How to Build A Team Of Owners

Kate Lee By Kate Lee

By getting your team in the game with you, you end up with a far richer set of possibilities than you would have devised on your own.

As you climb higher in any organization, it becomes less important to always have the right answer and more important to identify the right people and develop the right processes to support delivery of your goals.

A leader, at any level, has two levers to drive the business: people and process. As a leader, your job is to marshal the most critical resources by putting the right people in the right jobs, then lay out efficient and effective processes that allow them to succeed.

Engage the Team

The hub-and-spoke model (where the leader is the hub and the team members are the spokes) looms large in many organizations. Hub-and-spoke puts the leader in the center of the action, exerting control, making decisions.

This approach may make sense during times of crisis and uncertainty—but one consequence of this authoritarian style of leadership is that the leader is the only one who owns the overarching goals of the organization. Pleasing the boss—the hub—becomes the only priority for each of the employees (spokes). Consequently, they do not work together and are not aligned.

The alternative is for the leader to create a “team of owners,” a cohesive group of colleagues who share the responsibility for the entire organization. There are leaders who intuitively understand that the responsibility for their organization is too big to be borne by a single individual, and therefore have a team of “A” players to help them sift through mountains of data and make good decisions.

Leaders who succeed in this approach are those who engage their team members in an open and explicit dialogue about the organization’s strategy and tactics, threats, and opportunities—and, ultimately, goals. By getting your team in the game with you, debating the options and developing recommendations, you end up with a far richer set of possibilities than you would have devised on your own. By engaging the team in that dialogue, you heighten their sense of ownership over the decisions and direction. This drives passionate ownership that yields dramatic results.

This is not about giving up the right to make final decisions. It’s about getting better inputs, making better decisions, and delivering better results. When you frame your role as the developer of a team of owners and drive your team through a good process that encourages shared responsibility and cross-functional cooperation, everyone wins. You gain a broader point of view, better information to make informed decisions, and deeper insight into the strengths of the members of your team. More importantly, you set the stage for getting the maximum aligned effort from the organization to drive superior results.

Demonstrate Vulnerability

A corollary of the “team of owners” principle is the importance of setting the tone of personal responsibility. It’s core to your role as leader. The way to do this—admitting your flaws and mistakes—may seem counter intuitive to some.

Over the years, we have run across several leaders who refuse to ask for help or acknowledge their shortcomings. While they are considered “the best and brightest” and have many of the characteristics necessary to lead, they are unable to see their own weaknesses or admit that they are not good at everything. They wouldn’t call for help even if they were drowning in a pool surrounded by lifeguards. Worse yet, some leaders refuse to own up to their mistakes. They consider admitting a mistake to be a sign of weakness. They fear that acknowledging any vulnerability will cause people to lose respect for them.

Being open about current and past mistakes tends to have the opposite effect. When employees see leaders act with integrity about their flaws and errors, and own their mistakes, this creates a culture that focuses not on blame or failure, but on responsibility, improvement, and working together toward the goal.

It takes courage to own a mistake, especially in public. We believe it is a sign of real emotional maturity when an individual can say out loud, “Here are the things I’m not very good at, and I need your help.” Placing blame is easy. Taking personal responsibility is tough. But doing so creates an environment that allows your team, whether senior executives or line workers, to admit their mistakes and improve.

Part of being a leader is to accept that anything that goes on in your organization is really your responsibility.

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