The Pitfalls of Peers Accountability

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With support swelling for Black Lives Matter and greater transparency into Aboriginal deaths in custody, the spotlight has been thrown onto the Policy of Peer Intervention.  We see Images of detention guards and police standing around doing nothing as their colleagues use excessive force. Within our teams often Educators are expected to intervene if they see someone not performing. In our latest post, we examine the failure of the Peer Intervention Policy as a tool for accountability and its persistent use in our sector.


Too often, leaders and managers are reluctant to call out poor performance when it happens. When the time comes for an annual appraisal they tick all the boxes indicating satisfactory performance. This lack of accountability decimates the service culture and destroys respect. When laziness or underperformance is condoned by the silence of the manager, good Educators become disengaged, eventually fleeing the service.

Imagine a Lead Educator uses inappropriate language to a child in the yard. A few other junior Educators are around but no other senior staff are within earshot. Whose responsibility is it to tell the Lead Educator that their language isn’t appropriate?

The responsibility to manage the poor performance falls squarely and directly with their supervisor. Leaders who declare, “We all have a duty to intervene if we see someone not performing” are making excuses for their own inaction.

In response to BLM protests across America, police departments are looking for ways to crack down on poor practices, including excessive force. Slowly they are trying to change the way they operate, but will it have the desired effect?

Dallas Police Department has adopted a “Duty to Intervene” policy to prevent abuse. The City’s chief of police states that all police have a duty to intervene whenever a fellow officer is using excessive force, regardless of rank. The new policy is meant to create a more accountable police force and prevent another death like that of George Floyd.

Unfortunately, this policy won’t work and hasn’t worked in the past. In fact, Minneapolis has had a duty to intervene policy since 2016 but it did nothing to prevent the death of George Floyd. The policy requires officers to intervene when they believe force is being inappropriately applied or is no longer required. However, the truth is that the department doesn’t reward officers for interfering with their colleagues or reporting that they broke policy. If they do follow the ‘Duty to Intervene’ policy they risk being ostracised from their department and a loss of trust from their colleagues.

A 2006 VitalSmarts survey found that 93% of people would prefer to put up with a colleague’s poor performance than have to address it. It’s unfair and unreasonable to expect junior Educators to engage in peer intervention. Furthermore, asking everyone to call out poor performance makes it even more difficult to hold the supervisor accountable for performance management.

Kerry Patterson, the author of Critical Accountability, says, “As much as others may need to change, or we may want them to change, the only person we can continually inspire, prod, and shape—with any degree of success—is the person in the mirror.”

To achieve exceeding in 4.2 we have to show critical reflection on how we operate as a team. Some teams may choose peer intervention others will adopt a more hierarchical approach. However, my preference is clear, when the responsibility to call-out poor performance is left to everybody, nobody steps forward and the team flounders. When leaders are skilful at holding Educators accountable the conversation becomes less of a reprimand and more of an inspiring conversation showing them the value of their work.

In our services, it’s the responsibility of managers and leaders to hold their staff accountable for poor performance. The burden of responsibility cannot be shifted or diffused. As leaders, that’s what we sign up for when we accept the role.


About the author:

Adrian Pattra is a management consultant with a Master of Education (Ed. Psychology). He is currently facilitating a new webinar series designed for managers and leaders “Educator Accountability: The Complete Step-by-Step Guide”