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.

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.