Ownership is an interesting concept. We have some understanding of what it means when we’re talking about stuff – we own the house (well, except the part the bank owns…), the car (ditto), the cat (really? does anyone ever really own a cat???), the shirt – ah, that we really do own. We bought it, paid cash for it, wear it and wash it. We went through a process…and now we own it.
But what does ownership mean when we’re talking about ideas or directions or outcomes, particularly for teams and organizations? I’ve recently facilitated several teams in developing plans for the future. Initially I met with the leaders who talked with me about what the issues were and about what they wanted to achieve with their teams. From one perspective, the outcomes were almost forgone conclusions: when I asked these people what they wanted to accomplish, they were pretty specific. And, as it turned out, they pretty much predicted the outcomes of my work with their teams.
Between these initial conversations and the end results, I worked with the teams and their leaders for many hours. We talked about what was important to them individually, about what was important to their teams and organizatioins. We talked about the present and the future, and about creating the future they were dreaming of for their organizations. We took time to hear every member of the team, and to listen deeply to what each person brought to the table.
So why go to all the trouble to bring people together for hours or days just to get to the end you knew they would likely reach anyway? One thing that decades of study has repeatedly shown: even though it might appear more efficient in the short run, in the long run you have to have time and individual involvement to build commitment. So, it’s about talking and processing to build ownership.
Now, I’m someone who is quite capable of being bottom-line oriented. Just get to the point and be done with it. That said, I also know that much of the time that simply does not work. You cannot order a sense of ownership and commitment to an outcome. You can get compliance that way: that is, I’ll work toward your goal while you’re watching, but if you turn your back, you don’t know what you’ll get. You can only get ownership and commitment the long, slow way. If you want and need that for a path-forward, you need to have participation in developing that path from those whose commitment you want.
I can just hear some of you saying – but isn’t that manipulative? The answer is that it is no more manipulative to involve people in working toward a goal you have in mind than it is to learn a foreign language in order to communicate with someone who speaks that language. If you want people to be part of what you’re building, you need to involve them in the plans and speak to them in a language you both understand. Having said that, you also need to be prepared that they might not go along with everything you had in mind, and it might not look, in the end, exactly as you had imagined it would.
By taking the time to build ownership, you will have a relationship that has been strengthened, a bond that has been developed and a commitment to an outcome from those who were involved – which are things that you simply cannot have without that time and participation.
Have you had experience building a sense of ownership? Tell us about it! ~Daphne Schneider