“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Though it’s been proven these weren’t Aristotle’s exact words, the saying has taken on significant meaning over the years. People can accomplish more as they work together, especially on tight-knit teams like yours. In fact, companies promoting teamwork are five times as likely to see high employee performance. Team ownership capitalizes on this fact.

Under team ownership structures, your team members will take equal responsibility for a project while leading collectively. Does this sound utopian? Too good to be true? Flat-out impossible? Well, it’s none of those things. In this article, you’ll learn how – and, just as importantly, why – to build team ownership among your employees.

What is team ownership?

Team ownership means that team members share equal accountability for their responsibilities and the quality of their work. Yes, we know – this definition might not quite be what you were expecting when we’re talking about owning teams. “Team ownership” doesn’t mean “the owner of a team.” It means “the team shares equal ownership.”

Team ownership encourages employees to ask each other questions like, “How are your tasks going today? How can I help you with this assignment? Will you finish your assignment on time?” It’s centered around collaboration, communication, and collective leadership. 

Pro tip

Use a meeting management tool like Fellow to allow your team to take ownership over meeting agendas, action items, and more!

Why team ownership is important

Team ownership is basically the platonic ideal of teamwork. It’s also great for you as a team leader. When everyone is equally invested in and responsible for a project, here’s what happens and why it’s great:

  • Distributes responsibilities. Team ownership allows a team to spread out the many roles of a leader among each of its members. This way, one person isn’t weighed down with leadership responsibilities. And for you, the person who’d typically be the team leader, it means a lot less work!
  • Strengthens communication. Team ownership builds communication among your employees since employees will constantly ask each other how they can help one another. A team with equal ownership and responsibilities is unafraid to put its questions, concerns, and advice out there.
  • Encourages collaboration. Team ownership takes collaboration to a new level. It requires team members to share resources and help everyone else with their challenges. When one person has a problem, they’ll know someone else on their team will step up to help find the answer.
  • Increases innovation. Team ownership is basically the logical endpoint of “two heads are better than one.” The more thoughts, ideas, and skill sets flowing freely into a project, the more your team will identify all the right ideas and solutions. Now imagine if only one person had tried coming up with these solutions without anyone else’s input? They probably wouldn’t have gotten too far.
  • Promotes growth. Team ownership is a conduit to training leaders and creating accountability. When your team members share equal responsibility for a project and constantly communicate, it’s easy to know when someone is dropping the ball. And as team members step in to help one another, they’ll figure out the tasks with which they most enjoy assisting. Extra training in these tasks leads to growth.

The difference between individual ownership and team ownership

With team ownership, everyone is equally responsible for approaching a group of tasks. With all that weight evenly distributed across everyone’s shoulders, your team will naturally divide tasks appropriately based on expertise, capabilities, and interests. It’s a win-win for everyone – the project at hand is attended to on a much higher level and more quickly, and your team has a better time doing it all. It’s almost like a (day)dream come true.

Of course, team ownership implies the existence of individual ownership, and that’s a thing too. Here’s how the two ownership types differ:

  • Independence vs. transparency. Under individual ownership, employees might receive their assigned tasks, put their heads down, and get to work. In other words, they might close themselves off at their desks all day, and there’s nothing team-like about that. Team ownership, on the other hand, requires members to be nosy (which is a good thing in this case!) with their colleagues and sharing their own progress.
  • Reporting vs. collaborating. Managers of individually owned teams assign tasks to everyone, and then, team members report solely to their supervisor or project manager. Under team ownership, team members often consult each other first and then collectively meet with a supervisor.
  • Specialization vs. partnership. With individual ownership, an employee with lots of experience relevant to a task will likely be responsible for it. Team ownership works a bit differently. More experienced members might offer guidance, but they won’t go it alone – the entire team will contribute and follow the experienced folks’ lead.
  • Mine vs. ours. With individual ownership, each member is solely responsible for addressing their tasks. This approach can blind team members to the existence of important tasks that have accidentally gone unassigned. Team ownership avoids this blind spot. Chances are your whole team will realize tasks have gone unassigned before a missed task even becomes an issue.

How to build team ownership

Implementing team ownership might seem to require a complete overhaul of your current workflows. Well, we have some great news for you (and this is rarely good news): You’re wrong! Introducing team ownership to your employees can be as simple as communicating your expectations. Below are 10 tips to help you build team ownership easily and effectively.

1 Help your team feel like they belong

Employees with a high sense of belonging often perform 56 percent better than others. By extension, when team members lack confidence in their roles, the entire project’s quality could suffer. As team leader, you’re in a special place to make that change.

How, you ask? Easy: Just regularly show your employees that they’re vital parts of your team. Don’t just say so – show it. Doing so means encouraging your team members to celebrate each others’ wins – even the tiny ones – and leading by example on this front. You’ll get your team members more invested in each other’s successes, which is a great starting point for team ownership.

2 Make your team feel like owners

People typically place a high value on things they own – this is why you may be hesitant to let even your closest friend borrow your favorite shirt. It’s also why you should communicate to your team that they’re not just assistants or laborers – they’re project stakeholders. When you frame your project like this, your team might feel ownership over the work and take greater initiative.

3 Align work, goals, and purpose

A Northwestern University study found a strong correlation between employees feeling a strong sense of purpose at work and making intentional efforts to improve their performance. Employees might struggle to find this purpose when their tasks are so all-consuming. When you explain how their daily work contributes to your immediate goals and broader vision, you foster that missing sense of purpose. And that means you foster great performance.

4 Avoid micromanaging

When you micromanage your team, you take on way too much of their work and hover over them like a helicopter parent. That’s no way to foster self-sufficiency or feelings of ownership over your projects. Instead, learn how to avoid micromanaging and shift your focus to the big end goal rather than the small parts. Take a step back, stop being a boss, and start being a resource. Better yet, start being a leader, a source of inspiration, and an open ear. 

5 Get input from your team

Implementing team ownership doesn’t mean dumping a project onto your employees and disappearing. It means that you and your team members will be equally responsible for the work. Of course, you’re still technically team leader, so make yourself available to your team when they need guidance, resources, or anything else. You should also encourage everyone to give each other constructive, kind peer feedback – improvement can come from within.

6 Eliminate blame culture

At some point, every team misses a deadline, makes an error, or underestimates a risk. (If only we could be perfect!) Resist the temptation to point fingers or feel angry over these mistakes and instead use these moments as learning opportunities. Plus, when everyone owns the work equally, everyone has some part in a failure. That means you’re all learning and growing together instead of casting off someone who slips up.

7 Reward honesty and integrity

Keep communication open with your team so everyone feels comfortable admitting where they lack confidence or need improvement. Honesty from your team can help you quickly identify and address a problem before it becomes a significant issue. Ask your team to be transparent so everyone can support each other and build trust. 

8 Reward your team for success

Everyone likes to feel appreciated and recognized. In fact, employees tend to show increased motivation at work when their managers show them enough appreciation. By recognizing everyone’s contributions, you further increase team members’ investments in their own work and that of others. To celebrate your team, try holding a super informal meeting to celebrate each of their recent wins or giving out thank-you cards.

Working better together

Team ownership can fortify your team’s power and abilities by fostering collaboration and a sense of responsibility. It encourages everyone to build their leadership skills while growing in their individual roles. As you guide your team toward ownership, holding regular meetings can keep everyone on track. Fellow’s meeting resources can help your team take ownership over meeting agendas, action plans, check-ins, and so much more.