How to keep team members accountable

Written by lewsauder

September 8, 2017

Keep team members accountable

When I was a kid, I remember my mom would ask my siblings and me to do some kind of chore. The three of us would end up arguing about who should do it.  After a while, mom would say, “Just forget about it. I’ll do it.”

Modern day children would probably be fine with that. Problem solved. Back to Instagram. But we knew that my mom was practicing her fine art of the guilt trip. I wasn’t about to let my mom do what my brother or sister should rightfully do. One of us invariably gave in before we would let mom do our chore.

I once had a boss that had a similar approach. He would ask someone to do something without an indication of urgency or a deadline. He would wait about fifteen minutes, and then do it himself.

When his direct report went to perform the task, he or she would find that the boss had already done it. The resulting conversation would go similar to this:

Employee: “Boss, I thought you asked me to do that task, but I saw that you already did it.”

Boss: “What were you waiting for? When I ask you to do something, I expect you to do it.”

It was his passive-aggressive-control-freak-douchey approach of saying, “Anything I ask you to do should be your top priority.”

Over the years, I’ve seen many instances of managers who get sub-optimal results from their team members because of their poor tactics of keeping their people accountable. Some use negative tactics like those described above. Others allow their people to get away with not doing their assigned tasks. This creates a low producing team which hurts morale in the long run.

It’s about communication

So how do you get your team to do what you ask them to do? The key is being explicit in your communication.

Tell them exactly what you want them to do. High level managers get busy. They often have their heads full of details of many other matters. As a result, they sometimes give directions in an email that can be vague. Imagine getting an email that says, “Call that one guy about that issue I emailed you about last month.”

That sounds extreme, but I’ve had managers provide about as much information. One manager would email me an attached document with no instructions on how to act on it. Taking just a few minutes to provide the recipient appropriate content around what you want will save you more time explaining it again.

Provide a deadline. Telling them exactly when you would like to have the assignment complete will provide them a lot of clarity. If it is of the utmost priority, let them know. If you don’t need it until next week, that will help them prioritize it with other tasks.

The deadline should be specific. Telling them it’s “no hurry” doesn’t tell them if that means next week or next month.

Keep team members accountable

Once you have handed off the assignment, you need to be able to count on them to finish it. Some managers do this by checking in on them so frequently, it hinders their ability to get the task done. Micromanaging is not an appropriate way to hold people accountable.

Provide a checkpoint. If the task is significant enough, schedule a meeting on the deadline for them to present it to you. This should appropriately relay your expectations to the team member.

If the assignment doesn’t warrant a formal meeting, describe your expectations on how to inform you that the task has been completed. If you want them to email someone, tell them to copy you on the email. Simply emailing you that it is completed may provide you with enough information.

Write it down.  I’ve often had team members who don’t write their tasks down. The direct correlation between not writing it down and forgetting it is not surprising to me. I encourage people to write their tasks down to avoid forgetting. To further encourage it, they see me writing it down. I also record the deadline that I asked for.

They learn quickly that I won’t forget the assignment and that I will follow up when the deadline passes. This encourages them to get their tasks done on a timely manner.

Track missed deadlines. I generally keep a spreadsheet of tasks that I assign. I’ll list the request, the person I assigned, the date asked and the deadline. Once the task is done, I’ll track the date it was finished.

This allows me to fairly assess who is meeting their commitments. If I see a trend of frequent missed deadlines, I can sit down and talk to the person with all of the facts. Rather than saying, “You miss a lot of deadlines.” I can say, “Over the past three weeks, you have missed the deadline on four tasks.”

Getting them to communicate

It is also imperative to teach the team your preferences on how to keep you up to date.

How to update you. Let them know whether you prefer a conversation or an email, or some other way of being informed. If you’re not specific about how they update you, they’ll either guess or, more likely, not follow up at all.

When to update you. Let team members know your expectations for when and how often to provide feedback. If the deadline is further out, you may want periodic updates. Follow up with them if they miss an update to let them know you haven’t forgotten your request.


Many managers do not hold their team members accountable. Once that precedent is set, it is hard to consistently reestablish accountability. A manager should be consistent. Clearly communicating your expectations and following up consistently will teach your team to be responsible for their assigned tasks.

How do you keep your team accountable?

If you would like to learn more about a career in Project Management, get Lew’s book Project Management 101: 101 Tips for Success in Project Management on Amazon.

Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments section below.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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