Sharing the work: Success through accountability

A culture of accountability goes beyond individual responsibility; rather, it’s a shared experience.


Aerial view of Ghost Creek golf course

What exactly does it mean to be accountable at work and to your colleagues? For many, it might look like owning a mistake and sharing it as a learning experience. For others, it’s an understanding that everyone is to take ownership of their job, tasks and responsibilities. For most teams, building a shared understanding of accountability is the first step.

Creating a culture of accountability within your organization means that everyone understands their role and every team member is transparent with relevant information as needed. A culture of accountability goes beyond individual responsibility; rather, it’s a shared experience.

These cultures are often referred to as “200% accountability cultures,” which means that each person is responsible for holding each other up, that the individual is 100% accountable for their actions and 100% accountable for the actions of others. Colleagues can identify an infraction or missteps, but they are also there to support one another. It’s not finger pointing, but rather it’s saying, “I’ve got your back, what do you need?” A 200% accountability culture also fosters better work relationships, improves job satisfaction and helps teams work more effectively together.

How do we create this type of culture? It will always start with leadership — not the position or title on a business card, but the way we choose to treat one another with a leadership mindset. And being a leader means embracing the four basic areas of leadership — goal setting, communication and trust, which all lead to the final area of leadership, accountability. Let’s break down why these three areas impact accountability.

Goal setting. One of the first questions I ask when I work with an organization is, “What are the goals of your team?” Surprisingly, the majority cannot answer that question. How can we expect accountability if team members do not know what the ultimate goal of their role is? Goal setting reveals passion and purpose, which, in turn, helps to motivate individuals. Goals provide clarity and help maintain accountability and, ultimately, inspire individuals to improve their performance.

Communication. Most people say that they struggle with accountability because it means being honest with others who haven’t kept a commitment. When we choose to remain silent, it conveys tacit approval, and one person’s behavior can become like a virus and possibly infect others. Instead, we can communicate in a way that supports the 200% accountability culture by being clear about the issue.

As is described in “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, et al., people rarely become defensive about what you’re saying (the content). People become defensive because of why they think you’re saying it (your intent). Therefore, honing our emotional intelligence helps us be as positive and supportive as we can, without letting our emotions get in the way. We must remove negative perceptions about the individual and, instead, develop curiosity and gather facts about what is and isn’t happening.

The accountability conversation is only to describe the gap between what was expected and what actually happened. Starting with facts helps us see things from the other person’s perspective and learn what kind of support or help they might need.

Trust. A 200% accountability culture relies on trust. Setting clear, firm and equitable expectations engages every member of the team and forges trust among them. An understanding of the goals and every person’s role in accomplishing the goals ensures that every team member knows they are a part of the accountability process. Trust is also created through effective communication that embraces mutual purpose and respect.

When we make our commitments visible to our colleagues, through daily check-ins and goal setting, everyone is empowered to ask follow-up questions, check on progress and help move work forward. That creates a 200% accountability culture and keeps things on the upper rungs of the ladder.

Team accountability is impossible without strong personal accountability. It’s important to first work on yourself and honor your own commitments before approaching an accountability conversation with co-workers or direct reports. When it comes to building a culture of accountability, change starts with you.

Lori A. Hoffner is a professional speaker, trainer and consultant specializing in staff and leadership development, community networking and youth programming. She has presented frequently at the GCSAA Conference and Trade Show. To learn more about Hoffner’s training, visit