It is hard work managing a team, made even harder by everyone’s different levels of ability and speed to be able to complete tasks. For any team to be a High Performing Team the leader needs to know everyone’s ability. The leader needs to be able to drive them forward to work autonomously and foster accountability. There is a tendency within a wide population of leaders to be disablers rather than enablers. This is done with the best of intentions. Two of the biggest disablers in organisations are:

  1. I can do it myself. Have you ever heard yourself say, or think, I can do it quicker myself? And then go on to complete the task yourself.
  2. Tell them what to do. When asked by a team member how to complete a task you tell them how to do it.

I can do it myself…

Your growing task list

The first, most of us are aware that we do it, we stop delegating and complete the task ourselves. By doing so adding the workload on to our own to do list and allowing the team member to have all the time in the world to do what they can do. This disables not only the team member, stopping their development but also yourself. Your list grows and grows until you have no one around you that can support.

Tell them what to do…

The second, the team member who asks you how to complete a task. You kindly give them the answer. This is one of the unnoticed disablers of performance in all work places. When we are told the answer, we go away and do exactly as we are told. The task gets completed, we don’t learn from the task and don’t think for ourselves how to complete the task.

You need to change your behaviours and drive accountability within your team.

It’s accountability that both nurtures and nips away at you as a leader. Ultimately, whether as a result of your own direct contribution, or the leadership of others, your business will trust that you will do what needs to get done to achieve the desired outcome- no excuses! Support is there for you, including people and resources, culture, executive sponsorship, strategy etc… And you will bring your leadership capabilities, commercial acumen, network and management competencies. However the accountability, the outcome, still sits with you.

You are, of course, a development orientated manager, and you will understand the value in sharing aspects of your day to day to activity to grow and optimise your people. And in sharing these you distribute some of the weight of your own burden across your team. It’s through crafty delegation and engagement of your team members you disperse this, hopefully in doing so motivating your people and providing opportunities to develop and grow as you have done. Adding responsibility is a commonly leveraged approach for keeping employees hooked into the business, however how can you take this to the next level and extend your accountability to them?

Responsibility, different to Accountability

Some clarity is a terrific place to start. The terms ‘responsibility’ and ‘accountability’ are near-synonyms; hence, managers tend to use them interchangeably. In the common explanation of the difference between accountability and responsibility the distinction is subtle, with the main difference being that responsibility can be shared, while accountability cannot. Being accountable not only means being responsible for something but also ultimately being answerable.

However let’s challenge the view that accountability cannot be shared. More contemporary approaches to delegation finds ways to install accountability and give responsibility. By carefully assigning activities and attaching consequence you can deliver to your direct reports both the obligation to deliver and own the results. An engaged individual will embrace the responsibility, prosper via the engagement it offers, and see it as fulfilling and motivating. They’ll also appreciate the importance of the activity, value their ownership of the outcome and be responsive to the reward and recognition that might be on offer on completion.


Unfortunately delegating is not as easy as it sounds. For you diligent managers, whom possess a strong work ethic and strive to achieve, taking on responsibility is understood as expected. However, many still miss the chance to really own the activity and deliver it as though it with a full appreciation that the results, and the consequence of the results, are up to them and their teams. This mind-set is more prevalent when the activity is complex, is challenging, is being delivered in a climate of adversity, and or when they perceive they don’t have the resources that are needed to deliver it successfully.

Your team are best primed to share accountability when they are adequately equipped. This might mean them having a understanding of the purpose and scope of the activity, the direction and parameters that they need to deliver within, the right mix of capabilities (knowledge, skills, experience and mind-set) to deliver, and the coaching and support they need from you.

It’s the absence of the latter that typically leads to failing to take on accountability. Leaders who give the direction however fails to extend the right level of support, potentially sets individuals up to fail. You trust that they have the resources and capability, however an instruction to simply “make it happen”, and “come back and tell me when it’s done” fails to install ownership. Or provide the information or support needed to set them on the road to success. Also, giving them a solution to a problem and not allowing them to problem solve and devise a solution themselves means they will forever come back for help.

So, what steps can you take to more effectively delegate some of the accountability? How do you install a real sense of ownership in your team? The important thing to recognise here is that there is an investment in time needed by you. The temptation for time poor leaders might be to “do it myself because it is faster”, or, “I can do it better”, however with this mind-set real opportunities are missed.

  1. Appropriately delegate, give praise and take it on the chin…

Remember that in most cases your organisation will still see you as accountable. When team member delivers as expected, use this as a chance to recognise them and share in their success. However if they are not successful you won’t be able to simply wipe your hands of accountability. Don’t direct attention onto them, you need to be accountable at that point.

  1. Outline the rewards and penalties.

It’s important when attempting to shift accountability to incentivise ownership, and convey the consequences of success, or failure. Understand the motivational factors for team members and reward them accounting to this. Delegating accountability can also provide new experiences, access to parts of the business that may have normally been less accessible, and the chance to build the profile of the individual.

  1. Be an active coach and mentor.

A thoughtful leader who effectively delegates accountability will stay connected to the team. Find opportunities to provide feedback, give guidance, coach on the approach and outcomes, and mentor as it is needed. It’s really important that you do this- not only because of the immediate development that it offers your team members, but because of the critical future competencies that it can nurture.

  1. Sponsor and enable.

Whilst you might be successful in transferring some of the accountability, for your team member to be successful you still need to be proactive in demonstrating your sponsorship of the individual. Helping others understand what you have asked them to do, and why. There may also be parts of the organisation that you’ll need to help provide access, introductions to be made, and in short, doors to be opened by you

  1. Ask Questions.

To allow individuals to fully develop their knowledge, skills, experience and mind-set they need to know within themselves they are capable. Every time they are given an answer to a problem they need to solve it stops them from developing. To develop they need to solve the problem themselves. Next time some comes to you for help and support, give it to them by facilitating their problem solving. Ask them “How would you do it?” and allow them to come up with the solution themselves. If you are thoughtful and take the time to practice our recommendations you are well on the path of success. Never lose sight of the fact that in the eyes of your stakeholder ultimately you remain accountable. No matter how carefully and effectively you delegate this.

If you’d like more guidance on delegating accountability or responsibility. Or to share your experiences of installing ownership in your teams, we’d love to hear from you! Contact Us