The accountability partner – often called an accountability buddy – is often overlooked as a viable way to enhance your effectiveness and efficiency in whatever you seek to do. Finding and establishing a rapport with a stranger seems like a whole lot of extra work, and who needs that, right? The goal you are trying to reach or the task you are trying to complete already requires substantial effort and mental strain. So inserting another layer of complexity between you and what you want to achieve seems unwarranted and even counterproductive.
Not so fast, bud!
What is an Accountability Partner?
Let’s start by look at what an accountability partner is.
To quote Taylor Jacobson in his article on medium.com “The problem: working alone is hard“. So true. And why is it hard? Simply put, it’s hard because you are not accountable to anyone.
An accountability partner is someone you make an arrangement with to keep you accountable for the achievement of a goal or the completion of a task. Some of us are not as motivated to see things through as others, and so we need a little prodding and, where necessary, goading. An accountability partner will undertake to keep us “on the straight and narrow” and should regularly check in with the person they are helping to make sure that person is taking the steps they said they would.
As the term accountability partner suggests, the arrangement should be reciprocal; in other words, just as you are held accountable for achieving your goals by your accountability partner, so you hold them accountable for theirs.
It is possible for one person to hold the other accountable without any reciprocity, but the arrangement works much better if you help one another.
You can also be accountable to a group or team, which is what would happen in a corporate environment. However, this brings with it all sorts of other considerations, which we won’t go into here. For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on exploring the accountability partnership with a single pair of participants.
Why You Should Have an Accountability Partner
“I don’t know about you, but I know I am definitely more motivated to go for a run if I have a friend waiting for me down the street.” This quote from an article by Leigh Stringer sums it all up. Being social animals, we do things better when we do them with others.
Taking the time and trouble to arrange an accountability partner can have a powerful effect on your ability to get things done. According to Benjamin Hardy, “… publicly committing your goals to someone gives you at least a 65% chance of completing them. However, having a specific accountability partner increases your chance of success to 95%.”
There is no question that having an accountability partner works wonders. Without accountability, we are responsible only to ourselves and, as you know, this is where procrastination, self-doubt and other self-sabotaging bugbears rear their ugly heads. Accountability externalizes our responsibility removing our option to delay or underperform.
The benefits go beyond them helping you simply reaching your goals, however.
- Mutual success. Being in a partnership means that you both have a vested interest in seeing the other one succeed and so you will more than likely go the extra mile for your accountability partner. You will also be looking out for one another’s best interests.
- Always supportive. Unlike family members and friends, your accountability partner will always be supportive of your goals. They won’t roll their eyes dismissively when you start talking about your aspirations and dreams … again.
- Tells it like it is. Your accountability partner will tell it to you straight when you don’t live up to your undertakings, something that friends and family most probably won’t.
- Friendship. If you and your accountability partner work well together, you may be able to build your relationship into a longstanding friendship.
According to his article, Gustavo Razzetti on liberationist.com lists the following insightful benefits to having an accountability partner.
- They help you track your goals.
- They call out your “B.S.”.
- They uncover blind spots.
- They can be a “red light” for destructive habits or behaviors.
- They should be a sounding board for new ideas.
- They should help ease the pain and offer support when you are struggling with your goals.
- They are your “partner in crime” and they accompany you on your journey.
As you can see, having an accountability partner has a multitude of benefits.
The Disadvantages of Having an Accountability Partner
However, according to an article in developgoodhabits.com here are a few of the problems you may encounter when partnering with someone.
- “You won’t always be compatible with the person you pick”.
- “This type of relationship is difficult to maintain if you are both busy and don’t have similar schedules”.
- ” If one accountability partner is at a higher level than the other, the [relationship] can be very one-sided”.
Most of these disadvantages can be mitigated with proper planning and by selecting a suitable partner. However, they are worth taking note of as things to watch out for.
What It Means to Have an Accountability Partner
Having an accountability partner is first and foremost an honor, and you should appreciate it for the opportunity that it is. If someone has asked you to be their accountability partner, they are telling you that they respect you and your opinion and would value your help.
It is important not to be flippant or dismissive about such a charge, either. If you do accept their invitation, be sure to take it seriously. Keep your promises and see your duties as an accountability partner as a priority. The fact is that your partner is relying upon you. They have, ostensibly, put their dreams in your hands. If you regularly fail to turn up for appointments or forget to keep the promises you make to them, you will be signaling to them that you do not take them or their goals seriously. If you are reciprocal accountability partners, you can be sure that they will soon take the same approach toward you and your goals.
So many good things can flow from an accountability partnership that it would be foolish to neglect the duties you undertake to perform. If you are unsure about whether or not you will be a decent partner, rather decline the invitation.
Support the Progress NOT the Process
The gist of Benjamin Hardy’s article in Medium (linked to above) is that we should dispense with the idea of an accountability partner, and opt instead for a “success partner”. The term “accountability” smacks of obligation and blame and carries with it a negative connotation. the term “success partner”, on the other hand, evokes positive emotions of achievement and momentum.
According to Dr. Hardy, “… accountability partnerships are “process”-oriented. The goal is to keep you accountable to the process. Did you do your workouts this week?
Conversely, Success partners are “progress”-oriented. The focus isn’t on you trying (and failing) to be perfect. But instead, how much tangible movement toward your dreams did you make? Success partners focus on results over process because it is through courageously pursuing meaningful EVENTS that you develop an innovative process.”
It is important to keep this difference in mind when acting as an accountability (success) partner. Try to ensure that you act more as a success partner than an accountability one. More on this below.
As an aside, while I agree with the abovementioned author that perhaps the term “accountability” has negative connotations, I will continue to use it to describe the relationship described in this article simply because it is the widely-used and accepted term for it.
Where to Find an Accountability Partner
So, who should you be looking for? The first and most important requirement is that you look for someone with an interest in the industry or field that matches the goal or challenge you are trying to achieve. If you want to lose weight, you should be looking for someone with a keen interest in healthy living or who is also looking to lose weight. If you want to write a book, look for someone who writes, someone who has an active blog, someone who writes poetry or something similar.
Yes, finding a decent accountability partner can be challenging, so here are a few ideas (including a few listed on the developgoofhabits.com article linked to above) to get you started.
- You can ask your friends. You may have a friend who fulfills the requirements of a prospective accountability partner.
- Check your network. If you have built up a network – even a limited one – there might be one or two who might fit the bill.
- Ask someone at work or other place where you interact with others (gym, social club, etc.). The convenience of being in the same location means that you can interact in person when checking on one another’s progress.
- Ask for introductions. You may be able to find a suitable accountability buddy in a friend of a friend or in a network connections colleague. Ask for introductions to grow your network and uncover potential accountability partners.
- Use an online platform or dedicated “app”. Examples include tribemine.com (which has an accountability partner function for goal setting and achievement) as well as the dedicated accountability partner app supporti. Both of these options will allow you to be paired with a stranger who may be in a distant location. You could also try apps or websites such as myfitnesspal.com or coach.me.
- Join a reddit.com group like Get Motivated Buddies.
- Search for Facebook groups that are related to your industry or interest.
- Search for forums, websites, and blogs related to your industry or interest.
- Join meetup groups in your area.
- Join your local Chamber of Commerce, Toastmasters or Rotary Club.
Make a list of all the people you know (or suspect) to have an interest in the area in which your goal or challenge lies. You can then approach them with a proposal (see the “How to Ask Someone to be Your Accountability Buddy” section, below).
Who to Select as an Accountability Partner
According to an article by Charlie Custer, research shows that the best results are achieved when your accountability partner is a friend. It has been found that it may be de-motivating when being held accountable by a stranger. As the author admits, however, these studies are hardly conclusive and it would be foolish to make a broad assertion that only friends should be considered as accountability partners. After all, many people would prefer to keep their goal-setting separate from their social life. Others may not have any friends that would fit the bill as an accountability partner.
Contrary to the above (and proof that anecdotal evidence can delegitimize research in an under-researched field) several experts maintain that you should not ask a friend to be your accountability partner. They maintain that the lack of a personal relationship between you is beneficial for when you have to be blunt with them.
I maintain that whether or not you choose a friend to be your accountability partner will depend on your personality and the personality of your prospective accountability partner. It would be silly to exclude them simply because they are a friend. However, if you do choose to approach a friend about being your accountability partner, make sure that they comply with the other requirements listed below. You may also want to build in safeguards to compensate for the fact that you have a pre-existing relationship in order that they do not hold back criticism to spare your feelings when the ugly truth needs to be told.
In her article on businessinsider.com, Rachel Gillett offers some great insights into who you should (and who you should not) select as your accountability partner.
- “Don’t use a friend. You want someone who can be objective, who isn’t too close to your life, and who isn’t worried about hurting your feelings …” she says, quoting Margo Aaron. This can be contrasted with the article by Charlie Custer (linked above) in which Mr. Custer states that research shows people perform better when held accountable by a friend rather than a stranger. I would agree with the latter view.
- “Don’t assume because you like someone that they’ll be a good partner“.
- “Find someone you respect and whose word carries weight for you“.
- “Examine a potential partner’s approach to their own business“.
In light of the above, the ideal qualities of an accountability partner should include the following;
- They should be professional. This means they should take their business and their undertakings seriously.
- They should be friendly. As stated before, this does not mean that they need to be your friend – although, as we have seen, this might be a better situation. They should be approachable and polite. Polite people tend to be more tactful, which may be important if they are going to be brutally honest with you.
- You should look up to and respect them. Ideally, you should consider your accountability partner to be knowledgeable and experienced enough that you could learn from them. There is no point in partnering with someone who simply checks that you do what you say you will. They should be able to offer insights and opinions that are based on their experience and that do not occur to you.
- They should be (somewhat) accomplished. This does not mean that they need to have won the Nobel Peace Prize, but it must be evident that they try hard and have achievements under their belt. This will indicate that they can stick to a plan and have experience achieving goals. Perhaps they have won an award, completed a qualification, written a book or run a successful business. These are all good signs. In short, they should have done something noteworthy.
In her article about this topic on entrepreneur.com, Stephanie Vozza also lists some non-negotiables to look for in a potential accountability partner.
- “Look outside of your industry“. This runs counter to what has been stated before, but the author suggests it to bring a fresh perspective to the challenges you face.
- “Choose someone who will be (brutally) honest with you“. in most cases, this can only be determined once your partnership has started – hence the importance of a trial (grace) period (see below).
- “Agree on consequences“. This is an interesting approach. The author suggests setting up penalties for failing to achieve certain milestones. I would suggest that you could also set up small rewards for significant achievements or over-achievement of milestones. Positive reinforcement may work better than penalties. However, the option is there and it depends on the personality types of the partners.
Admittedly, views vary widely as to whether or not you should consider a friend as an accountability partner and, to a lesser extent, whether or not they should have similar interests or be in a similar field to you. The answer, I think, is to be flexible. If you meet a stranger who you think would make a great accountability partner, then go for it! Use the prerequisites listed above to guide you, but don’t let them prevent you from using your own judgment.
How to Ask Someone to be Your Accountability Buddy
When you have found a prospective accountability partner, it’s best to approach them with a proposal. As with any proposal, you have to frame it in terms of what is in it for them. After all, they will most probably have goals they would like to achieve and projects they would like to complete. Offer to be their accountability partner in exchange for them being one for you.
Your proposal must obviously describe what your accountability partner will help you achieve and should also include some suggestions as to how the partnership will function, especially with regard to the duties of each partner, meeting times and method, duration of the arrangement and so on.
Here are a few additional salient points made by Rachel Gillet (taken from her article linked to above) relating to how you might select and approach a prospective accountability partner.
- “Be clear on what you want and need“.
- “Talk on the phone“.
- “Include a grace period“. This is a very important point. Suggest that you “test the water” so to speak with a two week or one month trial period in which you get to know one another and the way you work. You don’t want to lock yourself into a long-term partnership only to find yourself dreading your interactions with the other person. Agree to formalize your arrangement after the grace period if both of you are happy with the other. If not, you can walk away without any hard feelings and limited time wasted.
If they sound keen to partner with you, the next step is to suggest that you set some ground rules for your partnership. This will include;
- Set a day and time for a regular, frequent meeting, whether face-to-face, by telephone or online. This meeting must be set as a priority for both of you and moved or postponed if absolutely necessary. Try to meet at least once a week.
- Undertake to submit a written report to one another (a “Progress Report”) each week that describes your progress and the problems you have encountered. This should be sent to one another prior to your meeting. It will give them the opportunity to formulate feedback and questions that may help you overcome your hurdles.
- Undertake to speak only about your goals at your regular meetings. No small talk and nothing personal. That can be reserved for a separate occasion, if necessary. What is more, each partner should be given the same opportunity to speak, uninterrupted, after which the other partner must be given the opportunity to respond without being cut off. It is important that each party be given time to express themselves fully.
- Offer positive feedback before any negative feedback.
- According to the article by Charlie Custer, you should give “process praise” rather than “person praise”. In other words, support the effort invested rather than the traits of the person (their intelligence or talent).
How To Become Someone’s Accountability Partner
In this section, we’ll look at the way in which you can be an effective accountability partner. As a point of departure, here are two very important points from the article by the previously mentioned Rachel Gillett.
- “Don’t get into this if you’re not ready to commit to your own success and to someone else’s“. This point is extremely important.
- “Treat it as a professional relationship first and a part of your responsibilities work-wise“. This means that you must make weekly meetings with your accountability partner a priority.
These points succinctly encapsulate the key requirements for an accountability partner.
Once you start your partnership, remember to support the progress, not the process (as discussed in the section about “What It Means to Have an Accountability Partner”). This means that you support your partner’s achievements and how far they moved towards their goal rather than simply check that they did the actions they were supposed to.
Do Accountability Partnerships Work?
Yes, according to the research as well as anecdotal evidence, setting up an accountability partnership can and do work, if both parties to the arrangement take it seriously and undertake their respective duties diligently. It is clear that in-person partnerships work better than online ones, and also that partnerships between friends tend to have better results than do those between strangers. However, this is not to say that accountability partnerships between strangers who meet online cannot work. It simply means that the chances of failure are higher.
How to Get Out of an Accountability Arrangement
It may become apparent after you have set up an accountability partnership that you do not want to continue with the partnership for some reason. perhaps the other person is not pulling their weight, perhaps they are annoying to deal with or they are abrasive or rude, or perhaps your situation has changed and you are no longer able to invest the necessary time and effort into the partnership. Whatever the reason, when deciding to end the partnership, here are a few tips on how to do it properly.
- Do it as soon as possible. Don’t delay. Get it over with and move on. This shows respect for your partner and their time as well.
- Be honest but polite. Don’t beat around the bush. Tell them why you want to dissolve the partnership in a respectful way.
- Don’t lie your way out of it. Well, this one is up to you. However, lying can get you into trouble if you get caught out.
- Thank them for the time they have invested.
- If they take it badly, don’t take it personally.
- Don’t feel bad. If the dissolution of the partnership was necessary, then you have done the best thing for both of you.
And if your accountability partner wants to terminate the arrangement with you, be professional and try not to take it personally. It can feel disheartening to have someone say that they no longer want to be partnered with you, but it’s best to accept it and move on. If they provided a reason and it’s a valid one, take note of it so that you do not repeat it the next time you partner with someone. Remember that, no matter what they say, the problem might lie with them and not you.
Take a breather and then try to find a new accountability partner.
Finding an accountability partner can increase our chances of achieving our goals tremendously, as long as that partner is the right one. Choosing the wrong one can lead to embarrassment and wasted time and effort. Be careful when selecting your accountability partner so that you can ensure that you get all the benefits of such an arrangement.