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8 Accountability Roadblocks That Keep Your Team Stuck in the Mud

How to spot trouble signs, increase ownership, and steer your team toward success.

“Sometimes, they’ve gotta step up and own it.”

These were the words going through my mind after I put my kids on the school bus. I closed my front door then paused to catch my breath after a particularly hectic morning routine. I spent the first hour of my day feeling like the red anger character from the movie “Inside Out.” It seemed that nothing would get done unless I meticulously explained to everyone every few minutes what needed to be done, when, and how. The absence of accountability weighed heavily on my mood.

But, nobody wants an angry mommy. So the next morning, everyone made different choices and took responsibility for the tasks that had pushed me over the edge the day before. It made me think. Why was the day before so hard? Why did everyone seem to be complacent in the disorder? Did I have expectations that I wasn’t communicating?

But then I remembered the food waste had to go out, so I moved on.

After spending the next few days researching storytelling opportunities, implementing social strategies, and facilitating video conference calls, I found myself in a related situation at work – one that mirrored the importance of accountability and clear communication in managing teams.


Are you managing a team that feels like it’s mired in the mud? Is your team diverse, cross-functional, or working remotely across geographical borders? Then the following insights are for you.

As a leader, it's natural to grapple with the complexities of team dynamics and accountability. In the following paragraphs, I’ll share eight common accountability roadblocks that may be holding your team back. I’ll also share how to spot these challenges and, most importantly, provide actionable advice to get unstuck.


People Don't Understand Their Role So Progress Halts. Role clarity is critical. When team members aren't sure what's expected of them or how their individual efforts contribute to the larger goal, progress grinds to a halt. To get clarity across your team, outline the roles and expectations on paper. This can be a simple chart or grid in Word, Google Drive, or Excel. Make sure it's easily accessible to everyone, whether it's on an Asana board, Teams channel, or the fridge. The key is to get everyone operating from the same page.


Work Falls Through the Cracks Due To Overlaps in Responsibilities and Ownership. When multiple team members believe they're responsible for the same tasks, it's easier for things to fall through the cracks. Accountability becomes elusive because team members assume someone else is taking action. To close the gaps, clearly define ownership and ensure that roles do not overlap. Every task should be accounted for. Write it down, share it around.


Missed Deadlines Point to Accountability Challenges. Accountability is the glue that holds a team together, making sure that everyone takes responsibility for their commitments and assignments are completed on time. When accountability is missing, deadlines slip, and progress stagnates. If you don’t already have regular check-ins, schedule them. Team members should expect to provide updates and collaboratively address what’s impeding their progress.


Team Members Are Siloed With Limited Collaboration and Support. In team collaborations, whether you’re hustling through a morning routine or toward an approaching milestone, the importance of teamwork and mutual support cannot be overstated. Team members must be willing to proactively reach across functional silos, assist each other, and bridge gaps in expertise or resources.

A critical step in fostering collaboration is engaging the full team in problem-solving as a unified effort. When an issue arises, it's not an individual's problem; it's a collective challenge that needs a team solution. Don’t leave open questions unanswered and next steps unassigned. Ask 'What can be done?' and 'Who can help ensure it gets done?' to instill a proactive problem-solving mindset and a supportive team dynamic."


Disorganization Is Accepted As The Norm. Some teams fall into the trap of accepting disorganization as the norm. They become complacent with a lack of progress and a culture of confusion. If this resonates, know that it can get better, but it will require a collective effort.

A proactive approach to tackle this issue is to set aside regular time for team retrospectives. During these sessions, talk openly about about challenges, bottlenecks, and areas where improvements can be made. For regularly occurring initiatives, you’ll know in advance where problems have historically arisen and can plan to mitigate them before they are repeated.


Pride or Fear Prevents Team Members from Asking For Help. Do your team members hesitate to ask for help when they're stuck or unsure? Encouraging a culture where seeking assistance is seen as willingness to learn and grow can help break this barrier.

You must be the example. Regularly ask questions and invite team members to do the same. Recognize that some team members, especially those who may be more introverted or new in their role might feel embarrassed to admit they’re unsure of what their next step should be. Create space for them. Encourage them. In addition to inviting questions, avoid assumptions and proactively ask team members if they have what they need to be successful.


The Team is Distracted by Non-Essential Tasks. Getting sidetracked by nonessential tasks can be easy. It is important that the team takes time to differentiate what’s nice-to-have vs. what’s mission critical. To stay on track, regularly assess where the team spends time in relation to its goals. If a task doesn't support or advance a specific goal, consider its necessity and have the courage to pivot, to table it, or to drop it altogether. Just because you've always done something as part of a specific initiative, doesn't mean you have to keep doing it, or doing it the same way.


Team Members Don’t Believe In Their Individual Contributions. Team members must see that their work matters in the grand scheme of things. If they don't, motivation wanes. Regularly reminding your team of the significance of their contributions, and celebrating progress along the way can rekindle a sense of purpose. If you have a regular meeting cadence, consider starting each meeting with a question, “What are we celebrating this week?” Create space to acknowledge your team’s progress and for members to celebrate each other.


Making progress on these challenges won’t come easily, and implementing all the insights above may not be feasible all at once. If there’s one that really makes you say, “damn, that sounds like my team,” start there and gradually address other challenges as you go.

The path toward team success will require regular practice and ongoing care. Sometimes, socks won't match, homework will get left at home, and deadlines will slip. But if you keep these lessons in mind, you can encourage your team to better reach their goals collaboratively.

If you're wrestling with challenges like the ones I discussed above and need a helping hand to steer your team toward success, I'd love to chat.

Schedule a 15-minute thought partner call with me. I'll help you make your team's journey smoother and more productive.


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