort to implement effective processes, but the successful outcomes for employees and the organization are well worth the effort. 

[i] Partners In Leadership. (2014). Landmark workplace study reveals “Crisis of accountability”.

[ii] Bovens, M., Goodin, R.E., Schillemans, T. (eds.). (2014). The Oxford Handbook of Public Accountability

[iii] White, D., & White, P. (2017). Build a culture of accountability in 5 steps. Entrepreneur

[iv] Partners In Leadership

[v] Ashkenas, R. (2012). Why accountability is so muddled, and how to un-muddle it. Harvard Business Review.

[vi] Robertson, A., & Dvorak, N. (2019). 5 ways to promote accountability. Gallup – Workplace.

[vii] Partners In Leadership

[viii] Browning, H. (2012). 7 ways to build accountable organizations. Forbes.

[ix] Browning

[x] Robertson & Dvorak

[xi] Browning

[xii] Robertson & Dvorak

[xiii] Browning

[xiv] Robertson & Dvorak

[xv] Ashkenas

[xvi] Partners In Leadership

[xvii] Forbes