Do you struggle with staying the course?
If you have a big life goal but aren’t making progress, starting an accountability group might be the answer.
Studies have shown over and over again that being held accountable is the key to success.
Learn what types of accountability groups there are, where you can find like-minded people, and how you should structure your accountability meetings.
- What Is an Accountability Group?
- Do Accountability Groups Work?
- Why Exactly Do Accountability Groups Work?
- Accountability Groups vs. Mastermind Groups
- Accountability Groups vs. Accountability Coaches
- Famous Accountability and Mastermind Groups
- Where To Find an Existing Group
- How To Set Up Your Own Accountability Group
What Is an Accountability Group?
An accountability group is a group of people who check in with each other on a regular basis to hold each other responsible for their life goals.
Accountability groups can have a certain theme — e.g., business goals or fitness goals — or they can bring together people regardless of theme.
A typical rhythm for an accountability group is a weekly one-hour meeting, in person or online. There are also groups that only meet biweekly or once per month.
A meeting is usually run by a session facilitator to make sure a certain structure is upheld. This responsibility can rotate among members, or it can always be the same person.
Do Accountability Groups Work?
Creating accountability is a game changer. Studies have shown again and again that if you have someone to hold you responsible, your chances for success massively increase.
The study most often quoted was published in 2011 by the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), a large non-profit association in the field of workplace development.
The study found that your chances of succeeding are a meager 10 percent if you are just thinking about your goal. They go up to a formidable 65 percent if you tell another person about your goal. But if you add ongoing accountability meetings with that person, your chances of success increase to a staggering 95 percent.
Numerous other studies came to similar conclusions.
This 2020 series of studies conducted at The Ohio State University confirmed that goal adherence is significantly higher if you tell somebody else about your goals.
This 2018 study looked at accountability groups for academic writing. After completing a 10-week cycle, the number of participants who wrote almost daily went up from 17 percent to 68 percent.
A study of 704 people enrolled in a 15-week online weight loss program found those who had an accountability partner lost more weight than those without one.
This study concluded that recovering alcohol and drug addicts had a significantly higher chance of staying sober if they had a sponsor compared to addicts without a sponsor.
The findings are clear — create accountability, and your chances of success will dramatically go up.
Why Exactly Do Accountability Groups Work?
Accountability groups create peer pressure. There are three stages to this.
When you aspire to a goal, there is a gap you experience.
You wish to be over there, but you realize you are still over here. Your aspirations and your reality don’t match. This creates an initial, mild type of pain.
However, this pain is private. Nobody else knows about it. So, it’s tempting to carry on as usual.
As soon as you voice your aspirations, your pain becomes public. Another person now knows that you are dissatisfied with yourself.
This works on two levels.
First, it’s a reality check. Before, we could backward rationalize our passiveness. But with another person involved, this won’t fly.
Second, we are social creatures. As such, we hate being known as someone who didn’t follow through. It makes us look like big talkers.
So, the incentive to do something increases.
Stage III is when you not just tell one person, but several people. With each new person you let in on your goals, the pressure mounts. Now it’s not just one person you might lose face with, but many people. Of all the stages, this one creates the most pressure to act.
Joining an accountability group comes with several benefits.
When you have to face the same group of people every week, reporting your progress, that leaves little room for excuses.
You must either do as you say or you must risk looking like a big talker — and nobody likes that.
A Board of Trusted Advisors
Whatever difficult decision you are facing in life, you can run it by your accountability group. You will get fresh ideas on how to deal with the problem.
When you join an accountability group, all of you will be sharing intimate details about your lives with each other.
The more you do, the more you will come to rely on each other. These are now the people you can count on.
The members of your accountability group will cheer you on when you feel down. This can make the difference between sticking with a new behavior and abandoning it.
Being part of an accountability group forces you to work on your communication skills. You’ll learn how to give constructive feedback. You’ll also learn how to deal with feedback.
Accountability groups foster goal orientation. They teach you to define what you want, analyze what’s standing in your way, and come up with a solution.
A Sense of Community
Going after your big life goals can feel scary. When you have a group of people who are going through the same thing, this will make it easier.
Accountability Groups vs. Mastermind Groups
Accountability groups are similar to mastermind groups, but not the same.
The term “mastermind group” goes back to self-help writer Napoleon Hill. He first introduced this concept in his 1925 book “The Law of Success” and took it up again in his wildly successful book “Think and Grow Rich” from 1937.
Hill emphasizes the spirit of “friendly harmony” in which the participants have to come together. In comparison, accountability groups tend to be more strict. Your performance is measured, and you get critical feedback based on your performance.
Accountability groups also tend to be more structured. There is usually a sequence of phases that takes place at every meeting. Mastermind meetings are usually more free-flowing.
Finally, accountability groups tend to be more specific. The focus is one concrete goal you are trying to accomplish. In contrast, mastermind groups look at your life as a whole.
In reality, though, mastermind groups and accountability groups oftentimes overlap. It all comes down to what you make of it.
Accountability Groups vs. Accountability Coaches
How do accountability groups differ from working with a paid accountability coach?
Disclaimer: I offer accountability coaching so I am biased.
First, accountability coaching is usually done in a one-on-one setting. That means you receive more attention than in a group setting. It allows you to dig deeper.
Second, when you pay for a coach, you can pick someone who has already done it. Therefore, you will respect this person more and try to live up to their expectations. In a group setting, you usually find yourself with people struggling just like you do. You won’t try as hard to impress them.
Third, coaches who specialize in accountability have heard every excuse under the sun. They will not be fooled. But they also understand when it’s time to be gentle with the coachee or give encouragement.
Fourth, we only value what we pay for. Spend real money to work with a coach, and your goal adherence will automatically go up. Joining a free accountability group does not create the same incentive.
Having said that, accountability groups are still a great tool, especially if you don’t currently have the funds to work with a coach. Don’t sweat it, get started with a group. You can still upgrade later.
Famous Accountability and Mastermind Groups
Accountability and mastermind groups are behind many historic success stories.
The Dry Club was an intellectual discussion group that met during the 1690s in Essex. Its most famous member was John Locke, the Enlightenment philosopher. All members had to answer three questions at the beginning of each meeting, “Whether he loves and seeks truth for truth’s sake; and will endeavour impartially to find and receive it himself, and to communicate it to others?”
Junto (Leather Apron Club)
The “Junto” (also known as the “Leather Apron Club”) was a self-improvement club started by Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia. It originally had 12 members from all walks of life, among them a bartender and a cabinetmaker. The Junto centered around a series of questions devised by Franklin but also engaged in community action.
Between 1915 and 1924, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs would take a yearly camping trip together to discuss ideas; hence their name, “The Vagabonds.” They traveled with a whole caravan of cars, brought a mobile kitchen, and were accompanied by household staff.
Another famous mastermind group was “The Inklings.” This group of writers met during the 1930s and 1940s at the University of Oxford. Long-time members J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis tested out early versions of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Out of the Silent Planet” in this setting.
Where To Find an Existing Group
The easiest way to get going with an accountability group is to join an existing one. Here are some places to start looking:
- Facebook. Facebook has a plethora of accountability groups. Join a couple to see which ones are the most active and have the best communication culture; then zoom in on your favorite.
- Meetup. In urban areas, you can usually find various local accountability groups through the Meetup website or app. Alternatively, you can join one of the many online accountability groups on Meetup.
- Reddit. You can find plenty of existing accountability groups on Reddit. Some of them are huge, like r/getdisciplined/. You can also use these as a starting point to form a smaller, more intimate group.
- Discord. There are a couple of public accountability groups on Discord, but ideally, you want to use these to get invited to a private, more intimate accountability group.
- Paid programs. There a numerous paid programs, that either focus on accountability or have a strong emphasis on it. Some examples are the Junto Institute, the 10x Ambition Program, and the Dynamite Circle.
- Accountability for developers. Programmers do solitary work, which can make it hard to stay motivated. Fortunately, there are several accountability groups for developers like Makerlog or dip.chat on Telegram.
- Men’s groups. Men’s groups became popular in the 1960s, discussing gender questions. Nowadays, they focus more on everyday issues like being a father, dealing with breakups, and accountability. Search for them online in your city.
How To Set Up Your Own Accountability Group
It is often best to set up your own accountability group.
This way, you have more of a say in things, like what the group is about and who can join. You can also control how many people will join; public groups on Facebook or Reddit are often terribly overcrowded.
Here is a game plan for setting up your own group.
1. Pick a Topic (Or Don’t)
Ideally, you want to start an accountability group around a certain topic. For example, if your goal is fitness-related, try to find other people with fitness goals.
However, depending on your location and your network, that might not always be possible. There might not be any people interested in the same thing you are interested in.
If that’s the case, form a general accountability group. If your friend Max wants to learn Japanese, while you want to lose 20 pounds, still get together. It might not be an ideal match, but it’s better than nothing. You can still hold fire to each other’s feet.
2. Avoid Lost Causes
When choosing people for your accountability group, steer clear of these four personality types.
a) The Socializer
Despite what they might claim, the socializer is not interested in accomplishing anything. They are just there for social warmth, usually because they don’t have many social options otherwise. They are a dead weight to the group.
b) The Philosopher
The philosopher likes to contemplate new ideas but doesn’t want to act on these ideas. They just like to feel inspired. But this entices other group members to also not take action.
c) The Sloth
The sloth thinks that they can outsource their responsibility for themselves to the group. They don’t understand that even when you join an accountability group, you still have to do the hard work.
d) The Star
The star attends group meetings because they want to be admired. Theoretically, if the star is actually successful, they should be of value to the group. But since they have to be the center of attention, nobody else can blossom.
3. Utilize Status Differences
Don’t make the mistake of forming an accountability group with other “average Joes”. It might be a great social experience, but it won’t produce results. You need a top-down dynamic.
Let’s say your goal is to build a successful business.
To whom would you feel more accountable? To somebody who has already done it? Or to someone who works at Starbucks?
The challenge is to find people who already have accomplished more than you but still want to join your group. After all, they get nothing out of it.
The solution is to make yourself useful to these people. Perform a service to them. If you are a graphic designer, offer to redesign their website. If you are an accountant, offer to take care of their books.
Another workaround is to hire an accountability coach, either as a facilitator for your group or for a one-on-one coaching setting. Here, the incentive is money.
4. Pay Attention to Group Size
You want an accountability group that is neither too small nor too big.
Personally, I find 4 to 6 people to be ideal. Less than four people and it starts to feel like a coaching situation. More than six people and it becomes too crowded.
Also, the more people you have, the more problems you will encounter finding a date that works for everybody. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Pick a Schedule
A major challenge with running an accountability group is scheduling.
I can only advise against scheduling your meetings flexibly. With 4 to 6 working adults involved, this never goes well. Somebody always has something coming up.
Pick a fixed date. For example, do your group meetings every Friday evening at 6 PM. If somebody cannot make it, that’s their loss. But there will be no renegotiating.
If you still want to schedule flexibly, at least use an online scheduling tool like Doodle. Avoid endlessly texting back and forth.
6. Kick People Out
If someone keeps missing meetings, kick them out of the group. They are not taking this commitment seriously.
7. Talk About Goals
When you start an accountability group, you should all sit down together and take stock. Define what each of you wants out of this:
- What is the goal that I am trying to accomplish?
- What actions do I need to take?
- What daily habits do I need to establish?
- What is my benchmark?
Be as specific as possible. “I want to double our revenue for product X within the next six months,” is specific. “I want to make more money,” is not.
You should revisit your goals as a group every 3 to 6 months or so. The more time you spend in the trenches, the better you will understand what you actually want.
8. Agree on Your Communication Style
Agree on your communication style early on.
For each of us to function optimally, we need to be talked to in a certain way. With some people, you need to be a little bit more careful when you give feedback, as they are easily hurt. Other people are more robust and actually expect you to be as direct as possible.
Letting each other know how you need to be spoken to can help with that.
Be careful, though. It is a fine line between communicating carefully and just glossing over facts. If someone is in denial about their progress, you need to let them know in no uncertain terms.
9. Create a Meeting Structure
Don’t just wing your accountability meetings or they will turn into cocktail parties. Stick to a structure.
Here is a basic framework:
- State your goals. At the beginning, have each group member state what goal they are currently pursuing. This is to remind yourself and each other what you are here for.
- Revisit your commitments. Next, every member should recount what daily actions they committed to last week.
- Report your progress. Tell each other how you did this week. Did you do what you were supposed to do? Or did you procrastinate?
- Give feedback. Let each other know what you did well. But more importantly, point out to each other what could be improved upon.
- Agree on your action plan for next week. Let each other know what exactly you plan to do each day during the upcoming week to move closer to your goal.
- Optional: Schedule the next meeting. If you don’t have a fixed date or don’t use a scheduling tool, take care of it now, when you have everybody in the same room.
There are two ways to do this. You can move through all phases one person at a time; or you can move through the phases together, taking turns. The first option allows for more depth, while the second option is better to keep everyone engaged.
It can also be a good idea to set a time limit for each phase and for the overall meeting. This depends a lot on how many people are participating; bigger groups lead themselves to longer meetings. But I would recommend no more than 60 to 90 minutes overall duration.
I said earlier that you don’t want your accountability meetings to descend into cocktail parties. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t continue chatting after the official part is over. Often, the best advice is given during those “post-game” conversations.
10. Appoint a Facilitator
You should appoint a facilitator who upholds the structure and pays attention to the time limit. Sometimes, it might also be necessary for this facilitator to mediate between group members.
Being the facilitator is a bit of a thankless job, as you will split your attention between keeping the meeting on track and talking about your own goals. It’s not ideal.
One solution can be for members to rotate. Every week, a new person has to step up.
Another option is to hire an outsider, preferably an accountability coach, as your group’s facilitator. This has the added benefit that the coach can draw on his experience. Also, they might point out things that regular group members are too timid to speak up about.
11. Weigh Online vs. Offline
When it comes to conducting your group meeting, you have two options. You can have an in-person meeting. Or you can have a virtual meetup via Zoom.
Obviously, the Zoom option is more convenient. If the members of your accountability group are located in different cities or time zones, it’s really the only option.
However, real-life meetings tend to have a bigger positive impact on your accountability. It is more painful to make excuses with other people in the same room.
Also, post-meeting discussions are easier to initiate. With online meetings, everybody tends to log off as soon as the meeting is over.
12. Track Your Progress
All members should track their daily progress and share it with each other. Google Sheets is great for that.
Keep it simple. Just note down what daily action you committed to during the last group meeting. Then, each day, write down if you did it or not.
This should take no more than five minutes but it will make a tremendous difference in terms of goal adherence.