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How to Encourage More Ownership in a Team

Learn how high-performance organizations foster a culture of accountability and motivate their teams to take action.

By Brier Cook  •   January 17, 2023  •   7 min read

The benefits of employee ownership are evident. Companies with employees who own their work are known to have higher employee engagement and morale

If you’re a leader at your workplace, you’ve likely heard a colleague or subordinate say something along the lines of, “I want to take ownership of a big project!” during a one-on-one or team meeting. But how often do you encourage your teammates to take ownership of new tasks?

Let’s explore what ownership looks like at work, why it matters, and 10 ways you can encourage your teammates to take ownership today. 

What does ownership in the workplace look like?

High-performing employees have three things in common: they accept responsibility for their actions, they are accountable for their results, and they take ownership of their mistakes. 

Put simply, taking ownership means bringing your ideas forward and being the person (or notifying the leader) who can get the project done. 

Ownership is about initiative. Employees who own their work believe that taking action is not someone else’s responsibility. When working with others, these individuals believe they are just as accountable for a project’s outcome as everyone else. Teams that are skilled in ownership have employees that acknowledge how their actions affect their colleagues and the group’s ability to complete a job. 

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Why taking ownership matters

  • Maintains consistent motivation: Teammates who take ownership of their individual responsibilities are motivated to follow through with their tasks. It’s simple: When you see others working hard to impact the success of a project you’re involved in, you’ll want to work hard, too. 
  • Ensures goals are aligned: Individuals who take ownership usually have a vested interest in their work’s success, so they want to ensure their tasks are in line with big-picture team and company goals. 
  • Encourages strategic thinking: Taking ownership requires a level of strategic thinking that some employees aren’t used to. Employees may have to step outside their comfort zones and think outside the box when taking on new challenging tasks. 
  • Strengthens team morale: Morale increases when teammates feel like their colleagues are also working hard and contributing to group objectives
  • Gives managers time back: When employees take ownership of their tasks, managers can spend more time focusing on strategic goals and bigger-picture issues. Managers also have more time to delegate and work on strengthening relationships within their team. 

10 ways leaders can encourage taking ownership at work 

1Share the why 

Having a clear vision to guide the work employees do as a team will help these individuals feel like they’re a part of something bigger. Get in the habit of discussing your team and company’s mission and vision during one-on-ones and team meetings and when onboarding new employees. Explain why tasks need to be completed so each teammate has the context required to do the best job they can. Ask for feedback regularly to ensure that your team’s work aligns nicely with the greater group’s overall goals and long-term objectives. 

2Take ownership as a leader 

The greatest leaders model the behavior they want to see in others. Lead by example each day at work by taking ownership of your own tasks and projects. Show your teammates that you possess an eagerness to learn, are an active participant in team meetings, and are willing to provide regular feedback and ideas. Taking ownership is like telling your team that you’re trustworthy, diligent, and reliable. If your colleagues would use any of these words to describe you, you’re on the right track. 

“Taking complete ownership of your own outcomes by holding no one but yourself responsible for them is the most powerful thing you can do to drive your success.”

Gary W. Keller, American entrepreneur and author

3Involve team members in goal setting

The most engaged employees are active participants in team and company goal-setting processes. Ask employees for their ideas and insights on upcoming projects and initiatives. Seek their knowledge when it comes to making important team decisions. Work with each team member individually to formulate their career path and set benchmarks along the way. 

4Share constructive and positive feedback 

As individuals begin to take ownership of their work, providing meaningful positive and constructive feedback will be important for their success. During one-on-one meetings, aim to share one piece of feedback that gives them tools to grow their skills and another that motivates them to continue the great work. Positive feedback should enhance your relationship with a colleague, while constructive feedback should help them improve their skills and increase efficiency. 

With Fellow’s feedback feature, sharing feedback is straightforward. You can use Fellow to give and get feedback as work happens during meetings, projects, and performance. 

5Practice active listening

When you truly listen to your teammates, you’ll be able to provide suggestions that empower them to tackle new challenges. Additionally, active listening will help build trust in your relationships and show others that you care about their work, thoughts, and questions. Ownership is a two-way street, so make sure to create an environment in which the members of your team feel free to express themselves openly. 

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

Bryant H. McGill, author and entrepreneur

6Hold them accountable 

Being accountable means being responsible for a project’s outcome. If ownership is about initiative, this means that accountability is about following through on your word. Set realistic expectations for your teammates and hold them to those goals. Encourage your teammates to deliver their work on time, within budget, and at your desired quality. If they fail to do so, work with them on an action plan so there are steps in place for them to be proactive and succeed in the future. 

“Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result.”

Bob Proctor, Canadian author and lecturer

7Avoid micromanaging

It will be hard for others to own their work if you’re looking over their shoulders the entire time. Fight the urge to micromanage by helping your teammates with goal setting and by checking in on projects regularly. Micromanaging will only communicate to your teammates that you don’t trust them enough to do their work the correct way. 

“Micromanagement is the destroyer of momentum.”

Miles Anthony Smith, marketer, keynote speaker, and author

8Show gratitude 

According to a Glassdoor survey, 81% of employees say they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss. Giving thanks can make all the difference. Show gratitude each time a teammate takes ownership of a new task or project. Give thank you cards when teammates accomplish major professional milestones, and make space for gratitude by creating a designated physical or virtual space for employees to share shoutouts and words of thanks with each other. 

9Build good relationships

Employees who have a solid relationship with their teammates and manager are more satisfied at work and even have better productivity and performance. To build positive relationships at work, set clear boundaries with subordinates, make time for your colleagues when they need assistance, show regular gratitude for your team members’ hard work and efforts, and find shared goals that you can discuss often with each individual. Building good work relationships is hard work, so give yourself time, be patient, and practice self-awareness throughout the process. 

10Give your team a voice 

As a leader, one of your main priorities should be empowering your teammates to become their best selves! During each team meeting, ask for everyone’s input on projects and call on individuals who don’t regularly speak up to see if they have new ideas to share. Carefully consider everyone’s input and avoid criticism in the moment. Regularly asking for your employees’ opinions will build their self-confidence and create an environment of trust. Once the seed has been planted that you care about their input, your teammates will likely be keen to share more ideas in the future. 

Parting advice

Encouraging ownership within your team is the key to creating a high-trust workplace. Aim to strike a balance between giving your teammates support and giving them freedom to use their discretion and creative problem-solving skills to deal with workplace challenges. If your team has struggled with ownership in the past, begin by making a plan with realistic steps that will help everyone own their roles. 

When you’re able to look at any individual on your team and feel assured that they’re confident in their ability to execute a task, you’ll know you’ve created a culture of ownership!

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