Intertwined Responsibility: The Secret of a Winning Team

Imagine what would happen if a quarterback threw the ball regardless of whether the wide receiver could catch it. Sounds ridiculous, right? After all, soccer is a game where all team members win or lose together. Shouldn’t the same thing happen in the business world? Although we embrace the rhetoric of “teamwork,” most companies continue to operate as a group of separate individuals with separate goals.

True teamwork requires what I call intertwined responsibility. The traditional business structure is a vertical hierarchy: I report to a boss who reports to a boss who reports to a boss and so on. To go beyond that mindset, we must be accountable to each other both laterally and vertically. In that way, a success for you is a success for me. We unify, share resources and fight for the same goals, and we all win.

Here are some tips for companies looking to move toward interlocking accountability:

1. Support, don’t blame!

In sports, successful teams stick together. All members accept victory or defeat and all take responsibility for the performance of others. They support each other instead of pointing fingers when something goes wrong and instigating a war of guilt. Adopt this policy in your company. Instead of blaming your coworker when you drop the ball, say “We are here to help you; now what can we do differently?”

2. Create a success plan.

Before you can talk about holding people accountable, there must be a standard to which you hold them accountable. Your team should set specific expectations in advance and make them clear to everyone involved. It is not enough to talk about a vision. Contractors never build a house based on a vision! They start with a plan that identifies the foundation, the walls, the roof, down to the size of the nails. The same should be true for any business project. Create your blueprint from scratch and your “home” will be strong in the end.

3. Expect some consequences.

Intertwined accountability usually translates to hard work. And it often means putting aside projects in which a team member may have his or her ego involved. For both reasons, holding people accountable will often expose, and even break, the “weak links” in a team. I always tell my clients that some team members may quit. If someone has been advancing their work and has not kept their promises, then putting the focus of responsibility on that person forces you to support your team members in the same way … or leave.

It’s amazing what can happen when coworkers support each other. I’ve seen struggling companies adopt interlocking accountability practices and change completely. So next time I’m tempted to say, “I threw the ball, look what a great player I am!” try saying “How can I help you catch?” Your team, that is, your company, will be on the road to victory.

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