Accountable Teams

18 May 2017

When teams talk about accountability, they might think of responsibility to the leader of the team, or to the wider leadership of the church or ministry. Perhaps they might even consider their accountability to their ‘target’ audience (for example, the recipients of their welfare work, or the worshippers they lead). However, another aspect of accountability that teams need to consider is how they might hold each other accountable.

The best teams do not rely on external authorities to ensure that they keep on task and that they achieve their goals; the best teams are committed to achieving the team’s goals. As part of that commitment, various tasks are given to team members based on factors such as the person’s talents and their available time. Once a task has been given and accepted, the team still owns the task. Because of this ‘ownership’, the team has the right and responsibility to ensure that the task is done in an effective and timely way. That is, the team can, and should, hold its members accountable for their progress, or lack of it. (Even if the task has been given by the team’s leader, if the leader has done their job well, the team itself will be committed to the task because they will see how that task contributes to their achieving the team’s goals.)

Such accountability will only succeed if the team has undertaken the important formation work of building relationships of honesty and trust. It will also work better if the various team members have learned how to constructively engage in conflict. This can range from a simple request in a meeting for a progress update. Such an update might be verbal, written, or even a demonstration. These requests are very low-level conflicts, which usually raise few problems. Where it might raise the emotional temperature is when a member has been remiss or negligent and has not lived up to their responsibilities. This is where the emotional intelligence of the team is important. Just because someone has not ‘delivered’ does not automatically mean they require a reprimand, or that they should be shamed or dismissed. First, the team needs to understand why the failure has occurred. Is it an issue of skills? Does the member need training? Are wider issues in the member’s life affecting them? Does the team need to adapt in order to care for that person’s needs? Is the team member an ‘over-promiser’ who does not admit they are incapable or overcommitted? The team might need to help them to learn new patterns of behaviour through encouragement, or even counselling. Of course it may even be that the member is negligent or lazy, and so requires a reprimand.

Because teams are comprised of people, who bring their faults as well as their strengths to our teams, we need to learn to hold each other accountable for our performance or lack thereof. Even more than that, we need to learn the wisdom of how to hold one another accountable. Unwise accountability can damage team performance, or even worse, team members. Wise accountability will enhance team performance.

This post was written by Dr Nigel Pegram, lecturer of Harvest Bible College.

Develop your leadership potential and team building skills with a degree from Harvest Bible College: find out more about our courses.