The one about engaging your teams through ownership

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As jobs are becoming more and more complex, focusing more on creative work than simple tasks that can be automated, the value of an engaged team is becoming more transparent day by day. Teamwork and collaboration are one of the most common values that companies around the world share, and for a good reason. Teams that are not engaged are unlikely to be able to keep up with the pace as successful businesses are growing. 

If we put compensation and benefits aside, engaging teams is all about giving their work meaning and helping them make an impact. Google’s well-known research highlights the importance of personal engagement (through meaningful tasks) in building successful teams, and the findings have commonly been used by managers as a template. 

Even though businesses are aware they need engaged employees, only 15% of employees globally are engaged in their roles. 

For employees, everything is connected — one of the most common reasons employees change companies is because of a lack of professional and personal growth, where they wish to take on greater challenges and grow in their roles but aren’t given the opportunities, effectively lowering their engagement.

It is worth noting that, even though employees report that they wish to be more engaged and work on more meaningful tasks, they tend to not take ownership because they are overtasked and afraid they will get more work by trying to engage more. Unfortunately, that kind of vicious circle leads to disengagement where the most common phrase is “That’s not my job”. People think, erroneously, that this kind of thinking is reserved only for bigger organisations and collectives, but it can seep into even the smallest teams if the managers don’t address it.

Are things so bleak, or is there something you can do about helping yourself or your team members be more engaged? 

Engagement through ownership

Well, you can start by making the work more personal and helping your team members take ownership over their work. Taking ownership over your work or giving it to another person (if you are a manager) can be a scary proposition, but it can also be very rewarding. Whatever the outcome, by taking ownership over our work, we find our limits and challenge ourselves to do things to the best of our abilities because we are personally involved.

For managers, giving your team members ownership over their own work builds trust when they succeed, and having trust in your team members pushes you to give them ownership of bigger and more complex task. It gives you a perfect way to give them more meaning and assess their strengths and capabilities.

Managing a team?

Leading a team, or people in general, can be an overwhelming task but managers have to support and engage their team members to get the very best out of them. It might take a lot of work, but having team members that take ownership over their work, helps you in the long run. 
There are a few things you can do to help your team members start taking ownership over their work:

Start small

It might be tempting to come into the office and expect of everybody to completely take ownership from now on, but in reality, people are not willing to change drastically, however good the change might be. Start with smaller tasks that team members can take ownership of — meetings, team building, internal team guidelines etc.

Remove roadblocks

Your team members may be reluctant to take ownership over their work if they are overtasked and know that if they fail, they will be the ones accountable. Support them by helping them manage their workloads through better task organisation, prioritisation or talking to their stakeholders.

Stop micromanaging

People can’t take ownership if they are given a complete roadmap or a checklist that they have to follow to a T. Give them expected outcomes or results, let them work on their own and be there for them if they need support or want to check a route that they have taken.

Walk the walk

If you don’t own your work, why should your team members? Engagement starts with you, so always lead by example and be the first person to take ownership of work, even if it sometimes might not be in your job description. 

What about the rest of us?

What if you aren’t a manager or are having problems taking ownership over your work? 

Sometimes, your manager might not see that you wish to be more involved or own a part of the work, or you might be working in a role that doesn’t allow for taking ownership. Nevertheless, you can use some of the things mentioned above, like starting small and taking proactively ownership over tasks that might not be a part of your current role but could benefit the business. Also, you shouldn’t be afraid to bring up taking ownership and being more involved to your manager — the answer won’t always be a resounding “Yes”, but you took the first step to making your job more meaningful.

Engagement and ownership are complex topics that aren’t always applicable, and in a lot of cases have to be carefully integrated within a business model, but talking about it and listening to other team members can only benefit all sides involved.

In the end, I would like to leave you with a (little bit cheesy) short story that a lot of students have heard in one form or another, but it encompasses why taking ownership is important for everyone:

There were four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.


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