In a country known for engineering excellence, an airport construction takes nearly 30 years to complete. Touted as a national pride, the new Berlin airport and the company engaged in its construction were trolled for being an engineering catastrophe. Just before the official opening ceremony by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2012, the safety audit grounded the entire airport. From wrong light bulbs to faulty cabling to malfunctioning fire safety systems, there were over a half a million issues to be fixed. Catastrophe indeed. Among many root causes, there can’t be a more classic example of poor ownership in execution than the Berlin airport which was finally opened to air traffic in October 2020.
Taking ownership is about taking initiative. We take ownership when we believe that taking action is not someone else’s responsibility.
In today’s world of remote and hybrid working, driving ownership in teams could be as herculean as pushing a ship from the port to the deep waters by turning the propellers with bare hands.
Here are six leadership practices that will help Leaders and Managers propel ownership in remote teams.
1) Inspire Enthusiasm
As much as it sounds difficult, it’s the easiest thing to do. A small team of 8 techies working for the digital business unit of a Europe based MNC were going through the motions. Their job was to develop software that would provide authentication to online banking transactions by asking customers to enter a secret number that would be sent to their mobile phones. They did just that. Enabled SMS text for every online transaction. Their young eyes lit up bright when their BU head explained that they would touch 75% of the banking transactions in the country and it is their software that would make online banking safe for the country. In other words, they understood the purpose of their project.
A leaders job is to paint an appealing picture of the work their team does and help their employees find meaning at work. These messages must be repeated often to ensure it drives pride among teams.
2) Connect with drivers
At an individual level, what really drives your employee. What are their aspirations. As Hubert Joly explains his turnaround story of BestBuy, every employee in every BestBuy outlet was given an opportunity to align their personal goals with that of the team and the company. One of the junior staff’s personal driver was to live in her own house. The store manager went about setting goals for her to get more exposure on the floor, trained her to do more high-end work, mentored her to manage customers asking technical questions and eventually put her on a path to manage a store. Why would someone do it. She had to move up the ladder to earn more and be in a position to buy her own house.
It not only helps connect the employee’s drivers to that of the company, it also sets up a high performance culture where everyone understands that the stripes have to be earned.
3) Involve your teams
Transparency in decision making, sharing good and bad news without filtering, being upfront rather than allowing rumour mills to leak information – these behaviours should be nurtured within the team so that everyone contributes to decision making without fear. Once decision making is democratized, it’s “their” thought, “their” idea, not yours. Which one do you think stands a better chance in implementation?
4) Social Contracting
This is the most under leveraged aspect of driving ownership once decision making is democratized. A team of 9 working for a Tier 2 Indian IT services company were spread across 3 different cities working remotely and many not wanting to turn on their video cameras in team meetings. Meetings never started on time with upto 10 minutes being consumed in calling people to have them join the meeting. If there were 3 meetings in a day, that’s 9x30 min = 4.5 hours wasted every single day. By facilitating a discussion among the team members on how team output can be driven higher and minimise wastage, every team member came up with various suggestions.
At the end of the meeting, the team agreed on a set of behaviours that they would sign upto and also assigned owners who will keep everyone honest. Hey presto!! 4.5 hours leakage per day arrested.
5) Support and Feedback
Feedback is often associated with giving improvement suggestions or negative reviews to a team member. Whereas what is really needed is authentic and constructive feedback. Try the sandwich approach. Start with a positive comment, layer it with an improvement opportunity and close it with another positive comment. Bread-Jam-Bread. Which one is sweet?
6) Appreciate and Acknowledge
After caffeine and sugar, peer recognition is the most potent energy booster in the world. As a leader and manager, create a team culture where people compliment and appreciate each other. Facilitate acceptance of failures and learn from those experiences. An Oxford University research says peer recognition gives the highest return to talent retention.
If these six practices are implemented well, typically the results would start trickling in from week 4 onwards and by week 12, you should have a team that’s bristling with ownership. Go, own your game, make it count !!
For more experiences, please connect with me on linkedin.