The three issues driving underperformance your team

| May 27, 2022

There’s an epidemic of underperformance in organisations today, and it’s being driven by issues with accountability. From broken promises and unrealistic expectations to finger-pointing and cultures of avoidance and blame, accountability issues – and the fear that drives them – are rampant across business, government, NGOs and beyond.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You’re struggling with a lack of time, too many commitments and a culture of blame.
  • You’re fed up with being the only one who sees things through and takes personal ownership.
  • You’ve been let down by a broken promise or expected to do the impossible at work.
  • You’re a leader who knows your team could perform better, but it’s not clear what’s holding them back.

Simply put, if you have people in your organisation, you have issues with accountability – and they’re impacting performance. And that’s a problem, because as the challenges and opportunities of the post-COVID landscape continue to unfold, so does the need to perform.

We know that sustaining engagement and holding on to talent has always been important, but they are emerging as thestrategic imperative for organisations to survive and thrive in our new economic context, in which workers are reassessing what ‘good work’ and a ‘good life’ look like. And accountability is central to both. Why?

Because without accountability, nothing sticks: not your latest transformational change initiative, not your best talent, nothing. Without accountability, poor-quality work, decisions, and leadership go unchallenged, and ‘ethical slip’ starts to happen. Without accountability, leaders, teams and organisations fall behind as the scale of disruption, complexity of change, and pace of technological advancement increase. Without accountability, we waste time, money and energy in a fog of confusion and dysfunctional, ineffective accountability relationships.

From my twenty-plus years as a senior leader and my work with the CEOs, senior executives and leaders who are my clients, I know that accountability underpins success. And multiple research studies agree. In fact, research suggests that when organisations get accountability wrong:

  • 75% of team members see solving problems as ‘someone else’s job’,
  • 65% don’t see due dates as real commitments,
  • 80% don’t seek and offer feedback often,
  • 82% try but fail to hold others accountable (or avoid it altogether)
  • 85% are unsure what the organisation is trying to achieve.

When we get accountability wrong, things get worse without anyone knowing why or accepting the accountability to do something about it.  And if we weren’t good at it before (and let’s face it, most of us weren’t), the added complexity of COVID and its impact on employees, team structures and ways of working have made accountability feel even harder.


  1. Confusionin understanding
    Accountability is often complex, fuzzy and confusing, which means that it means different things to different people – often in the same organisation, and even in the same team.

How consistent is the understanding of accountability in your organisation or your team?

  1. Concern in application

Accountability is often only asked for once things have gone wrong – the conversations come too late, feel punitive and people are defensive. No wonder it feels so hard to do them well.

How confident do you feel having accountability conversations?

  1. Contexts that undermine.

A variety of ‘macro’ factors, such as team culture influence the impact and effectiveness of accountability. The challenge is that because it feels so uncomfortable, leaders are unsure how to embed accountability into the culture of their teams and the organisation so that it becomes a normal part of how work gets done

Is accountability part of your team culture?

These three issues – confusion, concern and context – are why we need to reset accountability and shift it from a means to punish people to something that can set us up for success. This reset requires a shift in mindsets, attitudes and behaviours so that we can confidently role model, coach, and create contexts and cultures that support accountability.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive or time-consuming. Small shifts in mindsets, attitudes, and leader and team practices can have a big impact on accountability, learning, progress and performance.

Here are three things from it that you can do right now to start an accountability reset with your team:

  1. Get real.
    Ask: Are the expectations you have of others realistic?
  2. Get clear.
    Ask: Did you make the expectations clear and explicit?
  3. Get curious.
    Ask: What factors in the context are impacting accountability?

By resetting accountability, you reduce stress by wasting less time and energy in drama. You save money by creating more-effective work practices. You support higher performance and better-quality work outcomes by enabling forward learning and growth for yourself and the people you lead. And you get clear on the high talent and potential in your teams, which means you can focus your energy on those people who are engaged in their work and willing to be called to account.

So, in our COVID-impacted work environment where the pressure to perform is clear and present, the question becomes, can you afford not to?