Holding yourself and others to account

An important thing to do as a colleague, as a designer, is to hold yourself and others to account.

Not in a way undermines each other. But in a way that builds trust. By making sure you and your team backs up the promises you make. And justifies the decisions you make.

A team with people who hold themselves and others to account build better services. And they recover when things go wrong. Because things are going to go wrong.

Accountability is taking responsibility for your behaviour. Limited by the limit of your capabilities and powers. Accountability is about the things you do and own. And the decisions you make (or help make).

We see people who take responsibility as trustworthy. And teams who trust each other are able to hold each other to account.

Holding yourself to account is:

  • being clear about what you want to achieve
  • taking responsibility if/when things fail
  • being open to questions and feedback. And actively seeking feedback
  • being honest about your capabilities and open to support
  • actively measuring if you get the results you want

Holding others to account is:

  • helping people be clear about what they want to achieve and why
  • supporting people to see what they are capable of and providing them with the tools and space to ask for what they need
  • measuring if they achieve the results they want and offering advice and support if they do not
  • showing people how they could succeed

Teams that don’t hold each other accountable undermine each other. Create ill-will and toxic environments. People get called out. But it’s a “gotcha”. Something that robs power, or puts it in the hands of a few.

If you’re a senior member of a team and don’t get asked routinely to explain your thinking, and to shape your thoughts more, it’s a good sign you’re not being held to account.

It’s unlikely you’re so clear about everything. It’s likely no one feels able to hold you to account.

Even if you’re open to feedback. And being held accountable.

If you’re junior to another member of a team it can be clear when more senior team members aren’t held to account:

  • objectives aren’t clear. And arguments are won by appeals to seniority, other senior people or shut down completely
  • things aren’t explained and people given work with too little room to succeed
  • people without power or influence are stuck with all the responsibility if things don’t succeed
  • it’s a monumental effort to do the right thing
  • there is no easy way to challenge those more powerful or senior

Teams that I have worked with that are good at accountability talk lots. They are constantly sharing what they want to achieve. Talk through what’s possible. What’s holding them back. And care what each other think.

They also judge whether they’re getting the results they expect. And adjust their work on reflection.

Teams that I’ve worked with that haven’t been good at accountability have been full of nice, talented people. But they don’t communicate (though they may talk lots). They’re not clear on what they are trying to do. And why they’re trying to do that.

They are full of people who aren’t open to feedback. Or can’t seemingly be held to account.

Teams that don’t hold each other accountable have a shared sense of exhaustion and frustration. Rather than purpose.

As these teams are the ones that don’t deliver good services. They may deliver. Through individual effort. But not in a consistent, quality way.

Make sure you and your team backs up the promises you make. Hold yourself and others to account.

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