My friend was absolutely furious. She came to me after a situation had gone critical at work and she was overflowing with indignation. It seems a coworker had failed to complete a report that she desperately needed to submit resource acquisitions for the next fiscal year. Without the necessary resources, her department would be woefully understaffed for the work facing them next year. The deadline for the acquisition request had come and gone, and the coworker had “not even had the decency to apologize.”

I asked my friend what she had done to hold the coworker accountable for the information before, and as it was needed. She responded, “I shouldn’t have to. She just has no accountability. She should have known how important that information was to me. Well, we’ll just see how much help she gets from my department this year.”

Her coworker should have “known how important the report was” to her… Well, perhaps – but probably not. In all my years in corporate America, and subsequently, speaking and training across the globe, I have yet to encounter anyone who actually IS a member of the “psychic network.” Accountability is very rarely a one-way responsibility.

Peer to peer accountability is what was missing here. Although my feedback was not well received, I proposed to my friend that the responsibility was as much hers as her colleague’s. That is what peer to peer accountability is centered around. One of the most commonly recognized characteristics of high performing teams is that they hold each other accountable to their expectations – both of themselves and each other.

My father, “The Colonel” used to say, “A team is not just a bunch of people working side by side in the same place, with each person focused on getting their work done. A true team is accountable to themselves and each other, working with each other, and for each other, so together everyone achieves more.” (Following which he would always ask me, “So, Lauren Ann – are we a TEAM, or not?”) In a team environment, positive peer pressure, self-discipline, and engagement become much more effective motivators than any punitive policy or procedural process. Communicating needs, expressing emotional drivers and defining motivations allows you to remind each other of commitments and encourage each other to strive for your highest excellence. This fosters stronger work habits and allows for milestone celebrations along the way.

Coming back to my friend and her missing report, I encouraged her to communicate with her colleague about her disappointment and request the necessary information. She did so and discovered the report, which had been sent well within deadline, had been lost in the email miasma. Had my friend taken some of the responsibility to reach out to her colleague, holding her accountable for expectations, she would have been able to resolve the issue before deadline. As it was, she submitted the requisition in arrears and her necessary resources were approved for the next fiscal year.

Accountability is not about isolated, individual expectations. It should be a team sport. The desire to not let other members of the team down can drive difficult behavior changes, additional efforts and uncomfortable conversations that could permanently raise the bar on the organization productivity and results.