behavior management Team building

Turning Accountability into Action: Practical Tips for Leaders

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines accountability as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.

As leaders, we are often tasked with keeping our teams accountable and being accountable ourselves. The problem is that accountability is set as an expectation, but anyone in your organization will rarely show you how to hold your teams accountable.

Today, you don’t have to wonder anymore.

We’ll go over some common challenges leaders face, and explain a few ways you can enhance the accountability for yourself and your teams.

Let’s get started!

Why accountability?

If I were to further break down the definition of accountability, I would argue that our willingness to “accept responsibility” is further driven by our desire to belong.

Society works based on trust. We’ve learned that we can count on people to do what they say they’ll do, and when they don’t, we reduce our trust in them.

So accountability is about trust. It is our desire to know that I can trust you to do as you said you would.

Who are we accountable to?

Since we established that accountability is ultimately about trust when we are asked to hold our teams accountable, who are we expecting to trust?

I pondered about this for a while and ultimately understood that in business, we are always accountable to our customers. But we get there by being accountable to our peers.

When we talk about holding our teams accountable, we are, in essence, placing our trust in two critical directions: horizontally, toward our peers and colleagues, and vertically, toward our customers and stakeholders.

Trust in Our Peers and Colleagues (Horizontal Trust): Accountability within a team relies heavily on mutual trust among team members. As leaders, we expect our team members to trust us to provide guidance, resources, and support to help them achieve their goals. Simultaneously, we must trust our team members to fulfill their roles, meet their commitments, and contribute to the collective success of the team. This horizontal trust forms the bedrock of a cohesive and high-performing team.

Trust in Our Customers and Stakeholders (Vertical Trust): Ultimately, the success of any business hinges on the trust of its customers and stakeholders. We are accountable to them for delivering quality products, services, and experiences. To earn their trust, we must first demonstrate accountability within our teams. When our peers and colleagues trust us, this trust cascades vertically to our customers. They see a well-coordinated and accountable team dedicated to delivering value and meeting their needs.

Common challenges to helping your team be accountable

Celine Teoh, CEO Coach at Mochary Method, breaks down common challenges to accountability in their “How to Hold People Accountable” presentation. Let’s go over them in detail:

Ex-boss syndrome

Bad bosses are everywhere! luckily, since you are here, you care and are not one of those micromanagers that made you and your teammate’s life impossible. Don’t let a bad experience ruin the opportunity to build trust within your team to help them with accountability.

I am not an expert

How do you question someone more experienced than you? As leaders, likely, you are not the expert in the room, however, you are still accountable to your team and your customers.


You understand your team and feel deeply for the challenges they face. How can you expect accountability when their reasons are so valid?

I trust the team

You believe in your team and trust them so much you don’t feel the need to check on them.

Conflict avoidance

What if they get angry? what if my best employees leave? I am hesitant to hold them accountable out of fear of what they might do.

While these and other scenarios might seem valid to you, understand that to win over your customer and your peer’s trust, we have to overcome our fears and learn of ways to cultivate a culture of accountability.

Fostering an accountability culture

Carrots and Sticks

The prevalent way businesses have been fostering accountability has been by using carrots and sticks. If you are not familiar with the term, carrots, and sticks refer to when leaders use gifts (the carrot) as well as punishment (the stick) to incentivize behavior.

The basics of carrots and sticks look something like this

  • Set a goal and provide a bonus if you hit the goal (use a carrot)
  • No bonus if the goal is not met (remove the carrot)
  • We place you on a PIP and fire you if you don’t meet the goal (use a stick)
  • Meet your PIP goals and we won’t fire you (remove the stick)

Research has shown that carrots and sticks are well suited for tasks where the steps are well known. But well-known tasks are also tasks that are prone to automation, so we are left with a workforce whose value is created by being creative and solving challenging problems.

Unfortunately, carrots and sticks are detrimental when used to incentivize creative work. So how do we then get our teams, working on creative tasks, to be accountable for their work?

Intrinsic motivation

Rather than doing something to seek a reward or avoid a punishment, intrinsic motivation plays to our desire to do something simply because we find it interesting.

A great example provided by Dan Pink is the contrast between Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia and Wikipedia.

For Encarta, Microsoft went about implementing all the known carrot-and-stick approaches. Highly capable managers, a well-laid-out bonus structure, and very explicit goals.

On the other hand, Wikipedia is free to use and its content is entirely made from excited and engaged individuals who care for the information Wikipedia contains.

You don’t have to guess which encyclopedia is successful now. The intrinsic motivators driving Wikipedia contributions far outpaced any bonus structure put in place for Encarta.

How then do we foster intrinsic motivation to create a culture of accountability? Recent authors have given us excellent information on how to foster intrinsic motivation, here are some recent examples that I’ll use to illustrate actionable steps

These authors argue that when we care about something, we do a much better job at it, and to foster a culture of caring, we must help our teams understand the value they are adding and give them ownership over their work.

Let’s now take a look at specific action steps we can take as leaders to foster a culture of accountability by ensuring our team cares about their work.

Practical tips for leaders

A mental model I use to simplify what we’ve reviewed so far is that

“we foster accountability in our teams by providing autonomy via mastery and purpose”

This oversimplification covers most of the general idea, but let’s dig into the specifics of how we could implement it.


Your team works best when they feel ownership of their work, We allow for ownership by fostering autonomy, Here is how:

  • Define the mission and objectives clearly – follow up on progress on a pre-determined scheduled
  • Set high standards and clearly define what excellence looks like – repeat these often
  • Reaffirm your trust in your team. “I understand this work is challenging, and I want you to know that I believe in you and I have high expectations from your work.”
  • Allow decisions to happen where the information resides
  • Allow your team to choose their projects
  • Focus on outcomes rather than micromanaging the process
  • Let individuals define their own goals and metrics for success
  • Enable flexible work arrangements
  • Allow for open communication and active listening
  • Encourage your team to propose solutions
  • Foster “I intend to” statements by asking your team to bring up what they intend to do (new decision, next steps) rather than expecting you to tell them what to do next. On your end, focus on asking about the impact rather than focusing on the steps.
  • Don’t allow for excuses, autonomy = ownership. When given an excuse ask – what could we have done differently? what do you intend on doing next?
  • Lead by example by taking full responsibility for the successes and failures of your team. Never blame others or external factors for setbacks


It is extremely difficult for your team to achieve their tasks autonomously if they don’t have the knowledge and expertise required to complete them.

To have Autonomy, we require mastery, and mastery is achieved with grit (talent + effort). Here are a few ways to help your team achieve mastery:

  • Offer continuous learning opportunities
  • Allow your team to tackle challenging projects, stretching their current knowledge
  • Setup a mentorship program
  • Encourage your team to attend conferences
  • Encourage cross-functional collaboration, so your team learns from others and builds empathy toward sister groups
  • Solicit and Provide constructive feedback so your team knows where to improve
  • Frame mistakes or setbacks as opportunities for growth by holding retrospective meetings after projects to identify what went well and what could be improved, fostering a culture of continuous learning
  • Organize “learning days” where team members can dedicate time to exploring new technologies, tools, or methodologies.
  • Set up a “learning board” where team members can post and discuss lessons learned from various projects, promoting shared learning
  • Start a book club on a subject related to an upcoming project
  • Foster a culture of open communication and active listening, allowing team members to freely exchange ideas and insights
  • Facilitate regular peer reviews, where team members provide feedback and suggestions on each other’s work
  • Implement a feedback loop that allows the team to make data-driven adjustments.


To fully achieve Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, it is important to focus on the underlying reason for the work we do.

When we have a clear understanding of our purpose, we can take ownership of our work and feel empowered to achieve our goals independently, utilizing the skills and knowledge we have gained. To help your teams find purpose, follow these steps:

  • Communicate the team’s overarching mission and how each member’s work contributes to that larger purpose
  • Regularly remind team members of their work’s meaningful impact on the organization, customers, or society as a whole
  • Initiate discussions about the values and principles that guide the team’s work, helping individuals connect their tasks to a sense of purpose.
  • Involve team members in setting meaningful goals that align with the team’s mission and values, creating a sense of ownership
  • Encourage collaboration and teamwork by emphasizing the importance of mutual support within the team. Each team member should cover for and support their colleagues
  • Foster a culture where individuals are willing to step out of their comfort zones to help others in need, even if it means temporarily shifting focus from their tasks
  • Promote a “we before me” mentality, where the collective success of the team is always prioritized over individual achievements or agendas
  • Encourage team members to ask questions and seek clarification when they are unsure about the intent or the rationale behind a task. Promote a culture of curiosity
  • Help your team prioritize tasks and objectives based on their importance and impact on the overall mission. Focus on the most critical goals first
  • When facing a crisis or rapidly changing situation, remain calm and composed. Encourage your team to do the same and stick to the plan while making necessary adjustments
behavior strategy

Mastering Project Prioritization: The Art of Selling Your Projects for Success

Prioritizing projects is crucial for any business but can often be complex and overwhelming. 

As a leader, you must decide which projects to focus on first while balancing your team’s time and resources. 

However, framing your projects as a sale makes this process much easier and more effective.

Think of your project as a home theater setup. 

You want the best possible setup, but it’s also expensive. So, you start by buying the easy wins, such as lamps and accent lighting, before moving on to more important items as they go on sale, such as the TV and speakers. 

This approach allows you to maximize value while minimizing costs.

In software development, this translates to breaking down your project into smaller deliverables of value. 

You prioritize high-value/low-effort opportunities to deliver user value constantly and keep an eye out for sections of your project that go on sale – those high-value/low-effort opportunities that can increase value to your users. 

Doing this allows you to maximize the value delivered to your users and prioritize effectively.

Here are some tips to help you prioritize your projects like a sale:

  1. Break down your project into smaller deliverables of value.
  2. Prioritize high-value/low-effort opportunities to deliver user value constantly.
  3. Keep an eye out for sections of your project that go on sale — those high-value/low-effort opportunities that can increase value to your users.

This approach ensures that your team constantly works on the most critical projects and delivers the most value to your users. 

It’s important to remember that only some things will go on sale, so it’s also essential to be flexible and adaptable as you go along.

In summary, prioritizing projects like a sale allows you to maximize the value delivered to your users while balancing your team’s time and resources. 

behavior Team building

The Power of ‘We’: How Changing One Word Can Transform group Dynamics

Have you ever noticed how using the word “they” can create a sense of separation and division within an organization?

It’s almost as if you can see the wall being built between groups when they refer to each other as “they.” But what if we told you that changing just one word – “they” to “we” – could help break down those walls and promote unity within your team? This idea is explored in depth in the book “Leadership is Language” by David Marquet.

Using “we” instead of “they” can have a powerful impact on team dynamics and help foster a more cohesive and collaborative environment.

When you use “we,” you are including yourself in the group and implying that you are all working towards a common goal.

It sends a message that you are all in this together and willing to support and help each other.

For example, let’s say a team needs help with meeting deadlines. Instead of saying, “they need to work faster,” a more practical approach might be to say, “we need to find ways to improve our efficiency and meet these deadlines.”

This shift in language acknowledges that the problem affects the entire team and encourages everyone to be a part of the solution.

It also aligns with extreme ownership, where each team member takes responsibility for their actions and works to find ways within their control to do better.

On the other hand, using “they” can create a sense of distance and disconnection within a team. It suggests that there are “us” and “them” and that you are not a part of the same team.

This can lead to a breakdown in communication and a lack of trust between team members.

So next time you find yourself using “they,” try swapping it out for “we” instead.

It may seem like a small change, but it can significantly affect how your team functions and works together.

Collaboration icons created by Freepik – Flaticon


Change users’ behavior using the three Bs framework, behavioral design

I recently ran into the three Bs framework by listening to Kristen Berman’s interview in Lenny’s podcast. 

The three B’s framework attempts to distill human psychology to help us design better products, change behavior and drive engagement.

The three B’s framework stands for “behavior, barriers, benefits. “

Identifying key behaviors

Typically you will see companies focusing on outcomes. 

For example, “we want to increase engagement” or “increase the number of signups by 50 percent.”

Instead, we want to get uncomfortably specific about the behavior we want to change. 

We want to say things like, “when a user opens our app, we want them to do X within Y seconds.”

This may seem like a small change, but it’s a massive shift in mindset.

Instead of thinking about outcomes, we’re thinking about the actual behavior we want to see.

And this shift in thinking is crucial.

Reducing barriers

The second part of the three B’s framework is about reducing barriers to the desired behavior.

To make it easy for people to do what you want them to do, you need to remove any obstacles.

For example, if you want people to sign up for your newsletter, you must ensure the signup process is as easy and frictionless as possible.

If you want people to use your new feature, you need to make sure it’s visible and easy to find.

Reducing barriers doesn’t necessarily mean making things more accessible. 

It just means ensuring the path to the desired behavior is as straightforward as possible.

Creating benefits

The third part of the three B’s framework is creating benefits for the desired behavior.

there are two characteristics key to making benefits work after a user takes an action 

the benefit has to be immediate, and it has to be emotional.

To get people to do what you want them to do, you need to ensure there’s something in it for them.

This could be a physical reward, like a discount or free shipping, or an emotional reward, like a feeling of satisfaction or accomplishment.

The important thing is that the benefit is immediate and that it’s something the user cares about.

If the benefit isn’t immediate, there’s a danger that the user will forget about it or that it will be too late by the time they get it.

And if the benefit isn’t something the user cares about, there’s a danger that they won’t be motivated to do the desired behavior in the first place.