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Accountability vs. Responsibility: How to Know the Difference

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When evaluating Accountability vs Responsibility, it’s important to remember responsibility has to do with the tasks you’ve set out to accomplish, but accountability is a mindset and has more to do with outcomes. The terms have become interchangeable in the workplace, but both of these terms should be distinct! The differences aren’t always clear, which can make it challenging to hold other employees accountable or responsible for their duties. To ensure that everyone is being held accountable, and that you define responsibility correctly, it’s important to distinguish these terms and understand which one is most applicable in different situations.

Here’s what you need to know about accountability vs responsibility in the workplace.

Related: What Is Self Accountability?

Accountability in the Workplace: What Is It?

Accountability is a mindset and a paradigm, and the focus is on desired outcomes. While a lot of people think that accountability means that a specific task falls on one person’s shoulders and that if they don’t get it done, they should be “held accountable” or punished, this isn’t how we think of it. Accountability should be both individual and shared. 

It’s the mindset that the team must work individually and collectively to achieve agreed-upon outcomes created by the team. While each person may be responsible for different tasks or components of a project, the entire team should be accountable for the outcome at the end. The accountability mindset means not blaming others when things go wrong or are left undone, being supportive of teammates, and being creative in problem-solving. It’s the mindset that while everyone might be responsible for different tasks, it’s everyone’s job to step in and help achieve the desired outcomes of the team. 

  • Accountability for the desired outcomes is shared among the team.
  • These outcomes should be decided upon by the team and upper management, and the team should be clear on the habits necessary to achieve the outcomes
  • Responsibility is more task-oriented, but accountability is the bigger picture.
  • Being accountable means that the team will work together to achieve the desired outcomes rather than blame someone who slipped up or made a mistake

Responsibility in the Workplace: What Is It?

Responsibility can get shared among the entire team, or it can be divided up individually. Responsibility is more task-oriented and includes the specific action items that each person is agreeing to. It’s a focus on defined roles in a team and what must get done in order to have a successful outcome for the project.

  • Essentially, responsibility is the duty to complete and respond to different tasks.
  • The whole team should be held accountable for specific outcomes, but individuals or smaller teams will be responsible for meeting goals along the way. 
  • Responsibility is specifically focused on tasks, and it includes who takes on what role, what that role entails for the project, and what needs to happen for a successful outcome.

Accountability vs Responsibility: Key Differences

Now that we’ve differentiated between the two terms, let’s summarize the biggest differences between accountability and responsibility:

Accountability is:

  • The mindset of taking ownership for desired outcomes created by the team
  • Both individual and shared among the group
  • Taking ownership of and responding to the results
  • Focused on results
  • Problem-solving together when something goes wrong

Responsibility is:

  • Typically ongoing
  • Individual or shared between team members
  • Focused on the defined roles of each employee
  • Focused on a project or task
  • Letting someone know if you can’t complete your task

While accountability is the mindset about a project, responsibility is the more specific task-oriented execution of the project. Being responsible is an individual and personal thing, but it can also get shared between multiple team members. On the other hand, accountability is shared equally among team members who collectively work towards a goal

Accountability is about taking ownership of whatever results come from the task. In contrast, responsibility focuses more on the roles of each employee and what they can bring with their specific skill set and position. While accountability is more focused on results, responsibility is more concentrated on the task or project. For both accountability and responsibility, clear and early communication should be used if a change in the plan is needed for any reason.

Benefits of Accountability at Work

Creating a culture of workplace accountability results in happier, more productive employees, less turnover, and teams that view their positions as meaningful and positive. Individually owning the outcomes of each task helps empower your employees and makes evident their contributions to the project.

Additionally, holding your employees accountable helps to promote better customer service, and collectively owning results helps avoid confusion and breakdowns for your team about who is in charge of what, which can delay services to your clients and customers.

Related: Behaviors to Help Develop Accountability

Benefits of Responsibility at Work

Taking responsibility helps your team be successful in the workplace. But, to achieve this, your employees have to want to take responsibility for new tasks and projects, and they need to see the value of doing so. In other words, they need to feel accountable! By motivating and inspiring your team, you’ll notice employees start to take personal responsibility for each task and project—this is the foundation for responsibility in the workplace. To inspire your team to want to take more responsibility, you have to lead by example and take the responsibility yourself to motivate and inspire them. In addition, being clear about who is responsible for what tasks makes a project easy to accomplish because everyone is clear about their own role. However, team accountability means that they can safely ask for help when needed or surface any issues that may arise.

Tips for Leaders to Develop Accountability and Responsibility in the Workplace

Act on Feedback

Lead by example and drive suggestions into action by listening to the feedback that you receive from the team. You can demonstrate accountability and responsibility for project outcomes and your actions by doing so. This can also influence and encourage your employees to do the same. Suppose they notice that you’re taking their feedback into account and acting on it. In that case, your team is more likely to apply those same efforts in holding themselves accountable and taking more responsibility.

Make an Effort

Make an effort to understand things from the perspective of your team members. This means understanding each person’s responsibilities, coming up with fair expectations for them, and finding ways to hold them accountable for the work they do. During team meetings is a great time to work on this and understand and assign responsibilities to each person. It’s also essential to ask them for feedback and get their perspectives on the project at hand.

Have Clear Expectations

Situations with your team evolve and change constantly. Ensure that you’re engaging in ongoing communication to give your team updates and to understand how those changing situations might impact their ability to work on tasks and deliver the final result. Effective communication is vital to make your expectations apparent.

Accountability vs Responsibility: Final Thoughts

Although the differences between responsibility and accountability can easily get blurred, they have very key distinctions. By understanding those differences, you can ensure that the right tasks get assigned to the right people and have a clear understanding of who is accountable for the results (Hint: It’s everyone!). It can also help the team work together to fulfill their individual responsibilities while holding each other accountable for their actions.

Do you want to create profitable, lasting changes for your business? Get in touch with B STATE for your free consultation—Corporate team building that works!

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