Holding People Responsible When You’re Not the Boss

When you are part of a team and someone is falling behind, what do you do?

You need a proven strategy and lessons learned from the trenches to keep all teammates on task, on time and on budget.


Their slippage could mean project setbacks or worse. Is there a way to diplomatically handle slack performers? Yes! Accountability helps people know that they’re on the right track AND you don’t need authority to hold them up to their responsibilities. Learn proven strategies that keep everyone on task and the project moving forward together…without ruffling feathers. 

Has this happened to you?

A member of your team on a big project has missed a deadline. That in turn has created a domino effect. Now you can’t meet your deadline because that team member missed theirs. Another team member is depending on your work to move the project forward…and so it goes. 

News flash. The big project doesn’t move forward, and it’s become a hot mess of pointing fingers, bad feelings and low morale. Needless to say, your manager is not pleased. 

Talk about a lose-lose scenario.

Yes, we’ve all been there to a certain degree. How do you keep peers accountable? 

If the thought of confronting a peer makes you a bit squeamish, you’re in good company. After all, they don’t report to you, yet their performance impacts both individual and overall team performance. But what if you speak up to simply ask, “What happened?” You certainly don’t want to appear superior or disrespectful and possibly create negative feelings from the team. But the bottom line is this; you’re all in this together and everyone depends on everyone else to do their part on time, on task and on budget. 

So why is holding our peers accountable so difficult?

Start-ups and the Olympics

Here’s the simple truth behind peer-to-peer accountability – it’s probably the toughest ‘soft skill’ to master on a team. It can make the most tactful communicator cringe at the very thought. Although there’s a wealth of information about how leaders can skillfully and respectfully hold their reports accountable, there isn’t much about team member to team member – until now. And we have the rise of the start-up business model to thank for that. Otherwise known as a flat organization vs. the old, bloated top-down model, start-ups have a structure with few (if any) levels of middle management between leadership and employees. Most importantly, an organization’s structure impacts everything from how the organization operates to how well employees communicate internally. In this environment, employees often have more responsibility, are more plugged into critical conversations and bring trust and transparency to work every day. So regardless of your company’s org chart, your next team project could be a successful and rewarding experience, where everyone holds everyone else responsible.

Just like an Olympics team. Tune in this summer to see the best example of peer-to-peer accountability – live. Olympic athletes worry less about how their coach will hold them accountable for their performance, but their teammates? That’s a different story. They strive to do their absolute best because every player is accountable to every other player. When you’re going for the gold as a team, peer support and constructive criticism are not only accepted, but crucial for the big win.

The pyramid of accountability

Peer-to-peer accountability gained attention in 2002, with the best-selling book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Authored by business consultant Patrick Lencioni, it describes the many pitfalls teams face as they seek to “grow together.” Based on his book, Lencioni flipped the dysfunctional model around to develop the no-nonsense, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team. Lencioni visualized it as a pyramid – with each of the five behaviors building on each other. 

By teams working together, the benefits include:   

A productive, high-functioning team

Makes better, faster decisions

Taps into the skills and opinions of all members

Avoids wasting time and energy on politics, confusion, and destructive conflict

Avoids wasting time talking about the wrong issues and revisiting the same topics over and over again because of a lack of buy-in

Creates a competitive advantage

Putting together an ‘Olympic’ team 

So how do you implement a such an exemplary team of high achievers – working together?

It starts with the boss. He/She must pull a team together and then identify their common goal. It must be discussed, documented and accepted by the team, with each person understanding everyone’s role and why everyone must succeed individually for the team to win. The five behaviors should be shared, so the team knows well in advance the game rules. But it starts with trust.

Trust one another

Part of what makes up a successful team, is that they trust one another enough to ask for help when needed. For that to happen, every teammate is genuinely respectful, honest and transparent with one another. Teams built on trust ask each other for help, admit mistakes and put team success above all. 

Engage in constructive conflict 

With trust, team members can debate in an open and non-judgmental forum. In this way, more creative ideas can be evaluated via constructive conflict. Just as important, the team should commit to a final decision only after everyone on the team has participated in a debate and had their opinions heard.

Commit to action plan

In an equitable and productive forum, team members will be more conducive to committing to decisions and a plan of action. The next step is detailing who will do what by when, and make sure that everyone on the team can see everyone else’s progress. The One Page Business Plan, by Jim Horan is still the ’go-to’ guide for clarifying the complex planning process. 

Hold each other accountable

When everyone is committed to a clear plan of action with assigned tasks and deadlines, they will be more willing to hold one another accountable. The first and most effective step in holding a team member accountable is asking “How can I help you?” When they are falling behind. When receiving help, responsible teammates feel duty bound to do their best, and to repay that help later. If peer pressure fails, the team’s boss is on stand-by to run interference, but that should be a deterrent only.

Focus on Achieving Collective Results

The ultimate goal is the achievement of results, attained through building the pyramid – layer upon layer. Teams must believe that results are achievable – and that can only happen if the behavior pyramid has been built successfully.

Great teams make sure that all members, regardless of their individual responsibilities or expertise, are doing whatever they can to help the team accomplish its goals.

From the trenches

Since Lencioni’s book was published, peer-to-peer accountability is now being openly discussed and analyzed with lessons learned from the trenches. Here are some useful tips you can start implementing today.

Let your guard down. Peer-to-peer accountability can only work when you trust each other.

Take the lead in asking for help, insight and asking fellow teammates to hold you accountable. 

Keep your eye on the prize which are the collective results. 

Don’t take feedback personally.

Give the benefit of the doubt. Ask why before you make a judgment call. Understand your teammates motives before deciding that their actions signal a lack of trust.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s hard being upfront with our peers. You owe it to one another to make good on your responsibilities in a manner that works for the team. If not, you’re only hurting the organization.

Parting words

Joseph Grenny wrote in his article, “The Best Teams Hold Themselves Accountable,” that he discovered this about teams: 

In the weakest teams, there’s no accountability.

In mediocre teams, the boss is the source of accountability.

In high performance teams, peers manage the vast majority of problems with each other.

You don’t need authority to hold people accountable, you need a team who holds everyone responsible for everyone else.


www.pingboard.com, “Hierarchical vs. Flat Organizational Structure and Benefits of Each,”  (Nov. 2017)

www.forbes.com, “How to Make your Peers Accountable When Your Boss Won’t,” (Oct. 2017) 

www.tablegroup.com, “Peer to Peer Accountability – The Game Changer,” (Aug. 2015)

www.integrispa.com, “Accountability in the Workplace,” 


IR Learning Center
  • One-of-a-kind education: Gain access to all content on the IRA’s exclusive Learning Center
  • Industry pulse: Receive the IRA’s trade journal ASSET 2.0 for the latest trends, innovations, and association news
  • Get certified: Elevate your professional status by accessing CMIR study materials and certification

Similar Articles

Asset 2.0-Vol 3, 2024

Asset 2.0-Vol 3, 2024

Asset 2.0, 2024, Vol 2 Plastics Recycling: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know. Plastic, as we know it today, was invented in the early 1900s. Belgian chemist and savvy marketeer Leo Baekeland pioneered the first truly synthetic plastic in 1907. He beat his Scottish...

Asset 2.0-Vol 2, 2024

Asset 2.0-Vol 2, 2024

Asset 2.0, 2024, Vol 2 AI Warp Speeds a Replacement for Lithium Artificial intelligence has been getting a bad rap recently. Naysayers cite costly implementation, potential job loss, and a general lack of humanity and creativity. On the flip side, AI proponents...