Front-loading: A tool to support the “Accountability Norm”

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a1sx2_Thumbnail1_Climbers-resized-for-facebook-cover-1.jpgArticle by Jim Jensen

In my last post (Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team: Accountability = Support?) I talked about the potential value of reframing holding someone accountable as providing support, and how having that shared definition and mindset can make that critical behavior for building cohesive teams more likely to happen.

Imagine that your leadership team has built enough trust that team members can open up about their potential strengths and blind spots. Imagine too, that you’ve all been able to give and receive supportive feedback around strengths and blind spots and their impact.  Now imagine that you’ve all truly given each other permission to provide “accountability support”. If you haven’t quit reading by now, I’m assuming you would think that that’s a good vision. Yet even with that shared definition, and even with permission, it can still be challenging.

We share a simple tool in our team development process that can help. That’s not to say it makes it easy, but it can help. It’s called front-loading…

We define front-loading as making a statement or asking a question with the intent of ensuring effective communication. If you have the ability to do this effectively it allows for two things. One, it “paves the way” making it easier, “safer”, or more comfortable for the one giving the feedback. Therefore, they are more likely to take the responsible risk. Two, it may “disarm” the person hearing the feedback so they are more open to hearing it. The intent is to avoid pushing those ever-so-easy-to-push buttons that we all have that create defensiveness.

Once you learn about, and start thinking more about front-loading, you’ll notice that people do it all the time… naturally. So why talk about it if people do it naturally? We talk about it so it becomes more conscious. If you are more conscious about a tool you are more likely to use it. That’s one reason. Another is to help people enhance the skill of reading interpersonal dynamics. When you hear a front-load, what does that tell you? Often it tells you that the person has a concern. It may be a small concern, it may be huge; but there is a concern. If people are aware of a concern it can help them listen better and seek more to understand. And, if people are seeking more to understand, the message and the intent, it’s more likely that they won’t go quickly to “reaction” mode.

I thought I might put together a list of potential front-loading statements for you to consider as you ponder the concept, what fits with your style, how to make it your own, and how to use the tool more effectively. For each example, think about what concern might be motivating the front-load and how the front-load might impact that concern. Remember to pay close attention to how a front-load is said. If the intent truly is respectful and supportive then you are likely to sound respectful and supportive. Remember too that no tool will work well without having a trusting relationship already established. There will be a brief, voluntary assignment at the end of this list.


  • John, I’ve got information that I could share with you but it might p… you off (a.k.a. tick you off). Do you want it?
  • Cindy, I’ve got information that I could share with you but I’m concerned you might not hear what I’m really trying to say.
  • Shauna, I have feedback for you if you are open to it.
  • Rich, can I give you some feedback?
  • Jack, remember when you told us that you wanted feedback if we thought you might be about to step into a blind spot? Are you still in that mode?
  • Devon, this is my perception… (That front-load, in my opinion, is way underutilized… because it usually is just that, your perception. Stating perceptions as fact is more likely to create resistance and defensiveness. It can make people put up a wall before they’ve even tried to understand the message.)
  • Pete, if I had a different opinion would you want to hear it?
  • Steve, I want to give you some feedback and it’s intended as support. Let me know if it doesn’t feel like it.
  • Ann, this feels like a bit of a risk…(always an attention getter :-))
  • Adrienne, do you have feedback for me?
  • Sheila, I need some feedback from you, and please be honest.
  • Donnel, if there are things I could do differently to support you I really need to know what they are.
  • Jim, I don’t want you to give me a decision on this right now… just think about it. (That’s a good one for people who listen too quickly or tend to give knee-jerk reactions.) Or my wife’s version: Jim, don’t axe this right away… (By the way, that usually works.)
  • Chip, can I share my thoughts on some group dynamics that I’m noticing? I’m not sure people are hearing each other. (That was a double-front-load combination.)
  • Deb, I want to take a risk, and to be honest, I think I’m going to stumble trying to articulate this. Any help you can provide would be appreciated.
  • Alex, permission to speak freely? (Unless you’re in the military that usually requires just a touch of humor… and that’s okay. And, if you are/were in the military, that question is definitely a front-load.)
  • Juanita, got a minute? There’s a conversation I need to have with you and I’m not sure where to start.
  • Victor, OK…I’m going to start with a front-load, then an apology, then a request… That was the front-load… :-)
  • Derek, I need your honest opinion on this, especially if it’s different than mine.


The list could go on. Also, don’t forget the value of circling back if you have questions about your impact or how you came across. “How did I come across just now (or in yesterday’s meeting)? Can you give me some feedback?’” (Perhaps the most underutilized question in the workplace)

And now, if you’re up for it, I’m going to suggest a brief assignment that no one but you can hold you accountable for. Take a minute right now and think of a situation that you might be avoiding that would allow an opportunity for healthy conflict or support. Write down, or think about a potential front-loading statement that might make it easier for you to begin the discussion or might make it easier for someone else to hear what you have to say. Then try it out.  You don’t have to get tricky. Most often just telling the truth is a healthy and effective way to start.  Feel free to make healthy use of the “water cooler” if you are open to someone helping you with this. I’ll really know that this post has had an impact when we get a phone call or email from one of you letting us know how it went. If it went well…great. Let me know. If it did not go as well as you would have hoped…that could be great too.  Another learning opportunity, and at least you took the responsible risk and tried it. Maybe we can help you debrief the interaction and think of ways you might approach it differently. Or, you could also discuss with your comrade what might have been better than what you tried. Remember too that a front-loading statement or question should just be the beginning of a meaningful conversation.

I hope you found this helpful.

Crux Move Consulting is an Authorized Partner Provider of The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.

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Guest Tuesday, 16 January 2018

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