Team Accountability Activity: “The Jar”

It shouldn’t strictly be the responsibility of a team leader or supervisor to hold everyone on the team accountable. Staffers and team members actively holding each other accountable can lead to better communication, increased productivity, and better team cohesion. As a residence hall director on two different university campuses who had supervised over 20 staffers at one time, I wanted to instill and develop a sense of staff accountability with my student employees. So I created a staff meeting tradition called “The Jar.”

What is “The Jar” and how does it work?

At the beginning of every semester, I brought a jar to the first staff meeting. Every staff member was given three pieces of paper. On each paper they were to write something they wanted purchased for them (under $5.00) or an activity accomplished for them under an hour of time. Only one request was permitted on each slip of paper. The requests had to be appropriate and in good taste (hazing or any acts of humiliation were not permitted). Examples included everything from purchasing coffee, fast food value meals, and donuts to doing laundry, helping to study, and getting a ride to go shopping. The slips of paper were all folded and placed into the jar.

The jar was brought to every staff meeting. If a staffer neglected a particular job task or failed to keep a promise related to work, they had to pick one of the slips of paper from the jar. Examples of reasons a staffer would have to pick from the jar included everything from being late for a desk shift or meeting, forgetting to lock the lobby office, and failing to meet a deadline. The staffer would then read aloud whatever was written on the slip of paper and perform the task or make the requested purchase prior to the next staff meeting. If they failed to submit to the request before the next staff meeting, they would have to pick from the jar again. They would still be responsible for fulfilling the previous jar pick in addition to the new pick.

Because a team member’s mistake or failure to meet expectations effects the entire team in some shape or form, the staffer picking is, in essence, making it up to the team. Therefore, all team members have an equal chance of having one of their slips of paper picked.

Recommended Tips for Success:  

1. Staffers and team members should NOT be permitted to write down any job responsibilities on the slips of paper for the jar; they still have to perform their job and assigned responsibilities.

2. The team leader or supervisor should also include their own slips of paper in the jar and also be held accountable to pick.

3. The jar should not be a substitute for normal team member disciplinary procedures, including potential termination.

4. Team members should not use the jar exercise as a “witch hunt” searching for every mistake of fellow team members.

5. Be mindful of the financial situation of all of your team members so a “purchase-related task” may not be inclusive nor appropriate for your team. You can have them vote by secret ballot and only include this option if it’s unanimous. (My particular staffers wanted the purchase option and all agreed upon a $5.00 limit.)

I have found the jar exercise to be very positive. The regular practice started with staffers even owning up to mistakes themselves during meetings (without being prompted) and requesting their turn to pick from the jar. Additionally, staff members that normally wouldn’t interact with each other in a social capacity were able to do so and started to make  relationships over a cup of coffee, during a study session, or over a meal that was initiated by a jar pick. Lastly, there were many weeks that would go by where no one would have to pick from the jar.

How do you encourage team members to hold each other accountable?

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