It’s been a while since I wrote about self-managed teams, but it remains a topic dear to my heart.  Teams that choose how to divide work and responsibility often get more done than when a manager dictates work, and for good reason.  It creates buy-in, and you gain a sense of how you personally impact your own work, thus increasing your work satisfaction.

But, as happens often in life, you can’t get something for free.  Being part of a self-managed team doesn’t mean you get a pat on the back and a “good job” if you do things right.  It also means you must be held accountable for your work.  We all like to complain (myself included) about managers who horde team glory when times are good, and then blames others when things go bad.  The truth is, though, when faced with our own mistakes and failures, we don’t like to pony up.  We like to blame systems, circumstances, or situations instead of looking at how our individual actions could have caused negative outcomes.

If you want to work in a true self-managed team environment, you have to learn to accept responsibility for positive and negative outcomes of your decisions.  Being accountable is the mark of a true professional.  The only managers I have ever respected have been able to tell me, to my face and with sincerity, that yes, I’m human, and I sometimes miss the mark.  These are the people that inspire me, not the BS’ers who like to exude false confident while at the same time running a team into the ground.

So if you still struggle with accountability, here are some tips to help you out:

  • Learn from your mistakes. Ah, the old cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason.  When you make mistakes, make sure you evaluate why they went wrong.  Could you have acted differently?  Did you research your options thoroughly?  Make sure to take away at least one (if not two or three) lessons from every mistake.  It makes you better over time.  Note, however, that this does not excuse a negative outcome, but simply makes it actionable the next time you are faced with it.
  • Always strive for ethical decision making. Some of the worst accountability mistakes are those made at the expense of your own morals.  While this may differ from person to person, everyone has a set of these.  For example, you might feel tempted to lie to a customer about what your company can offer for a quick sale.  Unfortunately, you can’t sustain that kind of behavior.  If you have a set of ethical business rules, you’ll never feel guilty about decisions that you make.
  • Don’t be so hard on others (or yourself). American business culture loves the blame game.  Revenue down this month?  Who should we fire?  But business is a cyclical thing, and sometimes, bad outcomes do occur.  If you help build a team culture of understanding outcomes and mistakes, people will recover from them more quickly.  However, if you’re always looking for a scapegoats, you’ll find one all right.  Just don’t be shocked if one day you’re on the chopping block.
  • Get feedback often. A lot of mistakes are simply the result of us working from within our own pre-conceived notion of the problem.  Marketers, for example, often believe more advertising money will solve a revenue problem, while a product manager tends to tweak product features.  Getting feedback about your goals from a bunch of different perspectives will help you catch biases early on, and snap you out of them to make better decisions.
  • Realize that risk increases the chance of failure. In business, we say that increased risk equals more reward.  It alternatively means you’ll fail more often.  If you and your team realize at the beginning of a risky project realize that chances of failure are higher than normal, it can help negative outcomes seem less surprising when they occur.

Any other ideas for holding yourself more accountable?

-Deborah Fike

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