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  • Writer's pictureMATRIX PMO

Building Accountability and Mutual Trust in your Project Meetings

Project managers constantly struggle to build teams that are highly accountable and work well together. Indeed, these elements of camaraderie and accountability can often be the keys to enhanced productivity and team success. Astute project managers recognize that meetings can provide great opportunities to build that sense of camaraderie and reinforce accountability. This paper provides practical facilitation techniques and best practices that project managers and team leaders can use to develop and sustain a culture of accountability and camaraderie on the team.

One of the greatest gifts a project manager can have is a team that works well together and is highly accountable. Healthy camaraderie is the oil that truly makes the team engine work properly. Camaraderie shouldn’t imply that all team members are best friends or socialize on the weekends. Instead, the goal is to build a level of trust, respect, and affection that enables easy and productive relationships. This sense of camaraderie is not just a “warm, fuzzy” ideal to make everyone feel liked. Instead, this camaraderie (or lack thereof) has a direct impact on the team’s ability and willingness to communicate effectively, question authority, effectively solve problems, negotiate conflict, assist one another, and work together effectively and efficiently. Indeed, project teams can produce results without a sense of camaraderie; however, it’s quite difficult and often costly to the project and the team output. One key component of team camaraderie is a sense of accountability. Indeed, each team member should feel a strong sense of accountability toward the project, project manager, and other team members. The most effective teams maintain a strong “culture of accountability,” where there is an understood expectation that team members will be held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof).

The ideal management style should balance the focus on task and relationship. As a result, project managers should strive to maintain such balance in their project meetings for optimal results. The techniques presented below not only strive to encourage timely, high-quality task completion but also emphasize relationship building.

Managing Action Items

When assigning and managing action items, the meeting leader should remember these best practices to continue to encourage accountability and team camaraderie:

  • Document all action items in “real time” during the meeting

  • Document the action items in a manner visible for all in the meeting

  • Document action items with the task, owner, and due date

  • Repeat the wording of the action item for the scribe if it’s a virtual meeting

  • Allow the action item owner to suggest the due date (and negotiate that due date if needed)

  • Repeat the action item to the owner and get verbal confirmation (e.g., affirmative response, head nod, thumbs up, etc.)

  • Always read through the action items at the end of the meeting and gain agreement

  • Document action items in a database, wiki, or other electronic format

  • Include a link to the action items database in the meeting notes (to be sent out no later than 48 hours after the meeting)

Project managers should also consider the three magic questions when assigning tasks to further encourage accountability:

  1. What is your understanding of the task? This question ensures that your message was received accurately. Once someone tells you his or her understanding of the task (in his or her own words), you have a much better sense of whether there are any disconnects or possible misunderstandings. Too often, team members nod in agreement while the project manager delegates a task; unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they truly understand the project manager’s expectations. Oftentimes, the team member will return days, weeks, or months later only to admit that he or she didn’t quite understand or provide a deliverable that isn’t what was requested.

  2. What will the deliverable look like? Project tasks are often focused on deliverables—tangible outputs. Deliverables are often the documents to be reviewed, analyzed, or evaluated by the project sponsor, client, external partner, or other stakeholder and as such become quite important. Whenever the project manager assigns a task, he or she should ensure that there is clarity on what the deliverable will actually look like. Because the work hasn’t yet been completed, the team member isn’t expected to produce a completed deliverable; instead, with this question, he or she is being asked to describe that deliverable.

Description elements may include the following for a document-type deliverable:

  • Document format (e.g., Visio, PPT, Excel, Word, pdf, etc.)

  • Document length

  • Level of detail

Content types (e.g., text, bullets, tables, illustrations, etc.)In addition to clarifying the structure and look of

the document, also clarify content:

  • Objectives

  • Audience

  • Scope (in and out)

  • Outline

What three steps will you take to begin working on this task? The response to this question provides

key insight into how the team member will approach the task. Based on this feedback, the project

manager can immediately course correct if needed to ensure that he or she is proceeding as required.

3. What three steps will you take to begin working on this task? The response to this question provides

key insight into how the team member will approach the task. Based on this feedback, the project

manager can immediately course correct if needed to ensure that he or she is proceeding as required.

Building Camaraderie in Your Meetings

Encourage team members to share personal information to build connections

  • During introductions, ask each team member to share a personal fact (e.g., first job, favorite childhood television/cartoon character, proudest accomplishment)

  • Ask remote team members to send photographs of themselves prior to the meeting

  • Create a bingo card with an interesting fact about each team member in each square. Ask team members to mingle during breaks and identify the owners of each square.

Create opportunities for bonding and informal information sharing

  • Provide food either immediately before or after the meeting

  • Conduct working lunch meetings (as long as the team doesn’t perceive it as a punishment)

  • Conduct team building events to reward the team at various milestones

Encourage connections among team members

  • Look for opportunities for the team to discuss issues in small subgroups during the session

  • Establish a peer recognition system in which team members acknowledge each other during the session

  • Ask team members to build on each other’s ideas

  • Assign a back-up owner for each task and encourage members to work together

Discuss and document expectations

  • Document a team charter

  • Document meeting ground rules

  • Decide on meeting dates, times, and locations

Engage all team members in meeting facilitation and leadership

  • Rotate the roles of facilitator and scribe. Ingrid Bens’ Facilitation at a Glance defines a facilitator as “one who contributes structure and process to interactions so groups are able to function effectively and make high-quality decisions” (Bens, 1999, p 2).

  • Ask one person to lead a debrief at the conclusion of each meeting

  • Empower all team members to enforce ground rules

Meetings shouldn’t be just another onerous task the project manager must tick off of his or her to-do list; instead, they can be powerful opportunities to build a sense of camaraderie and encourage a strong sense of accountability within the team. The astute project manager uses virtually every meeting as an opportunity to build connections within the team and encourage a culture of accountability.


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