Peer Accountability: Policing Yourselves So the Boss Doesn’t Have To

“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes.”

– Henry Cloud, American self-help author.

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This week on the Blog

Peer Accountability: Policing Yourselves So the Boss Doesn’t Have To

Peer Accountability: Policing Yourselves So the Boss Doesn't Have To by Laura Stack #productivityHave you ever attended a meeting as a guest but couldn’t tell who the leader was, because multiple people asked their teammates tough questions? I’ve been to a few where if I hadn’t already known the leader, I wouldn’t have been able to guess. Those meetings were attended by high-performing teams where peer accountability was firmly entrenched. Everyone expected the best of their teammates, and they weren’t afraid to call them on it when they failed to get it.

Some leaders see this as a challenge to their authority, or a situation just begging for teammates to tear each other down. When a team uses peer accountability properly, it supports high performance while the leader handles other crucial matters( ←CLICK TO TWEET)—like finding more and better work for the team, coaching, liaising with senior leadership, and completing high-value tasks only the leader can do. In essence, it becomes another aspect of what may be any leader’s most valuable tool: delegation.

The challenge (as always with an approach like this) is to convince your team of the value of it and encourage them to take initiative. Most importantly, the leader must get out of the way. The idea is to strengthen the team from within without the leader interfering (unless something gets out of hand) and letting the team sort out what needs fixing. And if the team leader really wants balanced fairness, he or she should not be immune to peer accountability. They may act as “first among equals,” but in the best workplace teams, the team leader is still accountable to the team for not following through.

As a result, team members care enough to hold each other accountable for their performance, rather than depending on the manager to do so. They establish in-team standards for high performance, refusing to let other team members shirk their duties or let things go through sheer laziness. This sort of team also tends to guard against complacency and groupthink. Through meetings, they regularly check up on each other to ensure everyone meets the standards.

When multiple people growl at you because you’ve failed to do your job properly, aren’t you more likely to improve immediately, as opposed to having only one person coming down on you—even if they hold the purse strings or could fire you? Those who don’t care what others think tend to get weeded out early on in this process.

It’s not that accountability didn’t exist; the problem is that teams, and sometimes the team leader, doesn’t exercise it and hold people accountable for their responsibilities. Giving the option to the team, and insisting they use it, focuses accountability wonderfully. A bit of peer pressure can go a long way, because you don’t want to let others down.

One way to encourage peer accountability is for the leader to hold the whole team accountable to its collective responsibilities. An outside observer—as too many leaders consider themselves—often can’t tell who did what or where accountability belongs for a specific act or result. The team, however, has a better idea of both. When they apply focus, influence, and consequences appropriately, accountability becomes clear, and applying it becomes simpler.

And again, it’s necessary. Letting a team member slide does nothing to improve his or her performance, while the embarrassment and instruction of others holding them accountable definitely does, if they care at all about how others perceive them. Peer pressure and accountability can sometimes achieve what no company policy or initiative ever could—it inspires team members to do their best for the benefit of their team, if only because it puts the fear of God into them. When they become invested in the team’s success, rather than merely their own, they become more fully engaged, and more willing to invest discretionary time in ways that help everyone.

This results in a kind of behavioral contract—whether openly acknowledged or not—where teammates willingly support each other because they don’t want to let the team down. This powerful performance driver can spark a synergy that pushes team performance ever higher. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always worth trying—because when it does works, it produces quality performance like an artesian spring produces water: steadily, consistently, and cleanly.  

This week on LinkedIn:

Clear Expectations: Enhancing Your Team’s Sense of Satisfaction

Clear Expectations: Enhancing Your Team's Sense of Satisfaction by Laura Stack #productivity As I explain in my upcoming book Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time, executives are no longer limited to the C-Suite of a company. Strictly defined, an executive is anyone who executes business strategy to benefit their organization. Read More on LinkedIn.

In the news:

National Coffee Day: Tasks Employees Can’t Tackle Before Their First Cup at Facility Executive

Recommended Articles:

7 Scientific Reasons You’re Always Running Out of Time

Maintaining Productivity in High-Stress Situations


Tune in this week as Laura talks about Beating the Competition with Speed and Agility.

© 2015 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and in 2015 was inducted into its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us.