Please team, can I have some more?

As the Decade of Disruption continues to live up to its name, successful leaders, teams and organizations are asking what’s making and keeping them fragile so they can meet the challenges and maximise the opportunities in front of them now and in the future.

Change, disruption and uncertainty are inevitable; how we engage and respond are not.

Whether it’s broken promises, unrealistic expectations, a culture of false politeness or one of name, shame and blame, accountability underpins an epidemic of underperformance plaguing organizations today and it’s making and keeping us fragile.

But as the disruption and uncertainty continue, it’s not surprising that research shows there is an overwhelming sense of fatigue in workplaces right now and that dealing with people has become our major source of struggle. It’s certainly what I’m hearing from the CEOs, senior leaders and teams that I’m working with.

Are you feeling it too?

And this is a problem, because challenges with accountability can only be solved by talking and working with others. So how can we do this important work, even with tired and testy teams?

I’ve previously talked about the four contextual considerations to be aware of when looking at accountability:

  1. Individual
  2. Team
  3. Work
  4. Organisation

And in this earlier blog, I examined the organisation considerations and specifically how to create accountability in a bureaucratic context, so let’s now have a look at how each of these contextual considerations can be met to help us ask for accountability from people who feel they have little left to give.

The Context

Nic is a senior leader in a large retail organisation that has been hit hard through the business disruption of COVID and hasn’t experienced the uptake in online trading to compensate for losses in store.

In parallel to the external uncertainty and disruption, there have been several internal restructures resulting in redundancies and three major ‘transformation’ initiatives that have required significant changes to processes and systems.

There is a level of change fatigue and burnout across the organisation but results from the latest staff engagement and culture surveys show that Nic’s team in particular is really struggling.

The Accountability Challenge

Nic’s team is business critical to meeting the commercial targets required to secure the company’s future; they need to be lifting their performance rather than falling further behind.

How can Nic ask for more from the team when they are already struggling?

The Accountability Opportunity

Rather than trying to solve the situation alone or ‘protecting’ the team by not sharing it with them,  Nic can bring the team together to discuss the targets, explain how it fits into the bigger picture of the organisation and ask for their ideas and input about what might be barriers to achieving them, what could help them succeed and what support they may need from other teams or departments to do so.

With the understanding that they may be stretch goals, Nic can also invite candid feedback about whether the team feels any aspects of the targets are completely unrealistic and if so, what would need to change to make them achievable.

By the end of these discussions, Nic needs to ensure that there is clarity, understanding and agreed commitment to what needs to be achieved, by when, who will be responsible for what aspects of the work, how progress will be tracked, monitored and shared, and the implications and consequences for the team, other departments and the organisation are if they are not met.

Nic can then check-in with individual team members after the team discussion to see how they are feeling in terms of their levels of motivation to do the work ahead of them.

This is a critical question that many leaders miss.

Understanding team member’s levels of motivation will help Nic provide the necessary and appropriate support and/or encouragement where needed. And if a team member’s motivation or commitment is on the low side, then it’s an opportunity for Nic to learn more about that individual by asking what it would take to improve it by just 5 or 10%.

The Result

By doing what’s outlined above, Nic touches on all four of the accountability context considerations:

  • Explaining how the targets fit into the bigger picture and the implications of not meeting them speaks to the organisational context.
  • Asking for feedback from the team about barriers, enablers and what may be unrealistic targets addresses the work context.
  • Gaining clarity and consensus through discussions on the what, who, when, where and how of the work will uncover the team context.
  • Following up with team members after the group discussion about their feelings of motivation and commitment explores the individual context.

As I talked about in this blog, accountability drives high-performance and success – whether that’s in your personal or professional world – and it relies on two factors: the clarity of expectations and quality of relationships.

You can see how these work together to underpin the work Nic does: firstly getting clear about the what, why, when, where, who, and how and then having the quality of relationships with and within the team to question, clarify and call out what doesn’t feel possible or realistic.

So, if you have an accountability challenge like Nic, where you’re being asked to ask more of people who are physically tired, emotionally exhausted and feel that they don’t have any more to give, try bringing them together to co-create a way forward that highlights the possibilities, identifies the barriers and is grounded in reality so that they can feel confident and committed to achieving it.

Time to talk?

I can help you, your leadership team or your organisation reduce fragility by Resetting Accountability and thrive through uncertainty by Becoming AntiFragile. Simply click here and I’ll be in touch.

Want more?

You can read more about how we can take a more effective approach to accountability in my e-book, The Accountability Reset.  Just click here to download it. And if you haven’t read my book Becoming AntiFragile yet, why not ‘try before you buy’ with the free chapter download here.

Dr Paige Williams

Dr Paige Williams

International Speaker, Author, Mentor


Determined to help leaders move beyond just the need for resilience, Paige provides practical, evidence-based strategies for leaders to become antifragile, lead themselves and their teams to thrive and succeed in the Decade of Disruption.

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