Humans are pack animals, and everything we do is motivated by the need to belong to a group. If you want to build truly accountable teams, where everyone works together toward a common goal (a “shared fate”) instead of looking to the boss for answers, you have to do things that might create more anxiety in the moment, but ultimately increase team trust.
That’s the overall premise of Eric Coryell’s presentation on Creating and Leading Accountable Teams – A Contrarian Approach. And it’s one that resonates so much at SOLV that each member of our Executive Leadership Team has seen Coryell at least once, some have seen him multiple times and read his book. And, they’ve teamed up with Apex Manufacturing Solutions to bring him back to speak to our entire staff! Accountability is our biggest theme this year, and Eric Coryell's material is a huge contributor to the conversation.
Ouch. I’ve done this more times than I care to admit. Guess how well that worked out.
There’s one thing this approach does really well: contribute to an overall sense of dread that creates an ever-growing lump in your throat and a horrible feeling of something hanging over your head.
It’s also great at sowing resentment among the team. They say your culture is what you tolerate. Do you want a culture that tolerates issues because that's easier than confronting them?
Spoiler alert: this is also a losing strategy. You and the person you’re venting with might feel better for a minute, but nothing changes - except that now you know you can’t really trust each other.
And not once are you ever going to go home and tell your kids (or your mom, who thinks you’re the best thing ever) - hey, I’m so proud of myself, I talked about someone behind their back today. Go me!
This is the first approach that might actually do something about the problem you’re having. There’s an issue, someone gets talked to or even fired, so the issue is “fixed”, right?
Maybe. Maybe not. What you have done for sure is take all responsibility off the team to resolve anything. So again, you've done nothing to increase accountability or trust. You've reinforced the idea that your team should look to you for everything.
All three of these failed approaches have the benefit of lowering an individual’s anxiety in the moment. It’s hard and scary to confront a problem head-on and work together as a team to resolve it. It’s so much easier to avoid the issue, vent about it, or hand it off to someone higher up the food chain.
The trouble is that every approach that lowers the individual’s momentary anxiety also, in the long run, decreases trust in the group.
Either approach has the potential to be a really uncomfortable conversation. You don’t know how the person you’re talking to is going to take the feedback. If they don’t take it well, they might lash out, get defensive, or express big emotions you’d rather leave under the carpet. It could get ugly.
It’s a scary thing to do. It’s hard. That’s why it’s so easy to avoid doing it. But according to Coryell, it's also the way to grow a truly accountable team that works together to create the greatest results.
Up next in this series: I talked with each of our ELT members to get their juiciest perspectives on this material for you, and how they’re applying it with our team. You'll hear from CFO Jamie McCormick on her favorite of Coryell's tools and how it helps managers and supervisors keep accountability where it belongs; CSO Gordon Klepec on how he's changed his approach with his sales team, and what the benefits and pitfalls have been as a leader; and CEO Tressa McLaughlin on using a collaborative leadership approach to enact positive change.