Herding Cats – Or the Art of Building Responsibility and Accountability

Herding Cats – Or the Art of Building Responsibility and Accountability

By Karen Amos

There’s been a theme for many of my clients recently – that of how to build effective responsibility and accountability in their teams and organisations.

It’s easy to point the finger of blame when things go wrong, but we need to be clear on our own levels of responsibility and accountability before we expect others to do the same.  It’s interesting how many managers complain about feckless or inconsiderate behaviour within teams, yet have never clearly defined their own, or their team’s expectations regarding the alternative.  Or often, and possibly worse, have subconsciously imposed different standards of behaviour for themselves versus that of others.  Quick check: If you find yourself saying, ‘Yes, but….’ when questioned about this, you can be sure you’re part of the problem!

Building a coaching culture within organisations is a highly effective way to increase personal and collective responsibility and increase ownership and clarity around accountability. It’s often (incorrectly) seen as a ‘soft’ approach to leadership and management, to be side-lined if performance management or the ‘hard word’ is needed.

I believe this completely misses the point of what coaching is.

A coaching approach, used properly, will be the most challenging, yet effective solution to team performance for managers and staff alike.  It works equally well through both informal and formal management interventions – indeed it should run through all your communications with people like the proverbial stick of rock.


The reason for this effectiveness is the emphasis on doing ‘with’ not ‘to’ your staff.  Whilst it’s easy to lecture and give the ‘hard word’, this all too frequently leads to the other person feeling victimised and powerless, which quickly leads to teams taking no responsibility for solving the issue.  Let's face it, it's much easier to say your boss is a right so-and-so, rather than face up to the fact you didn't do your job right!  Coaching on the other hand, requires all parties to contribute to solving the issue. This puts ownership right where it belongs.

An example of this was seen through an executive coaching client of mine (names and details removed to preserve confidentiality). He was despairing of a long-standing member of his team who wasn’t performing, missing targets and despite several ‘discussions’ was on the verge of formal performance management procedures. Upon examination, my client when asked, couldn’t tell me the reason for the person’s performance issue, so this became the first step in his new approach, which included using coaching skills to elicit from the member of staff what they thought the solution could be.

It’s important to remember that coaching doesn’t ignore standards, organisational strategies, goals and targets. Rather it works within these to come up with alternative solutions to enable people to perform at their best.

The outcome of the situation with my client was that he did commence formal capability proceedings, but was actually thanked for his support by the member of staff, who had a clear action plan they felt they could own and implement.  Importantly, they were now taking full responsibility for their own actions, but were empowered by feeling they were in control of this.

Here are a few coaching questions to help you and your team explore and build responsibility and accountability:

  • What’s my responsibility here and what am I accountable for and to whom?
  • Does my team/manager know and agree with this?
  • Are my team clear about who is responsible and accountable for each piece of work they do?
  • Are people as involved as they can be regarding agreeing responsibilities? Do we instruct, or consult regarding this?
  • Do we have agreed check in points to review how this is going?

If you would like to find out more about how BrightBird Coaching and training can help you and your team to develop more accountability and responsibility, please contact us for a no-obligation chat. We offer short workshops, to multi-day training and 1:1 and team coaching.

Check out our latest Effective People Management Programme HERE.

Tel: 07714 855757 or email: karen@bright-bird.co.uk

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships.