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I once worked with a woman who would hold up a project if she disagreed with the use (or lack) of the Oxford comma. Or any questionable grammar, no matter how small or subjective. Consequently, correspondence would be late. Tiny projects would grind to a halt. She was unrelenting in her quest for what she believed was perfection.

Her perfectionism kept her from delivering results. 

If you or someone on your team is guilty of holding up a project because you are holding out for one last chance to edit, hope for one more comment, or because one person did not respond to your final email request, what are you waiting for?

If a leader (or a client!) lets a critical marketing piece age on her desk because of a design disagreement, or refuses to sign off on even a draft budget because there is a question about the equipment manufacturer, which team and which project is going to suffer?

Perfectionism is an insidious, and very real, barrier to accountability. Why finish a project if it’s never going to be good enough anyway? Why move from idea to action if there is no way you can meet expectations, or if expectations have never been made clear?

Accountability – getting something done – beats perfection. Every time.

Questions to Ask About Accountability

If you need to approach a team member, leader or client because progress stalls, here are some questions you can use. These will help you get direct answers so you can make a plan to move ahead:

  • What are the consequences if this does not move forward?
  • What are the rewards if this moves forward ahead of schedule?
  • Can you complete this as described and instructed? If not, why not?
  • What obstacles do you see that might keep you from doing this?
  • How am I going to know if you are on track with this?
  • How will I know when you are finished?

The Problem with Perfection

Among the countless teams and individuals we have worked with, the idea that something can be “perfect” is one of the biggest and ugliest roadblocks that must be overcome. Perfection is a moving target, a fuzzy definition of “done,” something that causes teams to bicker and lose trust in one another.

Perfectionism comes up in conversation a lot these days. Seth Godin says, “Ship it!” A colleague will mention the old saying, “Know when good enough is good enough.” And, of course there is the popular buzz phrase of a “minimum viable product.” These are all different ways of expressing the idea that accountability beats perfection.

At Facilitator on Fire, the practice of accountability is built right into everything we do. It’s one of the three foundations we have seen that can truly make or break a team: Purpose, Expectations and Accountability. In any given project, team or initiative, if any one of these three exists without the others, you will have something that is theoretical or doomed to stagnate.

If what you really want is progress, what you really need is accountability, not perfection. Just get it done.


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Kay Coughlin, CEO and Chief Facilitator of Facilitator On Fire, is on a mission to help iGen/Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X-ers and Boomers (and Traditionalists, too!) work together on teams that are higher-performing and happier.

Kay’s Great Teams on Purpose Mastermind helps leaders and managers build amazing multi-generational teams (register here). The skill she teaches in her public speaking, “How to be Heard in a Noisy Business World,” is part of the formula she created to help teams become abundantly successful, together.


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  1. Gary Monti

    Another great post!
    Yeah, accountability vs perfection can be quite challenging. “What is adequate?”, seems to be more in line with what you are saying, Kay. As a side note, one of the states had a huge settlement against it over the Oxford comma. That’s what led me to the “adequate” question.
    You are right, though, in that perfection ends up being a road block. It can actually be an excuse for avoiding responsibility, kinda like workaholism.

    • Kay Coughlin

      Hi Gary – perfectionism is a problem in so many respects! I like the idea of “adequacy,” and I try to use that concept with clients often. I think we could write a whole thesaurus around the theme of perfection.

  2. philip smith

    If you act as a facilitator and recommend/endorse a service to a third party which then goes wrong are you accountable in any way

    • Kay Coughlin

      Hi there – I would need more context in order to be able to answer your question.