Taking ownership at work: How to create strong, autonomous teams
Interviews / Opinions

Taking ownership at work: How to create strong, autonomous teams

, Former Content Marketing Manager

Taking ownership at work may not be the first thing on your list of priorities for employee development. When you think about the skills and abilities you want your team members to have, you likely imagine hard skills like coding or sales techniques, or even relevant soft skills like communication and teamwork.

However, a sense of ownership can have a huge impact on employee performance, and it’s relevant across various roles, seniority levels, and industries.

Let’s look at why this mindset is so important and how you can help your employees take initiative and increase accountability.

What is taking ownership at work, and why does it matter?

Ownership means employees treat your company, and your resources, as if they were their own. They feel greater responsibility for outcomes, so they take more initiative.

This doesn’t mean that employees have the authority to make and enforce company decisions. Rather, it means they speak up about concerns to those who do have the authority. This mentality leads employees to act in the best interest of the company and their team, taking accountability for their actions and following through on commitments.

Henrik Kniberg explains in “Squads, Scrums and Spotify,” on TalentLMS’ podcast Keep It Simple, that creating autonomous teams needs faith and courage. Leaders should trust their teams to navigate each path and not just hand them a task. They should allow teams to grow, plus encourage them to reach success on their own.

Taking ownership at work: How to create strong, autonomous teams

What ownership looks like

Consider a common workplace scenario: something unexpected comes up in a project’s scope. Say an employee discovers that a new product release leaves out a key feature that management had earmarked for the next version. However, any changes at this point will put the deadline at risk.

Since they’re evaluated on finishing on time and on spec, many employees might feel justified in moving forward without saying anything.

An employee with an ownership mindset, though, considers the bigger picture. “I know this might put the deadline at risk,” they think. “But it’ll cost us a lot of time down the road if we have to rework the product later to include this feature.”

They bring up the concern to their manager with a proposal to rework the project timeline and get the product right the first time. This employee’s actions will not only save time in the long run, but it will also spare customers a lot of frustration.

More examples of taking ownership at work

There are plenty of instances where accountability and ownership matter in the day-to-day operations of your organization.

For instance, consider the implications when employees:

  • Recognize a skill gap and seek training to eliminate it
  • Admit to mistakes so they can be remedied
  • Ask for resources or clarification when they anticipate problems completing a task
  • Communicate their career goals so managers can help them feel good about their job
  • Ask for constructive feedback so they can make improvements
  • Speak up with ideas for process or product improvements
  • Propose solutions when they bring a problem to management’s attention
  • Take advantage of learning and development opportunities
  • Volunteer for new roles
  • Involve team members when problem-solving

In each of these examples, employees take initiative that helps move your company forward in key moments. When these kinds of behaviors don’t happen, productivity takes a hit as people wait for directives from the top, mistakes go unchecked, or skills gaps in your workforce widen.

Taking ownership at work | TalentLMS

How you benefit when employees take ownership

Taking ownership helps employees take control of their careers. But your organization also benefits when those who work for you feel (and act on) a sense of accountability. You see benefits like:

  • A more engaged team. When people feel empowered in their jobs, they care about the work they do and will invest time and effort in building their own skills.
  • Greater trust across the organization. When people act with accountability, their colleagues feel confident relying on them and leaders don’t feel the need to step away from their own roles to micromanage.
  • Better decisionmaking. Employees on the frontlines bring insights to decision-making discussions those at the top might miss.
  • More unified progress toward company goals. Empowered employees see the bigger picture and make decisions that align with business objectives.

All of these outcomes create a more positive work environment for employees and managers. They also help your organization stay competitive as you continue to grow.

So how exactly do you encourage employees to be more proactive?

How to help employees take ownership at work

Getting employees to step up comes down to motivating and enabling them to feel and act in the company’s best interest.

Here are five ways you can make it easy and rewarding for people to take ownership at work:

1. Educate employees on ownership and accountability

Help people understand what it means to take ownership and see how they’ll benefit. The what and why may not be clear, especially to anyone coming from a work environment that didn’t allow for autonomy or had a strict hierarchy.

Open your team’s eyes to the possibilities for the company and their career with a course on what it means to take accountability.

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2. Show people how their work aligns with your company mission

Employees want to feel a sense of purpose at work. Help them do that by sharing what your organization wants to achieve. Then make it clear how their work contributes to your success.

For example, if your mission is to help save the environment, share with your sales reps how getting your product into people’s hands accomplishes that. This will help them feel good about the work they do, and also give them a clear idea of how to approach customers and address their pain points.

This is why Henrik Kinberg also discusses on Keep It Simple podcast that fully using people’s capacity, creativity, and talent can only occur when they have the autonomy to make decisions independently. And this results in improved product quality, increased innovation, and even faster progress. This happens because teams can make decisions without any external delays. Plus, leaders are free from micromanaging and can then focus on true leadership.

3. Offer training in skills for taking control

Provide learning opportunities that will help employees achieve autonomy. Employees may understand the benefits of taking ownership at work and even be enthusiastic about it. But that doesn’t mean they have all the skills to make it happen.

Teach people skills like time management, brainstorming, problem-solving, and teamwork to help them make improvements to how they work alone and with others. Or offer job-specific courses that give them more confidence in their role.

For instance, train customer service agents in how to handle customer complaints so they can resolve issues without having to escalate them.

4. Train leaders to support employee ownership

If you’ve got a manager who micromanages and doesn’t ask for ideas, employees will learn to keep their heads down and just do as they’re told. Offer your leaders courses in delegation and empowerment, so they know how to give employees the freedom to be accountable for their own choices.

Coach them on being willing to own their own mistakes and show accountability for their actions as well. When employees see their managers and other leaders taking responsibility, they’ll learn it’s ok to do so themselves.

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5. Get your team’s input on things that impact them

If you want to empower people, you need to give them a say in things that matter. Set up opportunities, formal and informal, for employees to offer feedback on strategies, policies, and processes that affect their work.

These might look like regular email surveys. Or they might be town-hall style meetings where leaders lead discussions and initiate Q&A sessions.

They can also be informal moments like having managers include simple questions about what’s working or what concerns employees have in team meetings or performance reviews.

When employees know you value what they have to say, they’ll be more likely to speak up when it matters.

Establish a culture of ownership

Ownership in your organization starts with setting expectations and exemplifying the behaviors you want to see.

Define what success looks like by educating employees. Then show your commitment by ensuring leadership “walks the talk” by owning up to mistakes, listening to other voices, and encouraging employee input.

When you have a mindset of ownership and accountability, your employees will too. You can trust them to take action when needed and feel confident that your business is running as efficiently and effectively as possible.

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Christina Pavlou - Former Content Marketing Manager

Christina, ex-Content Marketing Manager at Epignosis, focuses on L&D, diversity, and enhancing workplace well-being. Learn how to improve your work environment. More by Christina!

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