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How to keep your team accountable without drama

It happens all the time.

Someone fails to follow through. They don’t do what they said they’d do. They’re late delivering a project…again. They turn in subpar work.

As a manager or team member, what do you do?

How do you hold someone accountable in a way that creates positive behavior change vs. resentment and negativity?

Herein lies the challenge so many leaders face.

Not only are missed deadlines and failed expectations incredibly frustrating, but they negatively impact your ability to conduct business, and perhaps more significantly, erode team trustand performance.

Here’s what NOT to do: (do you recognize yourself here?)

  • Avoid it… "I’m sure they’ll do better next time. I don’t have time to address it now - let’s just move on."

  • Be passive aggressive… "Well, it would have been nice to get this to our client on time, but I guess this will have to do."

  • Pick up the slack yourself… "I’ll just do the work myself instead of following up with Don…it’ll be faster/easier that way."

  • Blow up/blame/shame… "Why the hell didn’t you get this to me on time!? You’re such a failure!"

Ok, maybe some of those are exaggerations…but they’re all natural inclinations to avoid addressing the issue head on.

So what should you do?

What we can tell you after coaching and training hundreds of leaders (and being in these shoes ourselves!), is when it comes to following through on projects and holding accountability, here is what works:

Start with clarity of the goal itself

We fail to follow through when we aren’t specific! There’s a difference between saying "I’m going to work out this week" to "I’m going to the gym twice this week, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, for 60 minutes before work".

If we’re not crystal clear on what success looks like, how will we know we’ve achieved it?

Action: If someone failed to follow through, or performed differently than you had hoped, ask, "what wasn’t clear here?" "Where could I have been more explicit in my expectations?"

Create a roadmap with mile markers

Despite our best intentions, everyone is prone to get off track. That’s why creating a way to track your progress is key to following through.

Not only does this keep you and your team on track, but it allows individuals to hold themselves accountable when it’s clear if they’ve hit the mark or not. AND it gives them time to course-correct before it’s too late.

Action: Develop a method for measuring progress. This can look like an excel spreadsheet, a shared calendar, a kanban board or any other project management tool. The key is to make sure it is accessible and used by everyone on the project.

Review your outcomes regularly

We know the pace of business moves fast, but the act of setting and regularly checking in on measurable goals creates accountability in itself. Read: No tense conversations needed!

Action: Schedule a dedicated point in time to review goals, assess the strategy, and learn about the progress (or lack thereof) toward the goal.

Remember that most people actually crave structure

It might feel challenging in the moment to have these check-ins, but know that by holding accountability you’re building trust and credibility, and most people appreciate it even if they’re the ones being held accountable. You’ve got this!

How do you hold someone accountable in a way that creates positive behavior change vs. resentment and negativity?


Learn from a real-life leader as she gets coached by Executive Coach Muriel Wilkins around the topic of holding her team accountable. Do you struggle with some of the same things she does? Do you tend to do the work yourself vs. holding others accountable? Do you have clear and reliable processes for setting and tracking goals? Afraid of micro-managing? Check out this podcast episode of Coaching Real Leaders by Harvard Business Review.


Check out this easy-to-digest HBR article for another take on accountability. One thing is certain- setting clear expectations is always the place to start!

Learn & Do:

Create Goals that Drive Accountability You cannot accomplish everything everywhere all at once; instead, you must align on your top priorities for each quarter, from the top of the organization down to every team member. In our May interactive Community Workshop, I explored a framework for creating goals that drive accountability, helping you achieve these priorities.




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