Teams and Mutual Accountability
Lead Coach and Facilitator at Choose Leadership | Working with Purpose Driven Leaders and Organisations

How do you distinguish between a team and group? And is that distinction even meaningful?

Yes, and it matters, because “team based working” is so prevalent AND not every group labelled a team is actually a team. 

According to Katzenbach and Smith, a team is a group of people, who

  • possess complementary skills, 
  • work interdependently, and 
  • are committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach, for which they
  • hold themselves mutually accountable. 

Before you agree that this is what a team is, think carefully, because as a leader you are thereby committing to this being what you need to create.

  • Complementary skills? Check.
  • Who work interdependently, which implies with reliability and predictability? Check.
  • Committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approach, which speaks to alignment and commitment? Check.
  • Hold themselves mutually accountable? Check …hm, maybe not so fast. 

Accountability requires responsibility which requires safety, which requires trust, which requires …vulnerability.

In our work with teams, we often find that they stumble across mutual accountability.

And no wonder: accountability can threaten our idea of what we need to feel safe, which can produce reactive behaviour. The Leadership Circle has incorporated the work of Karen Horney to illustrate our tendency, to move toward (complying), move against (controlling) or move away (protecting) as the principle manifestations of behaviours with which we seek to protect ourselves when we feel under threat.

What can be done to increase mutual accountability? Individuals can do their personal work, for example, in order to move from a reactive structure of mind to a creative one.

Teams can have the conversation about what it means to work interdependently and how to increase reliability and predictability, by naming specific, desired behaviours.

MOre importantly, they need to have alignment conversations around purpose and goals.

Teams need to discuss and create the conditions that allow people to:

  • Show up as they are,
  • Make mistakes and learn,
  • Feel valued for their contribution, and
  • Challenge the status quo.

The resulting safety creates the conditions for candid conversations. This allows the team to generate constructive conflict that sparks innovative thinking and to build shared commitment. At the heart of this work is vulnerability – taking risks in service of the team’s purpose.

Have the conversations. Create Team Charters. Align around purpose and goals.

Clarity comes from engagement. The engagement generates commitment.

All the fun, activities filled team building away days in the world don’t create trust you need. What you need is only created when you see me and I see you. As we are. Only then will I know that I can truly trust you.

For leadership coaching and developement, get in touch

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