Because team communications are often task-focused and asynchronous, there are fewer opportunities for problems to be identified through happenstance. Team members have less opportunity to exchange spontaneous updates or review one another’s work because they aren’t working side-by-side. And, as the manager of a remote team, your channels for ensuring accountability are similarly constrained. You will have few if any opportunities to MBWA (manage by wandering around).
To be effective, the feedback and update actions that support remote team accountability must be systematized and intentional to ensure that they occur. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making accountability an integral part of your remote team’s culture.
Before you decide to assign accountability for a particular action and outcome to a team member, it is important that you fully understand the assignment as well as the capabilities, resources, and support that will be required to carry it out. Remember that accountability is a backup system it is there to guide and correct under-performance not to punish best efforts. Your plan for each task should empower your team to succeed.
Questions to ask yourself during the planning process:
As much as possible, include your team in your planning process. Their early involvement will help you better define your goals and identify any potential roadblocks.
The workforce will undoubtedly feel accountable for doing good work. The question is whether or not they will feel accountable for doing the right work--that which will help achieve the strategy. ~Dwight Mihalicz, Effective Managers
Like a contract, accountability requires a meeting of the minds. You cannot hold someone accountable for a task that they did not agree to undertake and agreement requires understanding. Without clear definitions of the goals, processes, standards, necessary participants, and desired outcomes of a task, any assessment of your team’s performance is, at best, arbitrary and, at worst, impossible.
To ensure that your team is aligned at the start of each new task, provide them with the following information:
Without clarity, team members are likely to waste energy negotiating roles or protecting turf, rather than focusing on the task. ~Tammy Erickson, London Business School
Clarity on why and how the team is working together sets the foundation for progressing on their goals. ~Randy Conley, The Ken Blanchard Companies
An understanding of and focus on a shared or common purpose is one of the hallmarks of high-performing teams. A zoomed-out view of their tasks and the organization’s goals will also enable your team members to make better decisions when it comes to prioritization and resource use.
Clarifying the boundaries of your team members’ autonomy enables them to make decisions without fearing that they will be punished for overstepping their authority.
High-performing teams discuss and agree to their operating rules--standards that each team member agrees to uphold and for which they hold each other accountable. ~SHRM Toolkit
Every team is susceptible to breakdowns in communications or misunderstandings. But, remote teams are particularly susceptible to miscommunications because non-verbal cues and contextual clues are more difficult to convey during digital exchanges. Cultural and language differences can further complicate matters. Vague phrases, sarcastic humor, colloquialisms, and a lack of context can make it difficult for remote teams to reach a mutual understanding of their tasks and obligations.
For example, when you say, “Would you mind finishing this by the end of the day?” are you asking the person if they can fit the task into their schedule or are you telling them to get it done?
Before your team undertakes a set of tasks, take the time to discuss the language you will use to share information and which communication channels are appropriate for various common circumstances.
One of the biggest challenges when managing a remote team is ensuring that task-focused information is captured and maintained.
Your remote team likely uses several different methods such as video conferences, team chat, instant messages, and email to communicate with one another. And while each one of these methods has a role to play in your collaborative activities, none of them is really suitable for the job of capturing and monitoring action items, status updates, and feedback. Without a clear strategy and appropriate tool for capturing your team’s task-focused communications, important messages can easily slip through the cracks making it difficult for you and your team to hold one another accountable.
CEO coach Michael Watkins recommends that virtual teams overcome the fog of communication overload with a “deliverables dashboard” that, unlike your other team communication channels, is exclusively task-focused. This task communications hub will eliminate noise and allow your team to focus on the work to be done. To foster transparency and peer-to-peer accountability, information shared on this virtual command center should be visible to each member of your team.
Holding others accountable is one of the biggest challenges managers and team leaders face. Nearly 1 in 5 CEOs say that an inability to hold people accountable is their greatest weakness and 15% said that their biggest weakness was failing to get rid of underperformers. Yet leaders and team members alike long for more accountability in the workplace.
66% of upper-level managers do too little to hold others accountable say their coworkers and peers.
Why do two-thirds of managers avoid enforcing consequences when a team member under-performs? The primary reason is to avoid the negative social and emotional repercussions of enforcing the team’s standards. Enforcing the consequences for failing to meet the team’s defined expectations is crucial to preserving team cohesion and trust.
The consequences you impose don’t have to be negative in every situation. Of course, there may be some instances where the right decision is to remove a team member from the team, but a well-designed accountability program should include restorative consequences such as problem-identification, retraining, and reviews.
What matters most is that your remote team recognizes that there are real, reasonable, and expected consequences for failing to meet their obligations to one another.
Read on to discover a powerful tool that helps you stay accountable by default: