Top 5 Reasons Why Dysfunctional Teams Lack Accountability

Mature manager talking to a diverse team of employees during a meeting around a table in a modern boardroom

Bad teams cause stress. They zap our energy. They hurt our ability to be engaged at work. They kill productivity and can do damage to our health. Toxic behaviors invade the dysfunctional team and blame/defensiveness, contempt, gossip, silo thinking and territorial in-fighting dominate the climate. 

In our work at Clearwater Consulting, we are often called in to these types of settings when things get this point. And we are usually asked to focus on the leader. Get him or her in line and all will be well. Prepare a 360° feedback report or coach the leader to get things back on track. After all, it has to be the leader’s fault, right?

Sometimes getting the leader back on track is part of the solution. But, in our experience that is just one part of the problem! The real issue that troubles most of the teams we see in a dysfunctional haze centers around the inability to hold one another accountable to the goals, commitments, and values that create purpose for the team. Patrick Lencioni’s research with over 12,000 team supports just how hard it is for teams to hold one another accountable—2/3 of the time it was the lowest score on his team assessment.


Accountability is so hard to develop on a team because it doesn’t just fall to one person—like the leader! Instead, if a team is going to practice holding each other accountable, it has to overcome these 5 reasons they lack accountability:

  1. They don’t trust each other.
    Teams without accountability keep score, they hold grudges. They have never really taken the time to get to know one another. They haven’t shared their fears, their desire for help, they find it hard to admit there are wrong. When a team hasn’t done the real work around being vulnerable with each other, they engage in false bravado and it’s every man/woman for him/herself.
  2. They don’t know how to be candid or to have the difficult conversations.
    They practice turf wars with mean-spirited personal attacks vs. trying to leverage the intellectual horsepower of the team to solve common problems through spirited debate. When a team doesn’t see the value in engaging in difficult conversations, it steps over issues, refusing to call out and discuss the real concerns that can strengthen the team and move them towards innovative problem solving together.
  3. They are not aligned around a core purpose or vision for the team.
    Team members care only about what they have to do, not how to best engage the power of the whole team. People are not helpful because they fail to understand the inter-connectivity of the team.
  4. Feedback is not shared peer to peer.
    Instead cliques within the team share gossip and spread stories about who is performing and who is not. If work doesn’t get done, it is not seen as anyone’s fault. Apathy rules because no one has the courage to care enough to confront a slacker or see if someone needs help to accomplish a task.
  5. The team leader avoids holding others accountable to the agreements they have created.
    His/her fear of conflict creates an environment where team members ask themselves “why should I care if my boss doesn’t?”

Sometimes the best thing a team can do is to acknowledge how hard it is to hold each accountable and ask team members what this lack of accountability costs the team. Then the real work begins.