When you’re part of a team, each member affects your productivity and schedule. When others fail to get answers to you, you may be late producing the final product. When you rely on coworkers to review a document before proceeding, a month can go by before you have everyone’s input. As leader, it’s in your best interest to prod your team to get things done more efficiently, so you can produce better results in less time with fewer frustrations.
One way to increase everyone’s response time is to arrange a meeting with your team at the beginning of each project, so you can plan it through to the end. Lay out milestones, discuss each member’s responsibilities, and set firm deadlines. Outline what you need from each person and when, and have them do the same for you. Do your best to be flexible and establish contingency plans for potential crises.
If your team includes members in diverse locations, groups, or even organizations, negotiate clear agreements on when you need to receive information, materials, or approvals. Explain your deadlines clearly, and ask when the member might be able to provide what you need. Reinforce the importance of what you’re asking, and why their participation in the project is crucial. This may shore up their motivation, as we all like to feel needed and appreciated.
Contingency planning is especially important with team members you don’t work with directly; so establish alternate means of acquiring what you need. That way, if your primary source happens to be away from the office or occupied by another project, you can turn to their backup for help.
Eventually, one of your team members will leave you in the lurch. If you can avoid it, DON’T do their work for them or assign it to someone else, unless the situation requires it. Otherwise, you may set up a situation where you enable them, and they’ll come to expect it. You’ll also inadvertently punish great team players for doing their jobs too well and picking up others’ slack.
What comes next depends on several factors:
- Was the failure an oversight, or did the team member deliberately break a promise?
- Is this a one-time thing, or does it happen often?
- How badly did their failure impact team productivity?
Based on the relevant combination of factors, you have several options, which may escalate if the situation worsens.
1. A gentle reminder. Nudge them about the matter; you may jar loose what they’ve promised. This represents the proper response in most situations.
2. Make your annoyance plain. If their failure has seriously compromised team productivity, or if this has happened more than a few times before, be more forceful.
3. Have a talk with them. If Step 2 fails, schedule an earnest face-to-face meeting with them. Remind them of their promise, and pin them down on a due date.
4. The nuclear option. If they prove they just don’t care—or worse, they think it doesn’t matter if they lie to you—put them on a corrective action plan.
Accountability Action Steps
While personal productivity matters a great deal, most of us work in a team environment—so personal accomplishment must take a backseat to team accomplishment. Every person on a team, while not indispensable, is on the team for a reason; otherwise why would you have chosen them for the project? Therefore, they each have an obligation to do their personal best not just for themselves, but for the team—and you, as team leader, have an obligation to hold them accountable for it all.