Accountability Hacks – 12 Ways to Check the Troops, and Why You Should

Having a goal, a plan, and asking teammates to do things is only the start for you as a leader.  Making sure everyone does his job to make the plan happen is a critical part of leading the team to success.  One word for this idea is Accountability.  Leaders who check and make sure things are done have a much greater chance of leading their teams to success.  People tend to do what they know the leader will check.  In this post we’ll use the example of going on a hike to illustrate this point; you can employ many of the same concepts to be a more effective leader in your world, whatever you happen to be doing.

Rock Scramble on Old Rag

Accountability on Old RagA couple weekends ago, our Troop headed out to climb Old Rag, a rocky crag in the mountains of Virginia.  We were facing about eight hours of hiking, including nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain.  And the last three miles to the summit was a “rock scramble,” climbing over, under and around enormous boulders.  This was going to be great fun, but once the hike started, there would be no food, no water and no services available until we got back; being prepared for this was important.

In camp the night before, the leaders discussed the possible hazards of the hike and what we would need to carry, and they came up with a list:  lunch, snacks, three quarts of water, first aid kits, sun block, spare socks, good shoes, etc.

The question was, now that we have this fine list, how do we make sure everyone brought what they were supposed to.  Because if someone runs out of food, water, or key supplies on the mountain, he becomes a burden on everyone else.  Obviously, someone would have to check.

“If the leader doesn’t check it, it might not get done”

Five Ways to Check the Gear

For checking gear, as for checking anything, there are several ways to go about it, from the extremely detailed to the cursory.  Here are some options to consider.

The Full Monty – check every single thing; this is the most thorough approach.  You might do this when it is important that every little detail is covered.  For carrying gear on a hike, there are two ways to do this one.

Show and Stow – everybody lines up with their packs.  The leader calls off the first item, say two pairs of socks, and he holds up his socks.  Everyone else gets out their two socks and holds them up.  When everyone is showing their socks, pack them away and move on to the next item.

Line Crossing – Everybody lines up, dumps everything on the ground, then puts the empty pack on the ground about ten feet in front of them.  The leader calls off the first item and holds his up.  Everybody holds up their matching item, then steps forward and placed it into the back pack, then repeat.  The difference with this method is when you are done, you get to see what what’s left over that people are planning to bring along.  Is an extra two liter bottle of Root Beer really a good idea?

The Spot Check.  If the gear requirements aren’t as critical or time is more limited, you can decided to check just a few things.  Pick three to five items off your list and just check for those.  Focus in on critical items like water, first aid, food.  Whether or not they packed a third hanky won’t make that big a difference.  If they are missing any of the key items, check them a little more thoroughly for other missing items.

Getting ready for last year’s winter camp, our guys checked everything at a meeting the prior week going the full monty.  When it was time to load the cars and head out several days later, we did a spot check to make sure everyone still had the essentials.  Sure enough, one person showed up in tennis shoes (and there was already snow on the ground).  We checked a little more thoroughly and found that he was missing gloves, too.  We gave him the opportunity to go home and get the needed items before he could come out with us!

The Visual.  Sometimes you can just tell by looking if something isn’t right.  Look at the people going – do they appear prepared, ready on time, neatly packed?  Or are they throwing things together at the last minute, or look sloppy?  These are indicators that maybe they didn’t spend enough time to be sure they have everything they need.  That’s a person worth checking; maybe go do a spot check on them and see what you find.

The Tenderfoot.  More experienced people may know what they are doing; newer people may need a little extra guidance.  You can focus your energies on the least experienced people and check their stuff to be sure those most likely to make mistakes get a little extra attention.  One way to do this is to have the more experienced team up with the newer people and have them go over their gear in buddy teams.

Things to Think About

As you think about what checks to do, here are a few important things to keep in mind.

  • Accountability on Old RagAllow time to Correct.  Do your checks when there is time to make a correction if you find something wrong or missing. If water is important, check that everyone has enough while you are still near a faucet so you can top off.
  • Have someone taking notes about what was missing and who was missing it; before you set off, use the list to make sure everyone is ready and corrections have been made.
  • What else is in the backpack?  Your checks are as much about what they should not be carrying as what they are. One of the reasons I like the “Line Crossing” approach is you can see what is left over that people were thinking of carrying, and have a reasoned discussion about what should go; too much gear could slow everybody down, too.
  • Set the example.  Notice that the leader is pulling his gear out and inventorying it, too, the same as everyone else; that’s a great way to set the right example.
  • Make it fun.  There’s no reason this process can’t be fun. Add an incentive – the person missing the most stuff has to carry an extra canteen or the trash bag; or the first one ready can have someone else carry one item for him; use your imagination.

Take it a Step Farther

With checks in place, there are a couple more tips for you to take this one a notch higher.

633px-Plain-M&Ms-PileThe Brown M&M Test.  Back in the 80s while on tour, the Rock Group Van Halen famously had a “Brown M&M clause” in its contract with promoters:  there were to be no brown M&Ms anywhere back stage. If any were found, the contract was voided and the promoter would have to pay.  This wasn’t because they had anything against brown M&Ms; it was about attention to detail.  They figured that if the promoter hadn’t read about the M&M stricture, then he probably hadn’t read other parts of the contract and was probably cutting corners elsewhere, too.  When dealing with a large stage production, mistakes could be potentially hazardous.  So the band knew there might be a problem if they saw any brown M&Ms.

You can apply this same idea.  Put one item on your packing list that is a little unusual or unexpected; have it near the bottom of the list.  Then make that one of the items you spot check.  If the person paid enough attention to detail to pack it, you can be pretty sure they have the rest of the things as well.  Recently, I added a tennis ball to the packing list.  I was glad to see nearly everyone brought one, and most of their other gear was in good order too.

Be Prepared-er.  Now that you are confident that everyone has all that is needed, think about what else you might want to have on hand, just in case, or as an added surprise.  I always carry extra fire starters, emergency blanket, whistle, zip ties, and a few other “be prepared” items.  For this trip, I also tossed in a big bag of Tootsie-Rolls.  As a leader it never hurts to have a little extra something to ensure success.  In this case, an extra burst of sugar for everybody after several hours of hiking could be a fun surprise for the guys.

The Takeaway

Having a plan is a key part of a leader’s duties; actually carrying it out is even more important.  The group is depending on you to hold everyone accountable to a standard.  You need a way to ensure that everyone is playing by the rules.  When you check for compliance, you are establishing the idea of accountability and earning the trust of your teammates by doing your job.  As they get used to the idea that this is something you will always do, your job as the leader gets a little bit easier.

Accountability on Old RagOn Old Rag, the leaders elected to use the “Show-and-Stow” method to ensure that everyone was well prepared for the hike.  After a few corrections, all hikers were ready to go.  And as a result, everything went well.  We didn’t run out of water, we had a nice lunch near the summit,  and we were even able to patch a blister or two along the way.  It was a good day.

And the Tootsie-Rolls seemed to be a real hit; think I’ll add those to my packing list…

tootsie roll

Question:  What means of ensuring accountability have you seen used in your world?  Share your thoughts in the space below.

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Photo Credit:
By Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author: Ken Downer
Ken Downer - Founder RapidStart Leadership

Ken served for 26 years in the Infantry, retiring as a Colonel.  From leading patrols in the Korean DMZ, to parachuting into the jungles of Panama, to commanding a remote outpost on the Iran-Iraq border, he has learned a lot about leadership, and has a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.  Look for his weekly posts, check out his online courses, subscribe below, or simply connect, he loves to talk about this stuff.

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