Why Accountability and Communication Matter to Teamwork

My favorite vacation getaway is in Corea, Maine. We have family there and one of them, Ed (we share the same name and birthday) is a Lobsterman. In fact, his son Aidan is now getting into the business and runs his own traps. During my most recent visit, I volunteered to go out with Aidan and his friend Sam to work on the boat. I enjoy working on the lobster boat as a “Sternman.” As with my previous outings, I hoped I would be more help than a hindrance. At the end of the day, they thank me for my assistance and I always observe something new while I watch the traps from my appointed position on the boat. This time it was teamwork.

My job is always baiting (putting the unbelievably smelly bait into bags) and banding (securing the claws with rubber bands).  I was pinched hard only once while holding un-banded lobsters during my initial foray as a Sternman several years ago and have since learned how to avoid that hazard. Even a landlubber can quickly get accustomed to the rhythm and become amazed by the speed with which everything on board gets done without a word being spoken. Everything is overseen by Ed, the Captain of the boat. Each of the men has their role and clearly do not want to let each other down. They are accountable for their work.


Accountability is always important when working in a team setting. Keep the balance of work equal and fair. Members of any team need to understand that they are responsible for the team’s success and failure. The team should have a clear method in place for measuring the team’s success. In our case, did we catch more lobster than we paid in bait and fuel and maintenance on the boat? Were we holding up any other member of the team? My teamwork goal was clear: never have them wait for bait.


Effective communication is equally important in teamwork. Members of any team should offer new ideas, share all information and request feedback on their progress. The Captain continuously watched as his protégés sorted the lobster by measuring each one and identifying the “keepers,” all the while patiently providing instructions to ensure everyone understood size and identification requirements.

Listen to what other team members are saying and acknowledge their input by accepting or building on suggestions offered.

Conflicts can arise in any group and will have a detrimental effect on the team if the conflict is allowed to continue. However, by having a clear set of rules and responsibilities that team members need to follow, conflicts can hopefully be minimized or avoided. In our case, the Captain addressed issues objectively and offered constructive criticism as well as encouragement where needed, never blame.

Aidan and Sam are learning much more than how to be good Lobstermen; they are learning teamwork that will benefit them throughout their careers.

Ed Toner is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). See more Featured Contributor posts.

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