Remember the good ol’ days of group projects in school? You know, when nobody seemed to care, at least one member of the group ghosted the project entirely, and somehow one person ended up doing all the work?
One thing they never told you in school: the group project scenario never really goes away. And if you’re a manager, it’s your job to make sure the work gets distributed fairly and evenly and everyone cares equally about the task at hand.
So how do you get the rest of your team to “buy in?”
The secret is ownership. No, you don’t have to literally give your business away—we’re talking about psychological ownership here. An employee with an ownership mindset takes accountability for their work and its success on the business as a whole. They celebrate wins for the business and make long-term plans for success. Ownership-driven employees commit to tasks as they see them arise, not because they’re told to do them.
An ownership mindset doesn’t only circumvent the group project mentality. It’s been linked to company success—organizations with a culture driven by an ownership mindset often see more positive links to employee attitudes and behavior, from job satisfaction to performance. And it’s something every manager can build within their team.
Set It Up For Success
One of the first things you can do to instill an ownership mindset is to set up clear roles and responsibilities that make sense. Maybe the reason Paul skipped your group project meetings for Spanish class was that you asked him to write the presentation—when he really would have rather given the presentation. Delegating the right work to the right people is how you get it done the right way. Take note of people’s strengths and specialties and ensure they aren’t wasted.
Then, explain why—do you expect Cara, a copywriter with a photography background, to effectively manage the creative direction of your upcoming project because she has a snappy wit and an eye for design? Tell her! That encouragement will inspire Cara to take ownership of the project and let her skills shine.
It’s not just about finding those personal moments of inspiration. Cara should know how her creative approach will make an impact on branding and sales. Your teammates should know how much they matter to the company. Numbers are always convincing, and your teammates will develop a sense of ownership around that success, too.
Lead By Example
You’ve gotta talk the talk and walk the walk.
If you want each individual on your team invested in success, make sure to consider them in the decision-making process. Give space in meetings to let everyone voice their concerns, questions, and ideas. Let the team collaborate on solutions together. Listen to their problems, and ask guiding questions like “how would you do this?” and “what do you think?” to let them make their own decisions. Show them that you trust their judgment and they’ll feel more empowered to figure out similar situations on their own.
Don’t leave your team out of the planning process, either. Being part of planning and development gives them the clarity they need to make autonomous decisions. Set regular goal setting meetings to set collaborative benchmarks everyone will be proud of.
And don't forget to give positive reinforcement and share the recognition for success. Give team members their roses when they deserve it!
An ownership mindset drives responsibility and accountability for the outcome of your work. An accountable teammate isn’t afraid to take the reins when necessary and takes care to commit to driving the team home. While you can’t make everyone adopt this mentality, it’s easy to encourage.
If you’re a good manager, you’re already providing constructive and actionable feedback. Coach your team as they develop their skills and provide them with resources to achieve their goals. This will motivate them to continue to try new things and be proactive toward your team’s long-term success.
Barry McCarthy, CEO of Deluxe, says your team members should be comfortable making an independent decision as if they were the owner, even when nobody’s watching. So as your team members grow and become more comfortable taking ownership, you should encourage them to start asking “what else can I do?”—and do it without being asked.
Work As A Team
An ownership mindset can’t develop in an “every man for himself” environment. Team buy-in is just as important as an individual investment, and it’s contagious. So when your team is setting goals together, make sure they’re also working together. Encourage regular cross-team collaboration and sharing skills and resources. Your SEO wiz might be able to use some guidance from your resident Excel expert. The team’s project manager might have excellent insight on a line of copy that isn’t quite clicking right. By working together and sharing these strengths, each individual’s success becomes enmeshed into one big team success.
The group has to take accountability for more than success, though. There are roadblocks in every big project, and group ownership keeps them from bearing down on one individual’s shoulders. A team fostering ownership will band together to tackle the issue at hand together—and they won’t be afraid to admit their mistakes. After all, it’s a guarantee you’ll learn, right?
Try to build a safe space to make mistakes, where the group can take risks and manage them together if they don’t work out. Give people a chance to build their own solutions and find autonomy so they can invest in the long term.
Let It Grow
Speaking of autonomy… your team won’t be able to develop an ownership mindset if you’re hammering it into their heads nonstop. Ownership is something that has to develop at its own pace. It’s up to you to set the building blocks and let your employees do the rest. Your team can’t take accountability if they don’t have room to see the whole picture.
Soon, you’ll find your team taking pride not only in the work they’re doing but also in each other. As you meet a deadline and the team celebrates a new accomplishment, you’ll hear three words to confirm it: “we did it.”
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