Why Kick-Ass Teams Need Peer Accountability

Men's football game.

This is the last post in a series on the 5 Keys to Building a Kick-Ass Team.

Now that you have the right people, you’ve actually trained them, you’ve established your northstar, and are providing stretch opportunities — what’s left? Accountability. But, not just any kind of accountability — peer accountability.

After putting all four of the previous keys in place, peer accountability is what makes a group of individuals a true team. It’s what you see on the sidelines of a football game when players on the same team get into each others’ faces after a missed assignment or dropped pass.

And what better place to learn about peer accountability than college? I learned quite a bit as a campus leader at Davidson. It was a lab for the organizational leadership and management skills I’ve continued to hone throughout my career. Student teams are a real testing ground precisely because of the challenge of accountability. Regardless of formal roles and titles, student organizations are generally made up of volunteers and no one can really be the boss. You’re not paying folks to be in a club or a student group. If they fail to keep their commitments, you can’t expel them from school. Student leadership is a classic example of catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. So, how do you hold folks accountable and make sure the team accomplishes what it set out to do?

As a sophomore, I led a campaign with five other women to secure the college president’s approval for the addition of historically black sororities to our college campus. This was a controversial issue and there had been previous groups of women who had made similar attempts over the years. However, our team was not deterred. We developed a strategy to gain broad support across the student body, administration, and faculty. Over the next year, we executed that strategy. From informal lobbying of key women leaders over meals to presentations to the student government association and the entire faculty to Q & A sessions at rowdy fraternity houses, we got our message out. We also plastered campus with flyers communicating central points of our argument and collected petition signatures from one third of the student body.

We did all this while performing well in our classes and serving in other campus leadership and community service roles. How is it that no one dropped the ball on their commitments? How is it that our team of six stayed committed and won key approvals including that of the college president, setting the stage for a historic change on Davidson’s campus? Peer accountability.

There are three central facets of peer accountability that enabled our team to be successful:

  1. Transparency – Team members can’t hold one another accountable if they don’t know who is responsible for what. Teams need the kind of open communication that ensures everyone understands the big picture and how each team member fits into it.
  2. Candor – Team members have to be willing to speak up if things are starting to head in the wrong direction. There were times with our team of six when one or two team members weren’t carrying their weight. It happens with any team. Everyone is busy and trying their best to manage competing priorities. We quickly learned that it was incumbent upon us to deal with these types of issues head on by having frank conversations about what needed to be done and what steps we as a team needed to take to make it happen.
  3. Flexibility – You don’t want to wait until after your team has already lost the game to say, “Next time, we’ll have Jim cover their star receiver. That guy scored five touchdowns on Bob. That was a pretty bad matchup for us.” Instead, you want to make needed adjustments right away. For us, that meant accepting that a team member cramming for an exam was going to be MIA for a couple days and taking the initiative to actively divvy up her responsibilities among the rest of us. Was that ideal for everyone else who already had other tasks on their plate? No. But, that didn’t change the fact that there was work to do and we needed to do whatever it took to get it done.

The key here is a certain give and take from team members as everyone works towards a common goal.


  • Peer accountability can tie a group of individuals together to form a true team.
  • Transparency sets the stage by making sure everyone’s in the loop.
  • Candid conversations and flexibility are a must to ensure that even when individual team members aren’t pulling their own weight, the team as a whole doesn’t drop the ball.

When folks with the right mix of skills and approaches have the training they need to be successful, a northstar to guide their work, stretch opportunities to propel them to new heights, and the kind of peer accountability that spurs them to push and support one another, what you get isn’t just a highly effective team. You get a kick-ass team that’s fun to be a part of everyday.