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The library of essays of Proakatemia

Accountability in a team

Kirjoittanut: Janette Heikkinen - tiimistä Crevio.

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Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 12 minuuttia.

Accountability in a team

  1. Introduction –  

“positive accountability creates a culture of trust, engagement, and exceptional performance. When employees can count on one another, team members become invested in the company’s success — and feel rewarded for their hard work. In short, accountability is key to a more effective and happy workforce.” (source) 

“For instance, organizations with high leadership accountability tend to be healthier, according to McKinsey’s State of Organizations 2023 report. That research found that leadership accountability was one of eight key factors driving positive work-related outcomes.” (source) 

“While accountability in teams encompasses the entire team working on a project, much of the team’s success comes from the individual accountability of its members” (Indeed.com, Career guide, Oct 1st 2022).

The purpose of this essay is to gain a deeper understanding of accountability and how to foster it within the team. This work will also cover the difference between the terms accountability, responsibility and ownership and explain the benefits of accountability in a personal and professional setting.   

  1. Difference between Accountability, Responsibility and Ownership 

While this essay focuses on accountability and learning how to increase it, it is also crucial to understand the link between accountability, responsibility and ownership and what sets them apart. That is, what do we want to get more of within our teams? It is crucial to understand that these terms, whilst they are interconnected, are different and are accountable for different results. Which is why learning about the terms is an essential part of this essay, as it also answers to one’s goals set for themselves or the team. Contrarily, failure to distinguish the difference between accountability, responsibility and ownership can lead to several challenges. To name a few, poor decision-making, lack of clarity (also about priorities), team dysfunction, failure to take an initiative and accountability issues. 

What sets them apart? 

According to Cambridge Dictionary accountability stands for “a situation in which someone is responsible for things that happen and can give a satisfactory reason for them” (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.). Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries say it is “the fact of being responsible for your decisions or actions and expected to explain them when you are asked” (Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, n.d.). It is fair to say that these definitions do not build a comprehensive understanding of what it means “to be accountable”. This stands true also for the two other terms. Still however, it is not the first time it has been recognized that all three of these terms should be separated (e.g. Franzen-Waschke, 2021; Signal Key, n.d.).      

After researching accountability as well as the other two terms online, it was clear that this was a rather new, less explored question that did not have that many credible sources to support the learning process and the thought flow of the essay-writer. The same struggle highlights the author of Signal Key (leadership consulting) article “Responsibility, Accountability, Ownership: Definitions, Distinctions, and How They Add Up to a Healthy Team”. The writer of the article says that first, it came from questioning their own understanding of these terms, which should be clear for all people who work within the field of leadership, but then after exploring different sources (both in books and online), it became clear why there was such confusion in the first place – there are very wide range of definitions. Plus, my comment – often these definitions collide with each other. The information in the article is built by combining a wide range of sources and the writer’s personal ideas, which is similar to how this section of the essay will be done. As I have used less academic sources and added my own ideas, I will also use the “I” format. However, the aim of this essay is still to be a 3-pointer in hope that, over the years, there will be a continuous evolution on this subject. 

In the previously mentioned article, the writer uses a simple scheme to explain the difference between the terms: responsibility can be given, ownership can be taken and is a personal decision, but accountability stands external (Signal Key, n.d.). In view of this, it is the accountability that we want to increase within our teams because it means that everybody is responsible for their own actions, behaviours, performance and decisions (Amin, 2022). Furthermore, making a team of accountable individuals means making a team that becomes more united and aligned with the goals of the organization. Accountability in a high-performance team matters as much as anything else related to the work performed, and it should be a given – it is a mentality (Gleeson, 2017). 

When comparing accountability and responsibility, I found it easier to relate with real-life examples that highlighted the weight of correspondence to one another. One example from one’s health – “I can take the responsibility to take care of my health and drink my pills every day, but I am not accountable for my sickness nor how my health will progress” (Gan, 2017). From overcoming trauma – “I can take the responsibility for my own actions (for example, to isolate myself, blame others or to do revenge) and reactions, but I do not take the accountability of why it happened, nor did I have something to cause it” (Casteix, 2015). In Forbes, when reading about Apple story, former CEO Steve Jobs commented on accountability that when you are a janitor, failure to take out the trash due to changed locks is an excusable reason, but when you are somewhere between the janitor and CEO, the reasons stop mattering (Lashinsky, 2011).   

Even though his comment is about taking more accountability as your profession progresses, my comment on this example is that responsibility would be to “take out the trash” but accountability would be “to make sure that people come in clean workplaces every day”. The difference is between “my task is” and “my contribution is”. When I am aware of my contribution, after an obstacle, I think about “what can I do?” (that is, to make a call, to make sure I will get a new set of keys, inform the person that I was not able to take out the trash today due to the circumstances so that when they expect to come in a clean working space, they are aware of what to expect). By elaborating on this very simplified example, I wish to highlight the difference between collective teamwork in all positions and “I do only what I am assigned to do”. That is because when you work in a company that has a culture of accountability, other team members and the general company performance depend on the results of each individual, so, therefore, they take accountability for their results and do not assume that it is someone else’s responsibility (Amin, 2022).  

In a company that shares accountability culture every single individual makes a personal commitment to meet or exceed the goals of the organization (Gleeson, 2017). Ownership stands for either taking full responsibility and control over a situation or a project or owning something. Cambridge Dictionary gives three explanations for this term – 1)“the fact that you own something”, 2) “the right or state of being an owner”, 3) the state or fact of owning something (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.). Ownership within the team can still be very beneficial as it focuses on individual initiatives and independent decisions, and the collaboration happens more directly within the other departments and teams. “Ownership can grow when Responsibilities are clear and clearly stated, and when everyone holds each other Accountable when it’s time for results (Signal Key, n.d.)”.  


  1. How to foster accountability within a team?   

Accountability is initially responsibility toward oneself and others, its taking responsible over action and recognizing that everyone action matters. As an individual it means holding yourself to a standard and meeting expectation, but in a team individual members not only hold themselves accountable, but also each other within the team. This is initially how achieving bigger goals as a team is possible. 

According to Mr. Bailey Maybray accountability in a team can apprer in multiple forms such as meeting deadlines, producing high quality work consisteltly, effgective communication within the team, delegating tasks effectively and perfecting the process of constructive feedback depending on the workplace; actively practised, the positive results in it vary from independently working empowered team members with greater trust in each other and more transparent and clear communication. Retaining accountability in a team is essential for growth. Without accountability, work becomes chaotic; by this I mean simply that in a team, where no one takes accountability over decision-making or addressing issues and problems, nothing gets done.  


The five C’s model for accountability 

Developing accountable leaders and team members is a key element that teams in companies want to be able to achieve their goals consistently. To further develop and structure accountability development, x created a team accountability framework called the five C’s. It consists of common purpose, clear expectations, communication and alignment, coaching and collaboration and consequences.

          Common purpose – why does it matter

First, it is important to establish a clear understanding on why the team is working on a certain matter. The team and individuals need a common purpose to work for, why is the goal or initiative important in the long run for the company or goals. Once this is set, the team can work on questions such as ‘how’ and ‘when’ instead of figuring out their ‘why’.

          Clear expectations – who and what

The next step is to clarify the scope; this means that the team needs to create the priorities that help to outline goals, deadlines and dependencies considering when everyone in available. This creates a good building ground for action and growth.

         Communication and alignment – how

Once the team has a common purpose behind their work and the expectations are clear its good to develop an efficient system, for communication and feedback. It is good to develop a written documentation of the steps the team needs to take for it to reach its goals using these new techniques. This documentation includes plans created for necessary team communication and information about the project itself.

Coaching and collaboration – adjust

In addition to establishing a working system now we need to be ready to adjust our plan, the team needs to investigate well if all of the team is in fact using the new tools to help the project move forward. You will also collect data on how is the process going. You will have to look out and aim to solve the problems before they will appear in to the surface. Understanding the problems and figuring out what all can you do as a team to help.


Consequences and results – positive and negative

Once the project has come to its and and all of the steps of the 5c´s method have been used, you will gather all of the results and hold everyone individually accountable for the results this will drive the performance of the whole team. Celebrating the milestones of the project is incredibly important and cannot be highlighted enough.


By using the 5C´s method one can save many headaches. The method can be utilized with numerous different team projects and 

 pieces of work. 

Leaders set the tone for the rest of the organization. The same way the team members set the tone for the whole of the project. if every individual is holding themselves accountable, they inspire everyone down the line to take responsibility for their actions and follow through on their commitments 


  1. Accountability culture sets the bar high 

We do hear a lot about how important it is to take accountability in order to achieve a strong sense of “responsibility culture” within an organization regardless of its type or services. The important question here is: what kind of culture exactly should we be, as teampreneurs, thinking about implementing within our organization?  

Recently, I have been looking at a couple big companies’ strategies after having a paja about successful companies’ pricing and sales methods. One of the companies that caught my attention was General Motors, which is an American multinational automotive manufacturing company that has ownership over Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac and Buick. GM’s reformed strategy’s last line goes somehow like this: “Be accountable.” 

Accountability is the key to a strong organizational culture, and every team-preneur of us has the ability and opportunity to shape it through every action we decide to take. In other organizations, a thin line separates great companies from poor ones. In general, there are two modes of acting: above the line and below the line. Only one promotes accountability.  

Let’s talk a bit about being “Above the line”. Well, well; by acting above the line, we can move towards accountability in four simple steps.  

  • First, we have to see it, by considering other team members’ viewpoints, then communicating honestly and candidly, exchanging feedback and hearing the difficult “hard” truths that expose the real circumstances at hand and give us the reality check that sometimes we might need.  
  • Second step, we need to own it by accepting the goals and priorities of the team’s mission as one’s own. And by asking what else we could do to get the results we want; only then will we be able to solve them. 
  • Finally, we’ve got to” do it”, and perform the tasks we said we would, focus on our priorities, and be reliable and trustworthy.   

When everyone in a team decides of their own free will to take above-the-line steps, we will be able to achieve the so called “culture of accountability”. 

However, if we are being realistic and not pretending to live in Barbie land where everything is pink and perfect, there are times where the team company is not striving for above the line actions, which leaves us stuck within below the line actions that sadly do harm our organizational culture. 

When we act below the line, we refuse to accept responsibility and instead become obsessed with blame games, cycles of finger pointing and members playing the victim card. Of course, acting below the line is also human. But by remaining below the line, we will tread in Red Sea of accountability. 

One important is that: accountability shouldn’t make the question, “Who’s accountable for this?” sound like a punishment. It should instead be empowering. Accountability isn’t about “getting caught”, failing, or landing a target victim to blame every team’s failure or mistake whenever things go south, it should be approached as playing a starring role in reaching a solution.  

  1. Accountibility as a key element of a successful business 

The core of accountability is the knowledge that, at the end of the day, we are responsible for every situation in which we find ourselves. Of course, we may not be responsible for the circumstances themselves. But we, in fact, are always responsible for how we react to the circumstances. But actually, most people may not use this approach in life. Truth is; when sh!t hits the fan, the first thing that goes through their brain is: blame, blame!!! As a team we do have projects, and sometimes we find ourselves at loss, when we had big hopes for making profit, while this is a common thing, some people from the team itself, might just go ahead and be like “Aya messed up my project !! “, and accountability does not blame, if the person pointing their finger at me had a full understanding of accountability, they would instead say: “ I have to be clearer in my instructions to Aya in the future”, certainly, accountability is a challenging ingredient for many people, it’s hard to say the words “It’s my fault.” But those words hold enough power. Enough power to enable us to regain control of ourselves and the situation. It’s important to remind yourself: when you take responsibility, if you’re accountable, then you are in control.  

This, finally, allows me to share the concept of the “Accountability Ladder” (Sudbrink, 2015), who Laurie Sudbrink, talks about in her book: Leading with GRIT, as Generosity, Respect, Integrity, and Truth, with accountability being a major component of integrity. With the use of these elements, people can move from accountability to total leadership. This ladder constitutes of 8 basic rungs: (source) 

  1. Lack of accountability prevails, with individuals completely unaware of their shortcomings: These individuals, encompassing business professionals ranging from employees and managers to entrepreneurs, lack insight into the essential requirements and the adverse impact they may be causing. Often under the impression that they are performing admirably, they remain oblivious to discontented customers or financial losses they may be incurring. 
  1. Use blame and complain in lieu of accepting accountability: Some business people always play the victim, finding someone or some natural force as the cause for all their failures. An example of this would be finger pointing at unfair team leaders, or fellow teampreneurs. 
  1. Instead of producing results, individuals tend to offer excuses: Entrepreneurs often find it convenient to convince themselves that success would have been achievable with more time, additional funding, or adequate training. However, the actual hindrances typically source from procrastination, a lack of focus, insufficient productivity, and the absence of measurable metrics. 
  1. Wait and hope for a miracle. Entrepreneurs with the mindset “if we build it, they will come,” fall into this category. Entrepreneurs won’t be successful if they have a passion, but no plan and no target. 
  1. Accountability starts by acknowledging reality. Teampreneurs at this level recognize the magnitude of the workload and the specific tasks required for success. Smart entrepreneurs know they must deliver a quality product, develop a winning business model, and attract real customers. All that’s left is to commit and deliver. 
  1. The next step is to accept ownership and responsibility. Moving forward into the realities of the business and entrepreneurial fields requires courage, commitment, and determination to succeed. If the motivation is not strong enough, it’s easy for people to fall back down the ladder and cover their lack of ownership with excuses, blame, and complaints. 
  1. Apply known solutions to predictable tasks and challenges. Most good leaders and executives perform at this level of accountability. They admit to owning the situation, and pride themselves on their professional abilities. Yet, when the totally unexpected happens, they may be quick unload the problem up the line, or fall off the ladder. 
  1. Accept total accountability and make it happen. These are the cherished entrepreneurs who succeed despite tough odds, and the employees who come up with new approaches to delight your customers, achieve breakthrough goals, and develop innovative new products for markets you never imagined. 



In conclusion accountability is the knowledge that, at the end of the day, we are responsible for every situation in which we find ourselves.  Accountability is a key aspect of any project or company that is aiming to reach higher in their goals.

Positive accountability creates a culture of trust, engagement, and exceptional performance. We can foster accountability in a team by understanding the common purpose, having clear expectations, putting effort in communication, working closely with matters regarding coaching, collaboration and consequences.

We came familiar with a method which helps to foster accountability in a team, this method is called the 5C´s is a great tool to evaluate team accountability and how to increase it and other aspects in any project wether it is work related or not. 




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