Accountability in the Workplace: A Balanced Perspective

30 April


Accountability is a critical component of organisational success, but it must be approached with care and consideration from both the leadership and team perspectives.


The Leader's Perspective

From the leader's standpoint, fostering a culture of accountability is essential for driving performance and aligning the organisation towards its goals. Exceptional leaders recognise that accountability is not about blame or punishment but rather about setting clear expectations, providing the necessary resources and support, and holding people responsible for their commitments. 


Exceptional leaders recognise that accountability is not about blame or punishment but setting clear expectations.


Leaders should strive to create an environment of dignity, fairness, and restoration regarding accountability. This means moving away from rigid, score-based systems that demotivate employees and instead embracing a more holistic, solutions-focused approach.  Leaders must have the humility to acknowledge their role in an employee's shortcomings and work collaboratively to find ways to help them succeed.

Importantly, leaders should ensure that accountability is applied consistently, regardless of position or seniority. This builds trust and demonstrates the company's values and standards apply to everyone.


The Team's Perspective

For teams, accountability is about ownership of the work and feeling empowered to achieve their goals. When team members hold themselves and each other accountable, it breeds trust, commitment, and a sense of shared responsibility.

Accountability at the team level is often more relational, emerging from the social exchanges and interpersonal dynamics within the group. Teams that develop a strong sense of collective accountability are likelier to put in more significant effort, collaborate more effectively, and be willing to work together again.

From the team's perspective, accountability should be a two-way street. Employees should be able to hold their leaders accountable for providing the necessary resources, support, and clear direction to enable the team's success. Transparent leaders who communicate openly and treat employees fairly are more likely to foster a culture of shared accountability.


Accountability should be a two-way street.



Creating the Balance

Ultimately, accountability in the workplace requires a balanced approach between leaders and teams. Leaders must set the tone by establishing clear expectations, providing the proper support, and holding people responsible. Teams, in turn, must take ownership of their work and hold each other accountable while feeling empowered to hold their leaders accountable.


The 7 Challenges

There are seven common challenges in holding people accountable:

  • Fear of Damaging Relationships: Many people find it difficult to hold others accountable because they fear damaging their working relationships or morale.
  • Lack of Clear Expectations: If expectations are not communicated from the start, it can lead to miscommunication and make it harder to hold others accountable.
  • Difficulty Identifying Root Causes: Leaders may struggle to understand the context and root causes behind an employee's failure to deliver, making it harder to address the issue effectively.
  • Resistance to Accountability: Some people may have a "that's not my job" mentality, be resistant to change, or avoid taking responsibility for their actions, making it challenging to instill a culture of accountability.
  • Inconsistent Application: If accountability is not applied consistently across the organisation, it can undermine trust and fairness. Leaders must ensure accountability standards are upheld equally.
  • Overly Punitive Approaches: Accountability approaches that focus on blame and punishment rather than dignity, fairness, and restoration can make anyone feel threatened and demotivated.
  • Lack of Managerial Ability: 82% of leaders acknowledge they have "limited to no" ability to hold others accountable successfully.

These challenges revolve around balancing accountability with maintaining positive relationships, ensuring clear expectations, identifying root causes, overcoming employee resistance, applying accountability consistently, and developing practical leadership skills. Training, coaching, and supporting emerging and aspiring leaders is vital in preparing them to work with their teams.


The Consequences

Without leadership support and employee engagement, the consequences of not having balanced accountability in the workplace are manifold, including:

  • Decreased Productivity and Performance: When employees are not held accountable, they may become complacent, miss deadlines, and deliver poor-quality work. This can significantly impact overall team and organisational productivity.
  • Low Morale and Demotivation: A lack of accountability can breed resentment among employees pulling their weight as they see colleagues getting away with subpar performance. This can lead to low morale, decreased motivation, and a toxic work environment.
  • Erosion of Trust and Teamwork: When some employees are not held accountable, it can undermine team and organisation trust. This can hinder collaboration, communication, and the ability to work effectively as a cohesive unit.
  • Negative Impact on Company Culture: A culture of non-accountability can become entrenched, leading to a lack of ownership, poor work ethic, and an overall negative organisational culture that is difficult to change.
  • Increased Risk and Liability: Failing to hold employees accountable for unethical or unsafe behaviour can expose the organisation to legal and reputational risks. This can have severe consequences for the business.
  • Difficulty Attracting and Retaining Talent: High-performing employees may become frustrated and leave the organisation if they perceive a lack of accountability and fairness. This can make it challenging to attract and retain top talent.


10 Steps to Accountability

Everyone must understand that accountability is a team sport. Working together is the key to moving away from a “Micromanager Mindset” and towards a “Trusted and Empowered Team” mindset.


Accountability is a team sport.


There are ten steps to create a culture of accountability in the workplace for both in-person and remote working teams:

  • Set Clear Expectations: Clearly define roles, responsibilities, deadlines, and communication norms for all employees, in-person or remote. Record these expectations and ensure everyone understands them by having regular discussions about the expectations and progress towards meeting them.
  • Engage Employees in Goal Setting: Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals together. By working on the goals together, rather than dictating them, you build psychological ownership, commitment, and shared understanding.
  • Implement Regular Check-ins and Monitoring: Schedule frequent check-in meetings, status updates, and feedback sessions for both in-person and remote teams to maintain transparency and address issues promptly.
  • Foster Open Communication and Feedback: Encourage open dialogue, where employees feel safe to provide feedback, voice concerns, and discuss challenges.
  • Lead by Example: As a leader, model the accountability behaviours you want to see from your team, such as owning mistakes, meeting deadlines, and proactive problem-solving.
  • Empower Employees with Autonomy: Give team members the authority and resources to complete their work while providing guidance and support when needed. This builds trust and a sense of ownership.
  • Encourage Shared Accountability: Promote a culture where team members, in person or remotely, support each other, provide feedback, and take collective responsibility for outcomes.
  • Recognise and Reward Accountability: Publicly acknowledge and celebrate employees demonstrating accountability, ownership, and a solutions-oriented mindset. This reinforces the desired behaviours.
  • Address Accountability Lapses Promptly: When accountability issues arise, address them directly and work with the employee to find a resolution rather than letting problems fester. Always approach these from a position of curiosity rather than blame. Seek to understand why the circumstances occurred rather than leaping into blaming someone.
  • Provide Support and Development Opportunities: Offer training, coaching, and resources to help employees, both in-person and remote, develop the skills and mindset needed to be accountable.

By implementing these ten steps, organisations can foster a culture of accountability that empowers and engages all employees, whether they work in person or remotely. Always remember that Accountability is given, but Responsibility is taken. No leader can “make” anyone responsible, but they can make them accountable. However, if you give someone or a team accountability for an outcome, you must empower them to make decisions to drive towards it.


Accountability is given, Responsibility is taken.



Accountability in Action

When there is balanced accountability in the workplace, these behaviours will be the norm, and teams and leaders will be able to interact and deliver sustainable:

  • Meeting Deadlines: Tasks and projects are completed on time and meeting the deadlines set.
  • Taking Ownership: Acknowledging and taking responsibility for one's actions, decisions, and the outcomes of one's work.
  • Effective Communication: Communicating openly, honestly, and transparently about progress, challenges, and mistakes.
  • Proactive Problem-Solving: Taking the initiative to identify and address problems rather than waiting to be told what to do.
  • Accepting Feedback: Being open to constructive criticism and using it to improve one's performance.
  • Showing Up and Participating: Arriving on time, being present and engaged during meetings and team activities.
  • Admitting Mistakes: Acknowledging errors or shortcomings and focusing on solutions rather than making excuses.
  • Maintaining a Positive Attitude: Demonstrating a solutions-oriented mindset and avoiding negativity that can impact the team.
  • Taking Initiative: Going above and beyond one's responsibilities to contribute to the team and organisation.
  • Communicating Concerns: Voicing constructive criticism and ideas for improvement rather than staying silent.

Fostering a culture of accountability is crucial for driving performance, building trust, and aligning the organisation towards its goals. When this balance is achieved, organisations can unlock the full potential of their people, driving performance, fostering trust, and creating a culture of continuous improvement. By embracing accountability as a shared responsibility, leaders and teams can work together to improve the organisation.


Need help strategising the right approach and implementing change?

We'd love to help


You might also be interested in this webinar on

Accountability Incoming! (Dissecting Accountability)




This piece was written by Sharon Robson, an accomplished business agility and transformation coach, all-around agile guru, and SoftEd trainer.





Thank you!

Your details have been submitted and we will be in touch.