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#2: Empower Teams—Give Ownership

To succeed with a culture of trust, you must give ownership by empowering your teams—]number 2 on my list of free things to do.

Giving teams ownership for results increases productivity and motivation. Ownership is the opposite is micro-management. I expect each of us has experienced how micro-management de-motivates those being micromanaged. Let the teams decide how they will deliver the expected results. Then they have ownership.

Give up status reports and reviews. With empowered teams, you don’t need them. Not only are they a waste of your time and the team’s time, they cost you money! If your teams are preparing status reports, they are not working directly on the desired results. In a high trust environment, you will know team and project status because your team will tell you. If there are problems, they will let you know and not hide problems from you.

For project and design reviews, people do what they need to get past the review. Once it is approved, they no longer have ownership. One architect in IBM has stopped approving designs. He understands that once he approves them, he has taken ownership away from the designer. The designer is then reluctant to change, correct, or improve the design. So, after the approved design is built and when it does not work, the approver is blamed (someone who had no control over the build process).

Then how do you know how the team is doing? They will tell you because you trust them and the team trusts you. Use the Macro-Leadership Cube developed by Niel Nickolaisen.2 Together, with your team, develop a cube defining the boundaries of their work. This would include what are the expected results. Other sides of the cube could be budget, market window, purpose, considerations, and/or people. Let the team determine “how” they will achieve the results given the boundaries. While they operate inside the cube, step back. When they bounce against the edges of the cube or come out of the cube, it is time for you to step up and help them.

But, when you step up, don’t give solutions to team problems. Once you do, you have taken ownership. When someone asks, “I need you help. I can’t solve this!” Don’t reply, “Have you tried...” You have just given them the answer. Ask questions that help the team discover a new view of their problem. But do it without giving them the answer. Does this sound hard? It is. Focus on the idea of not giving the answers. Then, ask questions. My favorite one is, “How do you want to solve that?”

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