Accountability: More than a buzzword

The idea of accountability is not new. In essence, it refers to the range of responsibilities that a team, individual or organisation has and the measures that will be taken to ensure these responsibilities are met. It also includes an understanding of the repercussions of what happens if these responsibilities are left unchecked. But what does this mean in practice? Moving from concept to practice is where a lot of the problems lie.


  1. 1. Accountability to yourself

This is the most poorly understood aspect of accountability – but arguably the most important. Accountability to yourself means setting a standard of performance for yourself and sticking by it, it also means that you make decisions in the areas of your work and life that you will make a priority.

Accountability is also about taking ownership of your actions and responsibility for the outcomes they produce. Shifting the blame to, or taking the credit from others, is the opposite end of the spectrum of being accountable. Yet this happens all too easily on a daily basis in the workplace. You need to be aware of situations where you yourself cross the line of personal accountability and start to blame others, or start to represent the work of others as your own.

  1. 2. Team accountabilities

A common problem with teams is when individuals stick rigidly within the confines of their responsibility set and tasks or customers fall through the cracks and are left unattended. The result is using an extensive finger-pointing campaign from those that claim they had done everything required of them. This is a failure of team accountabilities. It’s more difficult to navigate team accountabilities, as it means keeping broader projects and the work of others aligned to ensure the goals of the team are met.

Some argue that it is the manager’s role to do this, and of course they will be held accountable more than anyone for a team. But a high performing team will have strategies working, such that they as a team will monitor their own effectiveness and accountability. A high performing team will consciously use each others strengths and weaknesses to achieve the team goal with or without the manager.

  1. 3. Company accountabilities

What is the core business and how can everyone contribute to the vision, strategies and goals? It is critical to have a strong leader and strong executive team to ensure these are clearly communicated, understood and reinforced, and a commitment is made to meet them. When every individual and team unit fully understands their roles and the responsibilities required of them then a cohesive and streamlined company is the result.

Inter-departmental wars and mud-slinging is common in most organisations. Whether it’s sales, marketing, IT or another department being blamed for poor performance, this type of behaviour distracts from holding people accountable.

It’s very easy to find examples of poor accountability practices:

  • People that avoid making decisions.
  • Team leaders that contribute little but take credit.
  • The “it’s not my job” mantra that some people adopt or the blaming of others.

An organisation needs a culture of accountability, and for this to occur every single employee must know his/her responsibilities and take full ownership of their actions, whether as an individual, as part of the team or as part of the organisation as a whole.

Eve Ash, founder of Seven Dimensions, has produced a wide range resources including the newest CUTTING EDGE COMEDY DVDs. One of the most hilarious in the series is Understanding Accountability, a great way to get staff laughing and learning.


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