By: Mike Frech
Accountability within an organization can elevate your company to the highest level, or be the road block to your aspirations. Low accountability in organizations stifles growth, prevents creative execution and leads to failure. On the other hand, organizations with a high level of accountability are usually high growth, entrepreneurial, and consistent in meeting the lofty goals they have set for themselves.
High accountability manifests itself in the way a team works together. Team members are comfortable calling each other out when deadlines aren’t met, or tasks aren’t completed. This type of open dialogue regarding failure of team members to attain agreed upon goals is healthy, and should be welcomed and encouraged.
During an internal assessment that Sullivan Engineering participated in approximately 2 years ago, it was determined that our team had an accountability rating that we felt should be higher. Coworkers were “too nice.” Most felt uncomfortable challenging team members to do the best job possible at all times, and therefore enabling each other to do the same. About this time, we were presented with an article written by Patrick Lencioni, titled “The jerk Factor”.
The article uses the example of a baseball team to demonstrate the need for little “j” jerks, the difference between little “j” jerks and “Jerks,” and the importance of not mislabeling little “j” jerks as their unwanted counterparts. Capital “J” Jerks are abrasive and arrogant for no good reason. Their negativity should never be tolerated. They are pariahs that can ruin a growing or established team, and must be immediately removed before they do so.
Based on our leadership team’s hiring standards and insistence that all Sullivan Engineering employees believe in and conduct themselves in accordance with the company’s core values, we did not have any of these capital “J” types working at our firm. We noted, however, that some of us were what the article refers to as passive jerks. Unlike actively helpful little “j” jerks, these people prevent the team from reaching its full potential by refraining from offering feedback or criticism for fear of being disliked or unpopular. They might believe they are just trying to be nice; however, they are actually putting their personal feelings in front of what’s beneficial to the team.
Working at developing a team of little “j” jerks became our new goal. We began to move outside our comfort zones to push our peers, subordinates, and even superiors, out of theirs. This can be difficult to do, and may result in some pushback from those being held accountable. However, these feelings usually subside once the person speaking up and the person being held accountable realize how this culture elevates both their own and their team’s performance.
Our team accountability rating has risen dramatically since we bought into this notion. While it will always be a work in progress, we are reaping the benefits of higher accountability. With team members feeling comfortable to speak up, consistently expecting the best from each other, and empowering the team through accountability, we are reaching and surpassing our company goals. We’ve discovered that making accountability intrinsic to our company culture could be the difference between being a good team and an exceptional one.