Applying Accountability in your Team Part One: The Three Pillars of Accountability

Applying Accountability in your Team Part One: The Three Pillars of Accountability Hero Image

I’ve worked with many managers over the years and one topic consistently trips them up – accountability. It’s often not that they don’t understand it (although that can happen), it’s often more that they are unsure how to drive accountability into their team.

It’s a bit of a weird paradox – embracing accountability means that you grab hold of it as an individual. Yet we ask ourselves how we can push it towards people and hope that they hold onto it. 

Part of the reason for this challenge is that accountability is a bit of an abstract concept. You can’t just tell someone to be accountable or expect them to tick it off a checklist of behaviours and then move on. 

So today, let’s try and overcome this by making accountability more concrete and learning how to apply it within our teams. This is the first of a two part email where we’ll focus on the three pillars of accountability that will enable you to focus on the right areas. 

Let’s introduce them and talk about the pillars themselves and how they relate to accountability.

The three pillars of accountability we’re going to talk about are:

  • Deliverables
  • Behaviours
  • Progression

If you focus on these and apply a filter of accountability across them, you’ll be in a much stronger position to apply accountability within your team.

Feedback Types Framework

Let’s get into them.


Under this pillar, you’re focusing on the day-to-day work that your team member is producing. If you manage copywriters, it will be the copy that they produce or the editing that they carry out. If you manage web developers, it will be the code and markup that they push live or the bugs that appear in their work.

Whatever it is, the goal here is consistent and meaningful improvement of this work, along with high standards always being met. Setting and maintaining high standards is a subtle, but important way to project accountability into a team. 

Of course, none of us are perfect and we can’t expect 100% of work to be 100% perfect 100% of the time. However, you do need to be at a point where you aren’t worrying about the work that someone is producing. Being able to deliver great work on a consistent basis is a fundamental part of a role. If this is in doubt, then you’re going to have to deal with this before someone can progress and develop in their role.

In terms of how to manage someone under this pillar, here are a few actions to take and things to keep in mind:

  • Be clear on what great work looks like, calling out great work or sharing examples where possible.
  • Give feedback on deliverables in a timely manner. Most feedback should be delivered as soon as possible anyway, but this is definitely the case with day-to-day work.
  • Provide a mix of on the job and off the job training. Most people will learn best by getting hands on and doing the work, but don’t forget about providing dedicated training from colleagues or external trainers to upskill them.


This pillar is focused far more on the day-to-day behaviours that a team member exhibits. It could also be described as their attitude or approach towards their work and colleagues. This is important because it’s not enough to simply be good at delivering the work itself – not if you care about team culture and collaboration. 

Generally, the work that someone produces and therefore, their contribution towards the success of your team and company, is paramount to whether or not someone is successful in their role.

However, if you pair this with bad behaviours or behaviours that go against your values and culture, then you’re likely to develop wider problems within your team and organisation. Other team members or even 3rd parties such as clients or suppliers are likely to struggle to work with the individual. Essentially, you’re pushing people to be accountable for their own actions and behaviours and instilling the importance of these, alongside day-to-day work.

These behaviours could be exhibited in a number of ways, such as:

  • Team meetings or meetings with external parties.
  • How they respond to challenging situations or problems.
  • Their demeanour and attitude towards colleagues in the office.

In terms of managing someone’s behaviours, here are a few tips for doing this effectively:

  • Think carefully about the behaviours that you value as a leader and how you can spot them in your team.
  • Communicate these behaviours to your team and tell them why they are important to you and to the success of the team.
  • Be prepared to give feedback to people who exhibit behaviours that go counter to what you value. 

For example, if you highly value the behaviour of welcoming feedback, yet someone reacts negatively every time this happens, leading to colleagues (and you) feeling like you can’t deliver feedback to them, then this is a problem.


The third pillar of effective management is the one that is probably the most important from the perspective of your team members – their progression. As a manager, it should be very important to you too whilst you balance it against the other pillars that we’ve talked about.

Progression can break down into a number of different areas and it’s quite subjective, but generally it will mean focusing on:

  • Promotions and what role someone is moving towards.
  • Salary reviews and earning more money.
  • Developing their talents and skills.

The challenging part of this pillar for you as a manager is to understand each individual’s needs and ambitions when it comes to their progression. Whilst team members may share some of the same attributes or ambitions here, everyone will be slightly different and you can’t use a one size fits all approach to progression. 

Ultimately, you can be the most supportive manager in the world, yet you can’t be accountable for someone’s individual progression. There needs to be a very strong element of the individual taking accountability for their own progression. Of course, you support as much as you can, but you literally can’t do it for them.

Ready for part two? Check it out here.

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