You’ve probably seen it in your own or other teams at some stage: mistakes are made, targets are missed, management is unhappy, there’s tension in the team and people feel like leaving.  It’s an all too common story.  Of course, every team has its challenges and the ultimate value of a team is the ability of its members to work together to overcome these challenges and produce great outcomes.  But when problems mount rather than diminish – that’s when the team shows what it is really made of.

Here are three symptoms that the team is not in good shape when the going gets tough and performance misses the mark:

(1) Blame:  Characterised by “The problems are (someone else’s) fault”.  Team members (and often management) are quick to point out what other people have done wrong and in so doing try to make themselves look blameless.

(2) Excuses: Characterised by “There are good reasons why it couldn’t be achieved”; e.g. “I was sick”, “my car had problems”, “we didn’t have time to plan properly”, “we weren’t trained for this” (excuses can easily become another form of Blame)

(3) Denial: Characterised by “The situation is not as bad as people are making out”; e.g. “We can easily get this in on time”; “There’s no problem really”.

Healthy teams don’t indulge in the above games.  When targets are missed, mistakes are made and management is unhappy, people don’t look to attack others (or to head for the exit gate); instead they face up to:

(1) Ownership:  We own the problem and the outcomes

(2) Accountability:  We are accountable for current and future results

(3) Responsibility: We take responsibility for getting things back on track and achieving our targets.

The difference between the two positions is stark but it’s simply the outcome of the choices the team members decide to take in their journey together.  Given that the team position is really the sum of the choices made by each individual, a fundamental starting point is for each member to accept ownership, accountability and responsibility in their own tasks and obligations.  And then to do it together for the team’s commitments.

Leadership can certainly help to guide the team towards Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility, and every leader should have a good understanding of these concepts.  It’s also a good topic to explore when newly formed teams establish their “rules of engagement”.   Ultimately, however, it is a set of commitments that can be made any time by team members. 

The rewards for going down this path, rather than the path of Blame, Excuses and Denial, include a better return for energy expended (energy is focused towards solving issues rather than defending positions), a greater sense of shared journey (“we share the good and the bad together and we support each other to achieve all of our goals”), a more effective thinking and learning orientation, and a stronger and healthier outcomes focus.

A nice acronym to help you remember all of this is OAR-BED; apply the OAR to safely and surely steer the team’s boat to the desired destination – if you don’t, the team will end up another wreck on the BED of the deep blue waters of business.  Or, as some people put it, “If you live in Blame, Excuses and Denial, you make your BED and must live in it!”