February 28

Creating an ‘ownership environment’

“The problem I have is that my team isn’t taking enough ownership.”

It’s a comment I hear a lot from senior leaders. My response is, “well, how are you taking ownership for that situation?”

That generally leads us into a discussion of the leadership choice and an exploration of what levers are available to a leader who wants to draw out increased engagement and ownership from their team.

Here are three of the most significant tools at your disposal. Combined, they form the basis of an ‘ownership environment’ that naturally promotes and encourages a sense of responsibility and ownership within the team.

Ownership Environment

Inspiring vision

An Inspiring Vision is the first ingredient of an Ownership Environment. People’s energy and commitment are NOT fixed, as the following example shows:

  • I’m on the board of a local charitable association. I often hear people grumbling about the ‘lack of commitment’ and ‘lack of volunteers’. Indeed, we can find it hard to get people to sign up for a simple rota.
  • However, just down the road a theatre company has just mobilised hundreds of people to give up days of their time to volunteer as part of an immersive theatrical experience set in the local castle.

The obvious question I posed to my fellow board members: are we giving people an inspiring vision that they truly want to get behind? Obviously not! Whereas the theatre company painted a very compelling picture of what they wanted to created, and people queued up to put in long hours in support of that.

Are you motivating your team with dry KPIs, or with a vision that speaks to their heart and to their ‘heroic inner self’?

Power To Deliver

Power To Deliver is the second ingredient of an Ownership Environment. It’s hard to take ownership of something that we can’t control.

Power To Deliver involves various elements, but perhaps the most common trap I see leaders fall into is that they add too much value themselves:

  • They give too much advice
  • They make too many micro-decisions
  • They withhold too much authority
  • They unknowingly rob their team of a sense of ownership

As a result, the team member no longer feels he or she is delivering their own projects, but that they are executing the boss’s ideas instead. And it’s toxic for ownership.

Clear Consequences

Clear Consequences is the final ingredient of an Ownership Environment.

  • Does it truly matter if somebody delivers, or not?
  • Is there something significant to gain?
  • Is there something significant to lose?

Often managers undermine an ownership culture by not having the tough, tense conversations with their team:

  • Do you ‘rescue’ your team by jumping in and fixing quality or performance issues yourself?
  • Do you let your team off the hook by not closing the loop when they do not deliver on their promises?
  • Do you avoid the hard conversations?
  • Do you fail to celebrate and reward people when they go above-and-beyond the call of duty in the name of ownership?
  • Do you promote vague bonus schemes that are seen as entitlements instead of promoting the achievement of hard things?

Creating clear consequences may involve structural decisions such as reward and incentive schemes.

But often the starting place is helping the leader get very skilled at bringing effective challenge and holding people to account.

To summarise - people do not have a standard level of “ownership” that they bring into every situation in their lives. Their level of ownership is often dramatically affected by the content in which they find themselves.


  • Are you inspiring your team with a heroic vision (or are you just focused on dry KPIs)?
  • Are you empowering your team to deliver (or are you intervening too often with low-level instructions)?
  • Are you offering strong accountability and clear consequences (or are you letting them off the hook)?

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