Why Teams Won’t Take Responsibility

Copyright 2006 Colleen Kettenhofen

“If you have a job without aggravation, you don’t have a job.” Malcolm Forbes

Teams need to have reasons for taking responsibility. They also need to be given the authority to act on the responsibilities handed down to them. And they need to have consequences if those goals are not met. It would be nice to think everyone is motivated to be an exceptional employee strictly out of personal integrity. And in many instances that is the case, but not always.

Are you sure everyone on the team understands their individual roles, goals and objectives? In my team building seminars, team members often confide to me they don’t know exactly what their job responsibilities are, or even the main goals of their organization. Has it been clearly explained to them what their job responsibilities are, and where that fits in with the organization’s big picture objectives? Has each team member participated in leadership and team building seminars? Do they walk away with action plans for accountability? Is this information specific, measurable and in writing?

By having quantifiable goals in writing, it makes it harder for the underperformer to be able to say, “Well, you’re just picking on me.” No, you’re not picking on them. Not if you’ve made their responsibilities clear, measurable, and in writing. And not if they’ve been properly trained and given authority to take initiatives and responsibilities. Good managers and team leaders understand the importance of explaining the mission/purpose of their organization, and where each individual fits in.

So what are the reasons teams don’t want to take responsibility? In conducting team building seminars worldwide over the past decade, I pose this question every day to team leaders and managers, as well as team members. Here are the 12 most common reasons (not in any particular order) I hear over and over for why teams won’t take responsibility.

1. Weak leadership.

2. Not being specific with each team member’s responsibilities. No clear goals or objectives in writing.

3. Lack of skill or possessing a negative attitude on the part of a team member. Sometimes that person won’t even admit it.

4. Too many people with similar leadership styles. For example, too many “drivers” who each want total control. Or, too many “relaters,” those who are very people oriented, or who are not task oriented enough.

5. Fear of failure.

6. The “I don’t get paid enough to worry about that” type of mentality.

7. They don’t get along as a team.

8. Some just don’t want the responsibility. They simply don’t want to do the work.

9. Attendance problems or team members who aren’t dependable. For example, a team member who doesn’t show up, and may not even call in sick right away.

10. Loss of focus, lack of direction.

11. The excuse, “I’m in a union and it’s not in my job description.”

12. Lack of training. Both training in the area of hard skills as well as conflict resolution/communication, and team building seminars.

Look closely at number one. It says “weak leadership.” The number one reason I hear from my participants in team building seminars for why teams won’t take responsibility is “weak leadership.” And this answer FREQUENTLY comes from team leaders themselves in evaluating their own managers! Many of these managers serve as team members and report to leaders of their own. They tell me the number one trait they want to see to willingly WANT to follow their leader is honesty. Someone who does what they say they’re going to do. The leaders and managers they dislike most are those with the “do as I say not as I do” mentality. Do people willingly want to follow you as their leader? The key word here is “willingly.”

If you are the team leader or manager, are you an effective communicator? Has everyone been properly trained in “hard skills,” as well as in communication and conflict resolution? Is everyone clear in knowing that they are held accountable for performing their tasks effectively? Have they been coached to think of themselves as a team in that they perceive team welfare as a priority?

Teams need to have reasons, measurable goals, and clear deadlines for doing something. And teams need rewards for exemplary performance. They also need consequences for failing to accept responsibility. Make certain they have yearly performance reviews, or reviews every six months. What gets measured gets done.

In my team building seminars, I notice more organizations conducting performance reviews every six months instead of yearly. The benefit to managers as well as team members is more face-to-face contact regarding the objectives on a more frequent basis. And, if you have union employees and must disregard any record of underperformance after a year or so, consider writing this information into their performance review. Performance reviews follow an employee.

“Like begets like, honesty begets honesty; trust, trust, and so on.” James F. Bell