By Colleen Kettenhofen

“If you have a job without aggravation, you don’t have a job.” Malcolm Forbes

Whether you’re a manager, team leader, or team member, you’re well aware that your team has to:

  • have reasons for taking responsibility.
  • be given the authority to act on the duties handed to them.
  • deal with the consequences if their duties and responsibilities aren’t being met.

Otherwise, it sets the stage for non-contributors to “hide out” under the protection of the rest of the team. And if no negative consequences are imposed, there’s no incentive for them to change for the better. Who likes carrying more than their fair share of the weight? No one.

In an ideal world, every employee is motivated to become an exceptional worker out of personal integrity. But the “just-there-to-collect-a-paycheck” employees can be lurking on your team. If that’s true for you, what can you do about it?

First, are you sure everyone on the team understands the roles, goals, and objectives of the team and each individual on it? In my team-building seminars, team members often tell me they don’t know exactly what their job responsibilities are, nor do they even know the “big picture” objectives of their organization.

Next, take inventory. Has it been clearly explained what their job responsibilities are, and where each job fits in with the main goals of the organization? Has each team member participated in leadership and teambuilding seminars? Do they walk away with action plans for accountability? Is this information specific, measurable, and recorded? Remember, even if people work from home, they’re still part of a team and need to be held accountable.

Be sure your planning is recorded. Having quantifiable goals stated in writing makes it harder for underperformers to say, “Well, that’s your perception and you’re just picking on me.” Not true—at least, not if you’ve made their responsibilities clear and measurable, and put them in writing for accountability. And not if they’ve been properly trained and given authority to take initiative and responsibility.

Good managers, good team leaders—even good employees—know it’s important to explain the mission/purpose of their organization and where each employee fits in. That includes making sure everyone understands the corporate culture, which is especially important when attracting potential employees during the interview process.

Why do teams fail to take responsibility? In my seminars, I have posed this question over the past 15 years to team leaders, managers, and team members. Here are the 12 most commonly heard reasons (not in any particular order) for why teams won’t take responsibility:

  1. Weak leadership. The person in charge is not respected, doesn’t communicate clearly, can’t resolve conflict effectively, or all of the above.
  2. Lack of detail. Leaders are being specific about each team member’s responsibilities and job duties. No clear goals or objectives have been put in writing.
  3. Lack of skill or possessing a negative attitude on the part of a team member. Sometimes that person won’t admit to either of these.
  4. Too many people with similar leadership/personality styles. For example, the team has too many “drivers” who vie for control. Or it has too many “relaters,” those who are people-oriented and don’t focus well on getting tasks done.
  5. Fear of failure. The leader is afraid to address—or worse, recognize—performance problems because he/she avoids conflict. They’re afraid that if they take disciplinary action, their efforts could fail.
  6. The team member possesses a “I don’t get paid enough to worry about that” mentality. Everyone else has to pick up the slack, ultimately setting up resentment, discouragement, and dissension among the ranks.
  7. People don’t get along with each other. Chances are they haven’t had training in how to be effective communicators—what to say, what not to say, and how to say it.
  8. Some people just don’t want to take on responsibility. They simply don’t want to do the work!
  9. Team members who aren’t dependable or take time off work frequently. This could be a team member who doesn’t show up or even call in sick for a meeting or conference call.
  10. Loss of focus, lack of direction. To avoid this, put specific goals and expectations in writing and use dates, deadlines, numbers or percentages. For example, “Respond to all customer questions and complaints for the orders department within 48 hours of receiving them.”
  11. The “it’s not in my job description” mentality. That’s why cross training pays dividends.
  12. Lack of training in general. This includes training in the area of “hard skills” or job performance as well as conflict resolution and team building.

For emphasis, let’s go back to number one, which is weak leadership—the main reason team members won’t take responsibility. In fact, the response “weak leadership” frequently stemmed from team leaders themselves when evaluating their own managers!

In addition, studies indicate the top personality trait required for people to willingly want to follow another is honesty. Like it or not, everyone watches to see if people do what they say they’re going to do—employees and leaders alike. It’s part of what makes people come to work in the first place. As James F. Bell said, “Like begets like, honesty begets honesty, trust, trust, and so on.”

What does this mean to your team? It’s definitely time to ask the tough questions and find ways to make working together effective for everyone involved.


Colleen Kettenhofen is an international workplace employee and management expert, corporate speaker, and career turnaround specialist. She recently interviewed more than 200 managers and CEOs for her new book, Secrets Your Boss Isn’t Telling You. A media expert, she has appeared on numerous radio shows and has written more than 40 articles on diverse workplace issues. She has published 10 audio programs and two books, available on her website To have Colleen assist with successful team-building in your organization through her keynotes, seminars, and workshops, call (971) 212-0479 in Portland, OR.