Every high performing team values ownership

I love how Amazon talks about ownership:

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.

We’ve all worked with folks who said, “that’s not my job,” and hated it. We’ve also likely worked with people who regularly invite us to do some or all of their work. Not fun.

High performing teams have four things in common:

  1. A value for effective communication
  2. A results orientation
  3. A commitment to learning
  4. A default inclination of ownership

This list came from my time looking at more than a hundred teams – from firemen to football teams, from ballerinas to basketball professionals.

How ownership works

When we think about ownership one way to think about it is using a basketball analogy. In a tie game in the championship finals, in a tied series, with just a second or two left on the clock, who wants the ball?

Some people don’t enjoy the tension, stress or pressure that comes from those moments. Others want the ball. They want to take the shot, knowing the responsibility of the moment. That’s one kind of ownership.

Another analogy for ownership comes from Chuck E. Cheese. Have you ever seen a mom or dad host a birthday party there? Sure, the venue does most of the entertaining, but someone has to coordinate the children, give them tickets, bring them to the tables for food, and clean things up. That parent knows what Chuck E Cheese will do, and more importantly, what they won’t do. And they fill in the gap.

When ownership is missing…

You know your team has an ownership problem when you start seeing deadlines missed and complex stories explaining why they were missed. Owners take full responsibility.

On some teams you see a lot of folks vying for leadership. But in teams with low ownership you see the opposite. No one wants to step into a leadership role. Owners step in to lead.

Are you an owner?

One of the things that hold us back from taking ownership is insecurity. We hold ourselves to a higher standard and it limits when we take ownership of something. We set the bar too high, assuming that ownership requires expertise and perfection.

But that’s not true.

Ownership requires effort and willingness to be held accountable. It means that our “yes” is actually a “yes.” It means we step into a challenge, not without fear, but despite our fear.

Don’t let your insecurities and unreal expectations hold you back from being part of a team of high performers. Step into the gap, ask for the ball, and take ownership.

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