Encouraging Ownership

 In Blog

Encouraging Ownership

By Justin Wright

There are countless reasons why some teams succeed while others fail. Some cultivate a culture of contribution, where everyone’s ideas and opinions are valued. More importantly, these individuals actually want to contribute and own their roles. On the other hand, there are many teams in which members push blame to others for failures and try to shirk responsibility as much as possible.

So why do some teams successfully instill the values of hard work and ownership while other teams create passivity and lack of attention to detail? The answer lies in the culture of these teams, and whether or not their members feel empowered to take action. Learning how to empower a collective group is the first step in developing this culture of success.

Empower others

If you are leading a team or organization, being able to empower others to take action and show pride in their work is crucial to success. Even if you are not in what most would consider a leadership position, understanding how to empower others will increase the effectiveness of any group you are a part of. These strategies apply not just to teams in the workplace, but also to sports, friend groups, and families.

Empowering others and developing trust are closely interrelated. When you give a responsibility to another individual, and express confidence that they will do the job correctly, then trust is built in the process. This is where many leaders make a critical mistake that actually lowers trust amongst their team. If you have given someone ownership of a task or process, and then supercede them and take ownership back, it gives them the message that their work is not up to standard.

Leadership requires oversight, and there are often times when you will need to fix the work that someone else has done before it is finalized. How can you balance this dichotomy and still ensure that your team grows and develops? The key lies in a process that I call “coach versus capture.”

Coach vs capture

Mistakes are inevitable in all walks of life, on any team, and in any industry. Think back to when you first started the job you are in now. What was the learning curve like? For most careers, on-the-job training is where we learn almost every skill that we utilize on a regular basis. Many of these skills are developed through trial and error. When supervisors, managers, and bosses give constructive feedback, we learn how to fix our mistakes and improve the quality of our work in the future.

If our performance is corrected, and we are allowed to fix and learn from our mistakes, then we are armed with increased knowledge and confidence the next time we face the same hurdle. On the other hand, many bosses take a very different approach to these problems. Instead of using failure as a learning opportunity, they belittle those who make mistakes. When work is not done to their standard, they take over and make corrections on their own. These bosses are also likely the first ones to take credit for work that is done well, while also pushing blame to others for things done poorly.

These types of bosses are the antithesis of a good mentor. Instead of coaching and correcting, they take control and then subsequently take credit. Their team doesn’t learn or grow, and instead makes the same mistakes repeatedly. This then perpetuates the cycle of the boss taking control, jumping in to make their own corrections, and taking credit for the end result. These teams lack trust, and most employees work in a state of fear: afraid to make mistakes and afraid to deal with the repercussions of those mistakes.

The funny thing is, this state of fear actually causes them to make more mistakes. The human psyche is easily manipulated, and if we no longer feel safe in our teams, it becomes nearly impossible to function at optimal levels. The method of coaching instead of capturing helps fix this, and consists of 6 key steps.

  1. Give full ownership of a project to a team member. Explain the deadline, the parameters and scope of the project, and a brief overview of expectations. From the outset, explain that you expect mistakes to be made and you will help correct and fine-tune these mistakes throughout the process. Set a deadline before the final due-date so that there is time for multiple iterations as needed.
  2. Allow the team member to work through the project at their own pace and with their own vision. Help establish a timeline for steps of the project early on, but allow them the freedom to reach these checkpoints on their own. Trust is built when team members are given full freedom to complete a task.
  3. Be available for help and guidance throughout the process as needed, but emphasize that you will not interject or check in frequently unless those check-ins are necessary. When key milestones are reached, you can touch base to see if additional help is required.
  4. When the first iteration of the project is complete, meet with the team member and review the results. Provide constructive criticism as well as assistance with how to make the suggested corrections. Keep ownership of the project in the hands of the person it was given to!
  5. Repeat the above steps until a final version is complete. Give a final seal of approval and submit this version. No additional corrections can be made or the trust built throughout this process will be destroyed. If any changes need to be made, the person who performed the task or project must be involved.
  6. Debrief the project after it has been completed. Review the mistakes made and hurdles overcome with the individual. Use this opportunity to teach and provide guidance and mentorship for future situations.

If done correctly, this process empowers the individual to own the success or failure of a project, teaches them important lessons for how to overcome these obstacles in the future, and develops trust between the leader and the team. Junior members of the team mature, grow, and learn, while more senior members of the team see a positive example of trust and collaboration being built. The leader is a guide and a teacher, but they do not overtake control and supercede their team.

Effective leadership

The method of coach versus capture is applicable on any team, in any industry. Imagine if more leaders empowered their team to take action and actually developed trust and confidence in those team members to do the job correctly! When trust is present, team members feel safe enough to make and learn from mistakes. Instead of covering up failures, these failures are used as opportunities for growth. Whether you are the boss of a large corporation, the captain of a small team, or the head of your household, these strategies will earn the respect and admiration of those who follow you.

In short, teams who successfully implement these policies are more successful. When the members of that team actually feel as if they fully own the projects they are working on, they take more pride in that work. When they know that they have the support of their leaders to function independently, they produce better quality work. Furthermore, when a culture of safety, autonomy, and ownership is cultivated, the morale of the team is highest. If more companies focused on cultivating a culture of ownership and trust, the positive impact they could effectively create would increase exponentially.



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