• Mark Topley

Beyond authority - creating greater ownership in your team

Wouldn't you like a team who stepped up to deal with issues and make things better without you having to ask?

As well as being great for you, workplaces which encourage their teams to take responsibility for their work, good and bad, are more productive and happier places to work. Your team will also be more effective and engaged.

We've all had the employee for whom casting blame and dodging accountability was the norm. Whether they're plain lazy or just scared of making a mistake, they will walk past the thing that needs tidying up, avoid answering the phone call, or refuse to help when the task is 'not on my job description'. It's both frustrating and dangerous, because when you have people whose sense of responsibility ends with their authority, their attitude is contagious.

In my leadership career I've worked with people like this. Some were encouraged to find work somewhere else where their approach was better suited. Some changed and became useful members of the team. But however many you have, as the leader you have both the authority and the responsibility to tackle it head on.

Authority Vs Responsibility

  • Authority - the power and expectation placed on you by the position in the business that you hold

  • Responsibility - the ability you have as an individual to respond to things that need doing, and suggesting ways that things can be improved

Leadership expert Andy Stanley frames the topic really well when he says that 'Regardless of the position of authority you hold in the business, you should feel responsibility for other areas of the organisation.'

Create Ownership

And so to increase the level of ownership that your team feels, you need to do three things, we must encourage our people to regularly act and comment on things which are outside their level of authority:

  • ASK - Create both a personal habit and an organisational structure which continuously asks your team 'How do we make it better'?

  • OPENNESS - Encourage suggestions by remaining open and not defensive when ideas come forward

  • ENCOURAGEMENT - Reward people for taking initiative and responsibility.

The four steps that I have taken to successfully create this:

  1. Expectation - in your induction, annual planning, monthly team meetings and at every chance you get, set the expectation that you want people to make things better, and give them the freedom to step outside their 'lane' if they see something that needs doing or could be improved.

  2. Structure - ensure the 'Make it better' question is asked regularly on both a formal and informal basis

  3. Demonstration - be the example of the behaviour that you want to see in your team. I know that as the owner that's what you'd do anyway, but in addition to getting things done, you model something very positive when you show your team that you're not afraid to 'get your hands dirty' when required.

  4. Reward - what you reward will get repeated, and so spotting, celebrating and rewarding people who take responsibility, and make suggestions to make things better will create more of the same.

This stuff works. I had the privilege of working with some fantastic people in my time as CEO of Bridge2Aid in East Africa, and I lost count of the number of times I was bowled over by how well the team stepped up and stepped in to fix things when required. It can be the same for you. Yes, you will have people that have difficult periods and operate below par. But with consistent application of the four steps above can help to create a team who act like owners. A team who are happier, more productive, more engaged and create greater success for everyone.

For more advice like this, you should subscribe to my free resources - Leadership, communications and team tips in practical and digestible PDFs each month.


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