5 disfunctions of a team (4) Avoidance of Accountability

You’ve inherited what you consider a dysfunctional team, but what makes you think they are dysfunctional?  IN the last three weeks we’ve reviewed lack of trust, fear of conflict and lack of commitment. This week, lets review avoidance of accountability.

Patrick Lencioni created a very understandable model about how and why teams are dysfunctional and how you can assist them to function better.  Lets work at the base, the most fundamental dysfunctions, and work our way up.

4. Avoidance of Accountability
The evidence for this dysfunction of the presence of low standards.

It’s not easy to hold someone accountable. Some people are hard to hold accountable because they are so helpful. Others because they get defensive. Others because they are intimidating.

People decide to tolerate peers with low standards on issues which matter, to avoid the discomfort of an affective of interpersonal discussion. Typically, performance standards are very personal and bringing low standards up is challenging as it hits to the core of a person.

While managers may not have as much of problem to hold direct reports accountable, it’s harder with peers, because “We are supposed to be equals, and who am I to stick my nose into their business?” More importantly, when there was no buy-in and commitment in the first place, it seems pointless, people would just say “I never agreed to that anyway”.

So, as we work up this pyramid, you see the steps getting smaller, because as you work upwards the solid foundation means problems diminish. If you really trust a person- trust their ability, and their predictability, understand their motivations and agree that they have high integrity AND can engage with them  in cognitive focussed arguments, and know they are committed to the result… the a small conversation about standards is easy.  If you don’t have trust, if you avoid conflict and lack commitment you CAN’T talk about standards.

Once the team achieves trust, and productive discussion, share clarity and buy-in, then we have to hold each other accountable for what we sign up to do, for high standards of performance and behaviour.

Press a person with respect, and under the assumption that the other person is probably doing the right thing. But push anyway. And never hold back.

Accountability refers specifically to “the willingness of team members to call their peers on performance or behaviours that might hurt the team. You owe it to the team to hold each other accountable.

Ironically, people hesitate to hold one another accountable because they fear jeopardizing a valuable personal relationship, and this only causes the relationship to deteriorate as team members begin to resent one another for not living up to expectations and for allowing standards of the group to erode.

The biggest motivation for people to improve their performance is peer pressure, the fear of letting down respected teammates.

Teams that avoid accountability encourage mediocrity, miss deadlines and key deliverables, create resentment among team members who have different standards of performance, and place an undue burden on the team leader as the sole source of discipline.


  • Publicise of team goals widely, noting who needs to deliver what, and how everyone must behave in order to succeed.
  • Ensure there is a regular honest progress review.
  • Shifting rewards away from individual performance to team achievement, a team is unlikely to stand by quietly and fail when a peer is not pulling his weight.

The leaders need to create a culture of accountability within the team by encouraging and allowing the team to serve as the first and primary accountability mechanism. The leader must be willing to serve as the ultimate arbiter of discipline when the team itself fails, but this should be a rare occurrence.

Next we discuss the fifth and last dysfunction; inattention to results.