Patrick Lencioni says, “It’s not easy to hold anyone accountable – even your kids.” I’ve struggled on that front too (and on holding myself to account). Accountability is one of those words that can make people feel very uncomfortable. It has some poor associations with public humiliation and shaming, which is not what we’re ever trying to achieve. Brene Brown agrees that accountability is difficult but follows up that it’s worth the effort. ‘Setting boundaries and holding people accountable is a lot more work than shaming and blaming. But it’s also much more effective.’ [1]

What does an accountable culture feel like?

Webster’s Dictionary defines accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.” [2] It’s linked to internal locus of control and shape of mind that says, ‘I’m OK with you holding me to my word’. [3]

Not everyone is built for this type of team or environment but if you are, when you find it, it will feel right to you. Team members who have high standards and want to improve will often thrive in highly accountable environments. When I moved to Sydney, in my first job, I worked for an organisation that had a high-performance culture. There was no one on the team who wasn’t putting in effort, everyone cared, and everyone was working hard.

It was a change of pace and from the place I’d previously worked where one or two people cared a lot and many were coasting, doing the bare minimum. It was early in my working life; I didn’t have many points of reference, so I didn’t know what high performance culture looked like. Until I was in it. High performance culture can be scary and feel like a pressure cooker. When you put your hand up to be accountable you are in the spotlight and need to answer to the achievements or not of the hitting targets.

To illustrate the contrast between environments lacking accountability and those thriving because of it, consider the following comparisons:

Not Accountable Accountable
Create resentment among team members who have different standards of performance Make sure poor performers feel pressure to improve
Encourage mediocrity Identify problems quickly by questioning one another
Miss deadlines Establish respect among team members who are held to same high standards
Put disproportionate pressure on leaders to discipline and adjudicate interpersonal conflicts. Avoid excessive bureaucracy around management and corrective actions.
Progress with greater momentum.

Projects that have accountable teams

Projects where accountable teams develop work with a cadence and quality that develops a momentum of it’s own. When I have worked with these teams they appear to have that metaphorical flywheel in motion. The ability to own parts of a project and get things done contributes to productive project teams achieving their goals. High performing teams have a level of accountability to themselves, to one another and to the purpose of the team or project. They also have a high degree of psychological safety (or trust). Trust that hard things can be said and that this will be taken as a contribution to the improvement of the whole rather than to ostracize or victimise the initiator. [4]

Central to the foundation of accountability within teams is psychological safety, a key enabler of trust and open dialogue. Trust that other players will do their part, complete their pieces of the work and that it will fit together to make a whole. Ed Catmull in his account of the rise of Pixar says that ‘Trust is the best tool for driving out fear.’ [5] The development of the Pixar culture of candour was deliberate. It was focused on ensuring that there were no sacred cows in the business and that they lived the belief that ideas (good ones) can come from anywhere. The intent to develop authenticity and create a culture where people at all levels of the organization felt they could contribute allows for teams to be more self directed and for ideas to come from different parts of the organization.

Accountable cultures can create real momentum and unlock insights that are only available when candour is valued, and the purpose of the project protected.

As this evolves a high performing team will nurtured to further optimize their achievements can develop their working practices and share them with others.


Acknowledging the intricacies of accountability reveals its dual-edged nature, particularly in how it affects interpersonal relationships within a team.

Holding other people to account can be a difficult business. Some research shows [6] that it improves the performance of a team when there are no free loaders but that the person who steps up to do the work of holding others to account suffers. Their likability in the group is compromised; interpersonal discomfort increases for the person who is holding the team to account.

Getting used to sitting with interpersonal discomfort is, like many things, something that gets easier the more you practice it. Sometimes a breakdown is required so that people can gain insight into what’s not working and what’s needed to shift that.

Steps to progress

To cultivate a culture of accountability, organisations can optimise their approach through the following steps:

  1. OPTIMISE methods and practices.
  2. OPTIMISE communication and metrics for success.
  3. OPTIMISE the focus of meetings and shift the practices of the project into operational modes (if that’s the part of the project you’ve reached).
  4. OPTIMISE what ‘done’ to the right quality standard looks like.

In conclusion, encouraging a culture of accountability and psychological safety is vital for high performance and fostering an environment conducive to open, constructive dialogue. It requires a nuanced approach, with an understanding of the challenges and a commitment to leveraging opportunities for development. For organisations looking to navigate these complexities, 6R Retail offers specialised expertise in project management, system implementation, and business process improvement.

If you’re seeking to enhance accountability within your team or organisation and ensure your strategic objectives are met through effective change management and technology integration, we invite you to get in touch with us. 6R Retail is equipped to guide retailers, wholesalers, and manufacturers through the intricacies of implementing systems and leading change. Let us help you transform your business processes and achieve lasting improvements.


  1. Brown, Brene The Gifts of Imperfection, p 27 
  5. Catmull, Ed Creativity Inc.