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  • Writer's pictureTai Rattigan

The secret to a high functioning team - Ownership

This image is a bit random, I was playing around with Dalle 2 to make it and now feel a certain level of ownership of it 😂

"Responsibility equals accountability equals ownership. And a sense of ownership is the most powerful weapon a team or organization can have." - Pat Summitt 

Patricia Susan Summitt was an American women's college basketball head coach who accrued 1,098 career wins, the most in college basketball history at the time of her retirement. Her team CRUSHED.

Ownership is "the act, state, or right of possessing something." That doesn’t sound particularly relevant to company culture. Yet, it shows up repeatedly as a company value - and I believe it is likely the most critical set of behaviors top performers can demonstrate. 

So What does Ownership mean in a work environment?

‘Ownership’ means behaving like a business owner. If things are going bad in a business as the owner, you must take action or you wont have a business anymore.

It means taking pride in something, feeling like it is yours to protect and develop. Like ‘having’ a family or ‘having’ a partner. These are states of ownership, despite not actually being in possession of those other people.

"If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month." - Theodore Roosevelt

Ownership involves accountability, responsibility, and high standards. Demonstrating ownership means being solely in charge of your decisions and their outcomes. 

Companies Valuing Ownership

For companies aiming for outstanding outcomes, fostering a culture of ownership among employees is often a strategic priority. When employees demonstrate ownership, they are invested in both their roles and the company's overall objectives. This translates to higher accountability, increased productivity, and a stronger alignment with corporate goals. 

At both Optimizely and Amplitude Ownership was a company value we lived by, and so many great companies have a cultural value where demonstrating ownership is expected, here are a few examples company ownership values:

  • Amazon: "Ownership"

  • Microsoft: "Accountability: We take responsibility for our actions."

  • Southwest Airlines: "Own your work."

  • LinkedIn: "Act like an owner."

Characteristics and Behaviors of High Ownership individuals

As Simon Sinek says, "Leadership is not about being in charge. It's about taking care of those in your charge." So how do you demonstrate high Ownership behaviors and identify coaching opportunities?

Traits and behaviors of high Ownership people include:

  • Accountability: Takes responsibility for their actions and the consequences. Sets clear goals and tracks progress.

  • Effective Communication: Transparently shares information, concerns, and updates without being prompted.

  • Resourcefulness: Finds solutions to obstacles and doesn't easily give up when faced with challenges.

  • Teamwork: Cooperates and collaborates well, placing the team's needs over personal interests.

  • Owning Mistakes: Admits errors without blaming others.

  • Asking for Feedback: Seeks continuous improvement.

  • Setting Boundaries and expectations: Communicates what they can and cannot do.

Beware these signs: 

  • Deflection: Shifts blame to others.

  • Poor Communication: Withholds information or misleads.

  • Low/Minimal Effort: Does just enough to check the box or avoid attention

  • Avoidance: Dodges responsibility and difficult conversations.

Empowering leaders to be owners:

"The price of greatness is responsibility." - Winston Churchill

So if we know Ownership is a critical company value, and we are looking for people on our teams to display ownership characteristics, how do we foster an environment which supports the success of high ownership individuals?

Here a few tips:

  1. Make room for people to take ownership, this means stepping back from dictating the direction of an initiative and even allowing people to make mistakes (and own them) 

  2. Put Ownership in your company/team values and communicate them regularly - every week at the minimum, communicating to a group is more like talking to a parade than an audience.

  3. Seek and celebrate examples of high-ownership behavior on your team publicly

  4. Promote high-ownership people into leadership positions so they can foster more ownership across the company 

And that's it, go forth and spread ownership in your organisation and watch it flourish!


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