Here’s what I believe the path to improving both psychological safety and accountability looks like. It’s like moving up a ladder. As you move up the rungs, performance and accountability improves. At the same time, while team productivity progresses, leader effort starts to decrease. That's because they have learnt how to delegate and lead their team in such a way, that team members put in the right energy and commitment.
In fact, down at the first rung it takes far more leadership effort to get the team to produce mediocre work. Here the ratio of leader effort to team impact is (10:1) which is ten times the leader effort required at the top rung (1:5).
Encouraging teams into the Achievement Zone requires a positive leader who ensures there is high trust, not just within the team, but across teams and with everyone they work with. In other words, a trust guardian who holds everyone to high standards of behaving and performing.
Staying in this zone can be difficult. In my work with leaders, those who model curiousity and stay open to exploring new ideas create the excitement needed to stay on course. The result is productivity that is five times the rate of average teams, but the performance is sustainable and doesn't burn people out like in the Anxiety Zone.
The biggest problem in the Anxiety Zone is individual effort is rewarded, rather than group effort. This creates an environment that is competitive and unsupportive. It requires a leader to come in and change behaviours through the regular repetition of emphasising the importance of teamwork. Not only that, the leader must learn how to extend trust to those around him, as often trust issues are because of their own behaviours. This actually decelerates progress because people hold back commitment to goals because they don’t trust their boss or the situation.
Leading out of this zone requires a significant mindset shift because as the team is already performing at a high level there is little incentive for improvement. Often, leaders in this zone will boast about their team's progress and that trust with each other is high. However, scratch the surface and the work environment is characterised by subpar work that goes under the radar and high employee relations and turnover costs.
In the Abatement Zone, performance is waning, but it can be slow to show up because often this team is riding on the success of a previous victory. It requires a leader honest enough to realise that they need to not only push themselves a bit more, but their team.
This really is a tipping point to moving into better performance that is dependent on the team leader having those dreaded performance conversations. At its core, this requires leaders to energise performance through explaining the benefits of improving.
This is critical because the team is often producing mediocre output, that is pulling down the performance of the organisation.
Finally, the Apathy Zone requires even more time and dedication to not only increase morale in the team, but to improve the standards of work. That is why productivity can be negative in this zone because other teams have to work around them – either duplicating or redoing their work.
Typically, emotionally unstable leaders or toxic employees are the root the cause of teams falling into this danger zone.
Often, restructuring the team or placing an emotionally intelligent leader in charge is required. These teams demand a leader willing to empower team members through providing autonomy where team members start to make small decisions and work on their own projects. It requires a leader who believes in each direct report, reassures them of their abilities and commends them on their improvements.