People not sticking to commitments drives most of us bananas. It starts as a broad frustration, then it becomes personal, until eventually you find yourself in a toilet, role-playing ‘the talk’, in the mirror.

A very angry banana not playing apples and pears with no one

At the same time we also don’t like setting rules. This is especially the case in teams where people are working for free or chocolate buttons. We think people might not show up again or treat us differently.

How to set rules

When you mention making rules people can look at you like this:

Blue blob schocked face

or say this:

  1. We are all adults here
  2. This work is fun, rules spoil it
  3. You should have more trust in me
  4. We’re anti rules man, fudge the system

The response to all four is, rules show how seriously you take yourselves. Teams that are accountable contribute more, develop effective work and do far better in accomplishing their goals. If people don’t want to be in a goal reaching team, they should go eat fudge in the system. However, most people will say, “well that makes sense” and “fair enough”.

What do you need rules on?

Rules should not be blurry. It is a specific contract of how we work together. The main three are:

  1. Decisions
  2. Commitment
  3. Time

Decisions

Decisions can be made a few ways:

  1. Consensus: everyone must agree on the decision to move forward.
  2. Majority rules: who gets the most votes win.
  3. Both: when consensus can not be achieved it goes to majority rules.

You need to pick as a team which process works best.

Commitment

When someone breaks a commitment there must be a response. Without it, the new norm is that commitments don’t mean much. A broken commitment could mean the guilty show up with biscuits or find the next meeting’s venue. What ever it is everyone should own the consequence and agree to act by them.

When people let the team down they often need our help. Listen to why it happened. Ask questions like, how did they feel about the task? Did they ask for help? How can we as a team make this easier? This is an opportunity for coaching, and for the team to show supportive leadership. If the person didn’t meet their task because of a serious circumstance, they don’t need to be buying anybody biscuits.

The meeting should also lift up those who have met their commitments. In a youth movement I organised, we clicked our fingers to show love, thanks and recognition. Your team can make your own way of doing it, but recognition matters; it is the heart of the work and it keeps our heart in it.

Time

Rules on time are simple; show up and end on time. If someone wanders in half an hour late and no one says anything, what is your new norm about time? That you can be late. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but they are few. It is deeply disrespectful to waste a resource that for all of us is finite and irreplaceable.

What happens when someone keeps breaking the rules?

You have to take building grass-root power seriously. This is not about inclusion or exclusion, it is about being clear about who is committed to the work. The team needs a response for those rare moments, when someone consistently lets the team down. Maybe it’s a three strike you’re out, or a team vote. Reach agreement and stick to it. If they’re paid staff, fire their butt. Having to chase people for work is exhausting. The rest of the team and the issue at hand deserve our energy.

In the end, accountability largely comes down to you. You have to be the best example of what an accountable person acts like, to create the culture you are after.