Had you ever struggled with motivating your team and creating a sense of ownership for a brand new initiative that you came up with? Did you feel like you have to explain everything in a big detail and the team still doesn’t get it and the project doesn’t progress as you wanted? What was happening?
Your ego may be at fault here. You are pushing too hard, you want to show that you have answers to all the questions and dictate to the team what and how they should do.
So how do you spur an action and create a sense of ownership by the team for an idea that you came up with? There are several ways how to approach this problem and it really depends on personalities in your team.
Plant the idea
Imagine this situation. You just spent month thinking about an improvement of some process your team is using. You analyzed lots of data, talked with several people, and drafted a proposal for discussion with your boss. You then talked to him and he didn’t seem to be particularly impressed. But he said he will think about it. Two weeks later there is a meeting your boss has with all his subordinates and he introduces the idea and strongly pushes for implementation. He even invited people from other departments to get the necessary support. Not once on that meeting is mentioned your name. You feel disappointed, maybe a bit angry. But why? Is it more important to you getting the credit or implementing the idea? Your boss just took ownership of the idea, will push it forward and he will have better chance of succeeding than you would have. You should feel proud that something you came up with will be now implemented. These things happen and you should always look at it from the perspective whether things got done and not who takes credit.
Let go of your ego. When someone takes ownership of your idea the best thing you can do it to provide him any support he needs. Just be careful not to add “I had the same idea a year ago” as it would just kill the sense of ownership by the team on the spot.
Let me give you an example each of us encounters all the time. A member of your team comes to you. He is smiling, full of enthusiasm and says “I have a great news for you. We just finished the project two days sooner than expected.” And your answer? “Yes, I know.” Such a let down! Why do you need to show off? You just took something away from the person who came with the message and you missed a great opportunity to increase the motivation of the team. The correct answer is “That is great! You guys did an incredible job.” Who cares that you already knew about it?
Play Devil’s advocate
What does it mean? Essentially arguing points against your idea and thus not letting others to use them. It has the advantage that it pushes the team or your opposing person to argue for your idea thus making it their own.
This technique is a bit manipulative and manipulation as a general rule shouldn’t be part of leader’s repertoire. To make it more transparent you may want to make it clear to the team what you are actually doing here. When the discussion gets going you can make a statement like this “Guys I really like the idea but let me play Devil’s advocate here. I see this or that problem with it. How do you want to resolve it?” That way you stimulate the discussion, letting the team to find the solution and take the ownership while not lying to them.
Show vision, not details
Another way is to provide just a high-level vision, a basic outline of the idea but let the team figure out all the details. Even though you may have already pretty good feel about how it should be implemented just keep it to yourself. If you share all the details then you won’t give opportunity to others to take the idea as their own and you won’t be able to create a sense of ownership. The team may still do it but without passion and they will do it just because you are the boss and not because the success of the initiative matters to them.
All in all it is always about giving chance to others to contribute and do things their own way without you pushing “the only correct” solution all the time. And yes, in the grand scheme of things you are responsible for the outcomes of your team’s work so when things go wrong you need to be able to step up and take ownership. In the times of crisis stand by your team and work together to get it resolved and make sure you own the failure and take the consequences. The team needs to understand what was wrong, get the feedback, learn from it, but to the outside world you are the one to take the blame.
Twitter type summary: “Leader is visible to the world in the times of crisis. When there is a credit to be taken he stands in the shadows.”
What is your experience with marshaling a team to support your idea? Do you dwell on who came up with it or do you focus more on the actual execution and results?