If you’ve created, invented, or founded something — be it a company, idea, product, or service — there’s no doubt that you feel a rightful sense of ownership that ignites your commitment. Any good leader hopes that their team feels this same level of commitment, but frankly, why should they? They don’t have the inherent connection that you do! Even so, there are ways you can help forge a connection that heightens commitment.
Assessing and authentically increasing your team’s sense of ownership is more complex than handing out raises and other benefits (though to be clear, those things are very important). In simple terms, if you do more for your team, you can expect more from your team.
In some ways, running a business or managing a project is like writing a book in that once it leaves your hands and goes out into the world, it no longer belongs to you alone. Everyone who interprets it and interacts with it has a claim. To get your team to care as much as you, encourage them to open up the book and get similarly swept up in the story. (This also means that you need to pay attention to the story you are telling as a leader.)
While not an exhaustive list, here are six strategies to assess and increase motivation and ownership on your team:
- Create space and listen: This is the foundation; if you aren’t listening to your team members, you won’t get any further on your quest to inspire commitment. You may be leading the parade, but you have to hear the band play. If there’s no band, you’re just marching aimlessly through the streets. The key is to create space for your team’s voices to be heard. Prompt them to give their opinions and ideas. Ask them questions and be curious about their response. And if they are not leaning in, listen to why they aren’t (it’s often not the reason we think.)
- Stop blaming personality: It’s easy (and natural) to consider our willingness to take ownership and responsibility as something deeply related to our personalities. This may be true, but it can become an excuse when we forget that everyone takes responsibility differently, so it might not look like what we were expecting. The magic starts when we embrace these differences. Keep in mind that we are much more likely to take ownership of things we feel personally attached and connected to, so if you want to focus on individual traits, start asking others about their strengths and personal motivators.
- Give agency: Give your people the capacity to make real change. People take action when they know they’re accountable and have the power to alter outcomes. Then, when they do take meaningful action or create results, reward them!
- Foster inclusivity: There are a lot of ways of thinking about and promoting inclusivity. Commitment through inclusivity comes from a sense of belonging, of unification. Inclusivity also means everyone has a legitimate voice and the ability to use it. When we are committed and connected to each other, we can get excited about outcomes that are important to others.
- Provide autonomy: Different from agency, which is the power to make a change, autonomy is the ability to self-govern. Offer trust and freedom so people can form their own processes and develop their own systems of work. For example, this could look like giving people the choice to build their schedule.
- Teach people how to disagree and commit: This is a principle of management that says people can disagree with a decision but still commit to following through if it’s the final call. Achieving this requires open, honest debate — a kind of task-based conflict that is both useful and empowering. Part of this is making sure everyone has a voice (see strategy 4). When you’ve created a path forward by including all voices (and truly considering them), it’s much easier to disagree and commit.
We all suffer when our work starts to feel too mechanistic, or that it’s coming from a place of “get things done and go home.” But if you give people a sense of ownership, they have a reason to care. Help them want to invest in your idea. You can do that by promoting an environment that values listening, agency, inclusivity, autonomy, and task-based conflict. There are certainly more ways than this to increase commitment, but it’s a good place to start the journey.