Bad teams, no one leads.

Good teams, the coaches lead.

Great teams, the players lead.

–    Jon Cooper, Head Coach, Tampa Bay Lightning

We’ve all been there, sitting around a conference table where someone from the team is missing deadlines or worse misaligned, but no one is calling them out. Instead, everyone sits back and waits for the leader to deal with the situation.

Instead, what if team members felt they had permission to challenge each other or hold each other accountable? To step in and deal with the situation directly, instead of holding back and waiting for someone else to solve it.

I’ve found this to be one of the biggest hurdles for teams to solve. Yet it can be one of the most powerful elements in a high-performing team.

As Patrick Lencioni, author of The Advantage notes, “peer to peer accountability is the primary and most effective source of accountability on a leadership team.” When a team starts holding each other accountable, they’re no longer thinking just about themselves but focused on achieving success together. They’re only satisfied when they win as a team, and it can mean sometimes stepping into difficult conversations so they can make progress together.

This is where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

If this is something your team struggles with and you want greater personal accountability from team members, here are a few places to start:

1)     Ensure crystal-clear shared goals

Once a team becomes clear about goals and priorities that they can only achieve together, they’re more likely to challenge a team member if they feel they’re taking the team off course. Focusing on the same outcomes means opening up opportunities to challenge each other in pursuit of those common goals.

Practice in action: In your next leadership meeting, take a few minutes to check in with the group about shared goals and priorities. Reconfirm:

  • What are our most critical priorities in the next 3 months?
  • What are the biggest gaps preventing us from achieving our goals?
  • How are we going to know that we have succeeded?

2)     Discuss how to give “permission” for these conversations

The biggest stumbling block is often that peers don’t feel that they have permission to challenge one another. Talk about this openly together—the team will quickly see that they each want to be challenged if others think they aren’t fully committed.

Practice in action: Work with your team as to how and when to challenge each other. Consider gamifying this with a key phrase (“Hey, we might be offside here …”) or visual signal for when they want to challenge each other (e.g. a yellow card on the conference table, or yellow background screen to switch to) – it gives the group permission to be open and honest.

3)     Lead the way

The fastest way to move your group to be more open is to demonstrate your own interest in being challenged. Invite feedback on your own performance. As Kim Scott shares in Radical Candor, “If you want to get feedback, the first step is to ask for feedback … show others that you want to grow and be held accountable yourself.”

Practice in action: Make it a routine to ask for at least one or two bits of feedback each week – “how did I come across in that meeting?”, or “what could I have done differently to be clearer?” Consider thoughtfully what you hear and share thanks rather than getting defensive.

As you consider these three practices, keep in mind that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes ongoing work to improve shared accountability within your team. And, as you test out these practices, don’t forget to celebrate as you make progress!

It takes time to step into these deeper conversations but trust me, it’s worth it.

Axiom partners with senior leadership teams to find their unique path to maximize performance

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