Trust and accountability in teams

During the last two weeks, I attended two workshops as part of a series called “Pathways Learning Series” that University of Alberta provides for their staff. The first workshop was called “Trust and accountability” and the second one was called “Teams from good to great.” The topics covered in these two workshops sparked an interest in me to write a little bit about teams and what roles trust and accountability play in a team environment and share some of the models that are used to evaluate the greatness of teams. So, let’s get started!

What is trust?

Different people might have different definitions for trust, but if I were to define it in my own words, I would probably say “the freedom to be vulnerable around others knowing that you will be safe and you won’t be judged.” In fact, a lot of theorists in the field define trust in terms of vulnerability. At work or in the context of a project group at school, a definition of trust could also be “knowing that someone is going to do what they said they are going to do.”

Trust might very well be a trial-and-error process. How many times have you trusted someone you thought you knew well, just for the same person to turn around and stab you in the back? This also tells us that trust has an embedded element of time or at least the number of situations (especially difficult ones) you go through with a person. The more you know the person, the more you trust (or mistrust) the person.

One of the first things I learned when I did my Mental Health First Aid training was the importance of social and mental health along with physical health and the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” A quick search in PubMed revealed a few studies that reported higher happiness levels in people who trusted others1,2. Given the definition of health above, we could argue that trust is important for happiness and in turn for mental and social well-being.

Character and competence

So, trusting others improves our well-being, but who are those “others”? How do we find them? More specifically, how does someone’s character and competence affect our perception of them and how does that perception affect the level and type of trust we put in them?

We all might have that colleague at work who we trust to do a great job at a specific task or someone who we would go for advice on how to do a specific thing at work, but we would never open up about something outside of work. This person might have a high competence in that task, but they might not possess a great character and thus we would avoid talking to them about things not directly related to work. We might not even go to someone who seems competent in a task at work, just because the person’s character is such that they would probably use that against us at some point in time in the future. We might have a friend who doesn’t know a lot about what we do in our day-to-day job (or can’t give us solutions to problems we might be having), but will be there to listen (non-judgementally) when we are stressed or burnt out. Deciding whether we trust someone with a specific set of characteristic/personality traits (character) and a specific set of skills (competence) is not that easy and as pointed out, they could be very intermingled as well. As a side note, psychologists suggest having a support system composed of different people with different sets of characteristics and competencies that you could go to for different things. Having a one-size-fits-all person that could be there for you for everything, is not realistic, nor is it healthy.


One of the things that comes to mind as soon as we talk about accountability, is a person’s accountability to their immediate supervisor and that the supervisor might blame them for something not going right, because they “didn’t do their job.” In a high-performing team, everyone is accountable to the others in the team (and vice versa) and that’s where accountability is tied to trust.

A very good example of accountability and trust being tied together is how a pit stop works in racing competitions. If you look at a pit stop from above, what you see is a team of mechanics working on their specific tasks, trusting that the other members of the team are going to do their job and making sure that they are doing the best they could, because they feel accountable. If someone messes up, the whole team is going to be unsuccessful. The mechanic taking out the tire trusts the next mechanic putting in the new tire. The one who is putting in the new tire trusts the one besides them who is taking care of the fuel and so on. The tasks are defined, the team members know who is responsible for what and who is accountable for that job and they trust that they are going to do their best.

The RACI Model

One of the models that helps teams achieve their goals is the RACI model. It pushes us to determine who is Responsible for a specific task (working on the task), who is Accountable (has the final authority to decide), who should be Consulted (included in the decision-making process), and who should be Informed (of the decisions and the tasks). You might have been on a team where tasks are not specifically assigned or a few people in the team would say “we’ve got this!” But, unless we define specific people to be responsible, accountable, consulted and informed, there is a high chance the trust we have built in that team is going to take a hit. One of the major things the “we’ve got this” mentality would do is to open us up to blaming and finger pointing. Joe would think Jane’s got it, and Ali would think Fatima’s got it and when no one’s got it, everyone will start looking for someone to blame, because they weren’t “responsible” or “accountable.”

Beckhard-Burke Model

Richard Beckhard and Warner Burke suggest five elements that they think are really important for a team to work together and to interact well. These five elements are: purpose, goals, roles, process, and relationship. A successful team should have a common known purpose that all the team members are passionate about. They should have clearly defined goals that are in line with the purpose of the team. Each member of the team should also have clearly defined roles that would help steer the team in the direction of the goals and toward the common purpose. There should be a process in place to get things done. In fact, research has shown that high-performing teams spend 20% more time on defining the team’s strategies and processes compared to low-performing ones4. Great teams also foster great relationships between the members. They trust each other, they are open and sharing, and they are interdependent, while being autonomous when it comes to making decisions pertinent to their development and to their role.

Pinch vs. Crunch

Regardless of how great the relationship is within a team, there is a very high chance conflicts might arise at some point in time. The responses to these conflicts could be multifold. Some of these conflicts are like pinches. Some are like crunches. Pinches have the tendency to grow into crunches if left unaddressed or “pocketed.” Sometimes we bury the hatchet (pinch), but we don’t bury the handle, just in case we might use it later (when it becomes a crunch). A crunch could lead to an explosion and if left unresolved, it could cause fundamental damage. However, resolving the situation, whether it be a pinch that we can’t let go or a crunch, would result in improved relationship.

Staying above the line

There is a concept that a fine line separates success from failure and a not so good team from a great team3. Below that line, we are in denial, we constantly emphasize that “it’s not my job,” we blame others, and we don’t address any issues that arise in the team. Above the line, we see the issue(s) and problem(s), own them, find solution(s) and follow through. By staying above the line, the team members can pave their way to success, together.

Bringing it all together

As discussed, trust and accountability are essential to a successful team. They are built over time and through processes and relationships that are fostered within the team. These processes and relationships along with the purpose, goals and roles of the team and its members define the team and pave its way to success. The characters and competencies of the individuals within the team are important determinants of how much and what type of trust we put in them. We know that regardless of how great and how successful a team is, conflicts are bound to happen at some point and that our response to those conflicts could make or break the team. By staying above the line, we acknowledge the problems and define a clear path to resolve them and improve the relationship within the team.

What do you think are some of the important characteristics of high-performing and successful teams? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Carl, N., & Billari, F. C. (2014). Generalized trust and intelligence in the United States. PloS one, 9(3), e91786. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091786
  2. Kaliterna-Lipovčan, L., & Prizmić-Larsen, Z. (2016). What differs between happy and unhappy people?. SpringerPlus, 5, 225. doi:10.1186/s40064-016-1929-7
  3. Hickman, C., Corbridge, T., & Jones, J. (2019). The Oz principle: Accelerating growth by getting accountability right, from c-suite to front line. New York: Portfolio
  4. Wiita, N., & Leonard, O. (2019, January 17). How the Most Successful Teams Bridge the Strategy-Execution Gap. Retrieved June 14, 2019, from

Episode 2 – The Science of Happiness

Thank you for taking the time to listen to the second episode of the show. Here are a few references and further reading sources for you:

  1. Lyubomksky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.9.2.111
  2. Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542-575. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.95.3.542
  3. Diener, E. (1994). Assessing subjective well-being: Progress and opportunities. Social Indicators Research, 31(2), 103-157. doi:10.1007/BF01207052
  4. Diener, E., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., & Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin, 125(2), 276–302. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.125.2.276
  5. Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness Is a Stochastic Phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7(3), 186–189. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.1996.tb00355.x

Stay tuned for the next episode and please share your experiences on your journey to become happier, in the comments section below.


Forty Reasons to Stay Alive

Life is tough, but it is also beautiful. It can put you in pain for some time and make you feel happy some other time. It can give you a reason to cry some time, but it can also make you laugh. As you can see, there are a lot of sides to life and the way to experience them is to stay alive. Having heard a lot about a book by Matt Haig, I started reading “Reasons to Stay Alive.” It is not a long read (in fact less than 200 pages on the version available through my city’s library). Although I wish he would have talked more about his journey of recovery from the elephant in the room, i.e. anxiety and depression, I enjoyed every bit of it, especially because it comes from someone who has had a first-hand experience of how tough life can get. There is a section in the book that lists 40 reasons to stay alive and I wanted to share those with the readers of my blog along with some comments of my own (my comments start after the dashes). So, here it is:

  1. Appreciate happiness when it is there.
  2. Sip, don’t gulp. – When we are gulping through any drink, we are not enjoying what that drink has to offer, it is as if we are in a hurry to be done with the glass. But when we are sipping it, we give time to our organs, whether internal or external, to understand what that drink really is.
  3. Be gentle with yourself. Work less. Sleep more. – We are living in a world today that work is defining who we are. Think about your answer to the question “Who are you?” Aren’t we answering with our job title any time we are asked that question? The reason most often being that we spend a lot of time working, we forget how else we can be defined. Maybe we could go on that vacation we’ve been dreaming about for a long time or get that good night’s sleep we’ve been craving for the last few weeks.
  4. There is absolutely nothing in the past that you can change. That’s basic physics. – Then why worry about changing what’s already been done.
  5. Beware of Tuesdays. And Octobers.
  6. Kurt Vonnegut was right. ‘Reading and writing are the most nourishing forms of meditation anyone has so far found.’ – I can attest to this through personal experience. I feel great whenever I read or write.
  7. Listen more than you talk. – Good listeners make great speakers. Don’t quote me on that though! 🙂
  8. Don’t feel guilty about being idle. More harm is probably done to the world through work than idleness. But perfect your idleness. Make it mindful. – Personally, I don’t like being idle, and I would argue that if you are making your idleness mindful, you are not really idle!
  9. Be aware that you are breathing. – This is a great reminder. There are a lot of things that we take for granted in life. I think this one tops the list!
  10. Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.
  11. Hate is a pointless emotion to have inside you. It is like eating a scorpion to punish it for stinging you. – Washing blood with blood is not going to work. Sometimes, educating the hater might be a good idea, but sometimes you have to leave the hater alone. You can’t teach the scorpion not to sting, for example!
  12. Go for a run. Then do some yoga.
  13. Shower before noon.
  14. Look at the sky. Remind yourself of the cosmos. Seek out vastness at every opportunity, in order to see the smallness of yourself.
  15. Be kind.
  16. Understand that thoughts are thoughts. If they are unreasonable, reason with them, even if you have no reason left. You are the observer of your mind, not its victim.
  17. Do not watch TV aimlessly. Do not go on social media aimlessly. Always be aware of what you are doing, and why you are doing it. Don’t value TV less. Value it more. Then you will watch it less. Unchecked distractions will lead you to distraction.
  18. Sit down. Lie down. Be still. Do nothing. Observe. Listen to your mind. Let it do what it does without judging it. Let it go, like the Snow Queen in Frozen.
  19. Don’t worry about things that probably won’t happen. – i.e. don’t overthink!
  20. Look at trees. Be near trees. Plant trees. (Trees are great.)
  21. Listen to that yoga instructor on YouTube, and ‘walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet’.
  22. Live. Love. Let go. The three Ls.
  23. Alcohol maths. Wine multiplies itself by itself. The more you have, the more you are likely to have. And if it’s hard to stop at one glass, it will be impossible at three. Addition is multiplication.
  24. Beware of the gap. The gap between where you are and where you want to be. Simply thinking of the gap widens it. And you end up falling through. – I think it’s good to remind yourself of your goals, but only when you have done something to get closer to it, which will give you even more motivation to get even more closer. But, if you haven’t taken any action recently, reminding yourself of your goals is not going to make things any better and it might even make them worse.
  25. Read a book without thinking about finishing it. Just read it. Enjoy every word, sentence, and paragraph. Don’t wish for it to end, or for it to never end. – Refer to number 2 above as well!
  26. No drug in the universe will make you feel better, at the deepest level, than being kind to other people.
  27. Listen to what Hamlet, literature’s most famous depressive, told Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. ‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’ – There is still a lot of debate on the topic of good and bad and whether things are innately good or bad or are we making them so. I think this quote sums it up really nicely.
  28. If someone loves you, let them. Believe in that love. Live for them, even when you feel there is no point. – That point might come later. Not every point in life starts showing itself as a point or purpose.
  29. You don’t need the world to understand you. It’s fine. Some people will never really understand things they haven’t experienced. Some will. Be grateful. – As a social person, I’m guilty of this. I try to make connections with a lot of people and when they don’t understand me, I get upset or think about what I did or said. We have to let them be. Not everyone we meet is going to end up being our BFF or SO or even our acquaintance!
  30. Jules Verne wrote of the ‘Living Infinite’. This is the world of love and emotion that is like a ‘sea’. If we can submerge ourselves in it, we find infinity in ourselves, and the space we need to survive.
  31. Three in the morning is never the time to try and sort out your life. – But it might be the time for the brain to try and sort out all the inputs it has received during the day and get rid of the tiredness that comes with those.
  32. Remember that there is nothing weird about you. You are just a human, and everything you do and feel is a natural thing, because we are natural animals. You are nature. You are a hominid ape. You are in the world and the world is in you. Everything connects. – Speaking of nature, I agree that most of the things we do are natural. They are in our nature. We are all weird and normal at the same time. Whether you want to be a weirdly normal or a normally weird person, is the choice you are going to make.
  33. Don’t believe in good or bad, or winning and losing, or victory and defeat, or up and down. At your lowest and at your highest, whether you are happy or despairing or calm or angry, there is a kernel of you that stays the same. That is the you that matters.
  34. Don’t worry about the time you lose to despair. The time you will have afterwards has just doubled its value.
  35. Be transparent to yourself. Make a greenhouse for your mind. Observe.
  36. Read Emily Dickinson. Read Graham Greene. Read Italo Calvino. Read Maya Angelou. Read anything you want. Just read. Books are possibilities. They are escape routes. They give you options when you have none. Each one can be a home for an uprooted mind. – And as the famous saying goes ‘you have lived as many lives as the number of books you have read.’ Each and every book gives you a perspective on life. You look at life from the point of view of a different person and you could be one of those different people one day. That day you will have at least as many options as that person had in that book.
  37. If the sun is shining, and you can be outside, be outside.
  38. Remember that the key thing about life on earth is change. Cars rust. Paper yellows. Technology dates. Caterpillars become butterflies. Nights morph into days. Depression lifts. – And change brings happiness. Wear that tie you haven’t tried on since you bought, change the decoration of your office, change the way you look at people, change your point of view on things you do everyday and you will see happiness dripping through your life.
  39. Just when you feel you have no time to relax, know that this is the moment you most need to make time to relax. – ‘I don’t have time’ is basically a euphemism for ‘It’s not a priority.’ Make time for priorities. We need somethings to be able to even perceive ‘time’ and relaxing is one of them.
  40. Be brave. be strong. Breathe, and keep going. You will thank yourself later. – I don’t know why, but this reminded me of what Ed Latimore said on a podcast I listened a while ago: Running is not always enjoyable, but neither is being physically unfit. Working out can be painful and having a non-fit body can be painful as well. The difference is that you will have a fit body if you go through the pain of working out, but you won’t see any changes going through the pain of having an unhealthy body. So choose which pain you want to experience.

I really recommend reading the complete book, not only to those who sometimes feel low in life, but to anyone, because this book can also give you an idea of what some people might be going through and will maybe help you help someone who is in need of your support. On a related note, let’s tackle the issue of mental health and make sure we are paving the way to finally destigmatize it!