Own it: The power of ownership in team culture

A great team culture is always the fruit of your organizational habits.

 

Leaders are always searching for the key ingredients that will create a special culture within their organization. Great culture can take your team’s perforce to the next level.

 

When you think about it, growing dynamic culture is a lot like farming. 

 

All farmers would love to harvest their fruit without having to go through the faming process. But a farmer know that he only reaps the fruit of his labor when he has gone through the hard work of planting the seeds, watering the saplings, and pruning the branches as the trees grow and mature. 

 

In the same way, your team will harvest the sweet fruit of a successful culture only when you (the leader) have done the hard work of growing the garden. 

 

Think about an apple orchard.

 

Just as there are universal characteristics that describe a good apple (i.e. crispness, juiciness, sweetness, etc), there are ubiquitous markers the inevitably mark every successful team culture.

 

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Of course, the manifestations of a team’s core principles might look different from the outside – just as eating a red delicious apple differs from biting into a granny smith. But healthy culture is healthy culture no matter the variations in flavor. Everyone can recognize a good apple when they eat one – regardless of shape, look, or taste associated with different varieties.

 

Taking our metaphor onto the basketball court, we would expect that Coach K’s culture at Duke will look different than Shaka Smart’s culture at Texas. Both programs might appear different from the outside (just as apples come in different shapes, sizes, and colors) but great culture produces good apples all the same. 

 

This is the direction we’re headed.

 

I’m not so much interested (at least right now, if you want to read more about what you need to do to start planting for the future, read this here and here and here) in whether your team’s culture is producing Honeycrsips or Braeburns, as much as I am in whether anyone would want to buy your apples at all.

 

Does your team culture display the markers that characterize all great culture?

 

Its time for a taste test.

 

In the next several weeks we will explore the specific qualities that are true of great team cultures regardless of context. These principles are lasting, universal, and extend across all businesses and disciplines. 

 

These qualities are telltale signs that your team has created a culture of a excellence.

 

Today we’ll look at the first characteristic.

 

The first quality of all great culture is “ownership”.

 

In exploring this topic, we will specifically look at:

 

1. The Difference between Owners and Renters

 

2. Fighting the Victim Complex

 

3. Growth Exercise: Creating Ownership in Your Team

 

Owners and Renters

Successful cultures are full of owners, not renters. Anyone who has ever bought a home instantly understands this comparison.

 

The difference between owners and renters is that they operate from a completely dissimilar set of premises. Their worlds are structured on a number of divergent assumptions that drastically shape how they operate. It is this mindset that has a powerful impact on the tone and ethos of your team’s culture.

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Here are 3 unique differences that distinguish owners from renters.

 

1. Owners Embrace Responsibility. Renters Pass the Blame.

Responsibility is inherently part of ownership. When you are the owner of a house and something breaks, you have to figure out how to fix it. If you don’t figure out how to fix whats broken, then it will stay broken!

 

Owners are invested in their homes on a number of different levels. They are legally, financially, and materially invested in caring for their house. Great culture is no different. 

 

When a team is full of owners, they become deeply invested on a number of different levels.

 

Every great team is made of people that take ownership for the success or failure of their team.

 

They don’t run away from responsibility, they embrace it.

 

They understand that passing the blame to someone else doesn’t fix anything. They know that the strength of the team is dependent on everyone’s ability to own the outcome – this can seem easy when things are going well, but this concept of ‘embracing responsibility’ becomes a lot more difficult when teams start losing.

 

Next time you think about it, watch how the most respected sports franchises handle defeat. The most poignant example in the NBA right now is the San Antonio Spurs. Regardless of how they lose a game you will never hear anyone make comments to the media passively inferring blame on a teammate or coach. 

 

Contrast that approach with how an organization like the Sacramento Kings operate.

 

Everyone from the players to management will try to pass the blame whenever they get a chance. Management passes the blame to the coach (they are on their 4th coach in 3 years), which sets the tone for the players to either blame each other or pass the blame back to management or the coaching staff – for a fascinating look into the dysfunctional King’s culture check this out).

 

2. Owners Build. Renters Take Shortcuts.

When you own something you take care of it. You are concerned with doing things the right way because you have to live in your own house. No one else has to deal with the consequences of poor craftsmanship or cheap work. Owners know that shortcuts and quick-fixes will come back to burn them down the road. 

 

To illustrate this point I want to share a story that leadership coach Joshua Medcalf tells about a house builder named John (to watch the video where Joshua tells this story, click here). In my own words, the story goes something like this:

 

‘John had dedicated his whole life to building great houses. He had poured everything into his craft and was well-respected in his industry. He was a highly sought after builder because of the quality of his craftsmanship and his attention to detail. 

As John got older and was getting ready to retire he began to grow tired of his work. One day when John was getting ready to put in his two weeks notice of retirement, his company asked him for one last favor: they asked him to build one last house. 

Begrudgingly he agreed. But instead of his usual quality and attention to detail John started to cut corners. He settled for cheaper material and was often absent from the build site. He was simply going through the motions. 

After the house was finished his employer called him in and gave him a retirement present as a thank you for all of his years of hard work. John’s boss handed him a small box with a shiny set of house keys inside. They were giving him the house he had built.

John’s heart sank because in his heart he knew he had cut corners and taken shortcuts. He was upset because he never realized that he was building his own house the entire time.’

 

Owners realize that everything they do matters because you’re always building your own house. You are the foreman and builder of your own life. You are the one that draws the blueprints and hammers the nails. You are the one that is slowly building your own house every single day. When you get up in the morning to the time you go to bed you are building something. You can take shortcuts or cut corners, but remember that you are always building.

 

Houses are built brick by brick every single day. In the same way, your life is built brick by brick by choices you make. The sad thing is that just like John, some people never make that connection. Some people never realize that they are building their own house.

 

3. Owners make Investments. Renters make Excuses.

 

Owning a home is a lot of work. You have to find a house, get approved for a loan, move your things, pay your mortgage and taxes, care for your property, etc etc. Owning a house take a significant amount of investment. 

 

Here’s the truth about owners vs. renters.

 

Owners make investments while renters make excuses.

 

Owners make the greatest amount of investment because they have a personal interest in the outcome. The interesting thing about investment is that the more someone puts into something, the harder they will fight when problems arise.

 

When you have invested your time, talents, money, heart, and soul into something it is nearly impossible to give-up when tough times come around. Why? Because it costs you dearly to walk away. 

 

On the flip side, when you haven’t invested anything, its easy to walk away if the house comes crashing down.

 

Great teams are filled with players who take ownership of the team. They bear the responsibility because they have made the investment. Owners are the last to give up because failure will cost them everything. Owners are willing to go down with the ship because they don’t have a life raft to jump onto. Everything they have is in the ship.

 

Is your team filled with owners? Or do you have a team of part-time tenants? 

 

Fighting the Victim Complex

Anyone who has ever been in a position of leadership has heard phrases like:

 

“I don’t understand why he does that, he’s dragging the team down”

“I can’t play in this system, its not designed to use my strengths”

“We can’t win when he makes decisions like that”

“The other teams have it so much easier, if only we had _____ like they do, we would be better”

 

These are all types of statements of someone who is playing acting like a victim. The majority of leaders/coaches know these types of players all too well. A victim mentality can spread like gangrene inside an infected wound. The victim mentality is extremely contagious and can easily spread to whoever comes in contact with it.

 

As a leader you need to be able to recognize the victim mentality and immediately find an antibiotic. Here are a few of the harmful affects that the victim mentality can have on your team.

 

Victims shift the focus from ‘we’ to ‘me’ – Most complaints coming from victims are centered around personal interests that fail to consider the good of the team

 

Victims create a sense of hopelessness – victims use anecdotal evidence to support their claim that nothing with will ever get better and nothing they do can help the situation at hand.

 

Victims cause division – a victim mentality is a self-focused way to think, which causes the victim to segregate with others that share their sentiments. This can cause division and ruin team unity.

 

Leaders must fight against the victim mentality because it can undermine and destroy your team’s culture. Learn to recognize the signs and confront the issue head-on. 

 

Growth Exercise

Creating Ownership in Your Team

 

Every great basketball team is full of players that take responsibility for what happens on and off the court. When problems come up (i.e. losing games, off court issues, lack of focus, uninspired practices, etc) they will look in the mirror for answers first.

 

The most crucial aspect of creating ownership in your team is for you (the leader) to actively live out the values in front of the entire group. 

 

Remember, that the vision for what ownership looks like is more easily “caught” than “taught”. Become the owner that you want your team to embrace.

 

That being said, there can (and should) be a formal component within your program that will encouraging buy-in and promote ownership inside your locker room. Here are 3 practical applications for how you can do that:

 

1. Create a Ownership Contract

Create a “ownership” contract that everyone on the team has to sign and commit to. It usually works best if you and the leaders of your team come up with the specifics of the contract together – this creates larger buy-in because your players are setting standards for themselves.

This contract can be used as a standard of accountability that can be easily referenced throughout the year.

 

2. Create an Owners vs. Renters List

Come up with a list of differences (again this is best done within the context of the group) that contrast the difference between acting like an owner vs a renter (feel free to steal the ones listed above too!). 

Hang the list in your locker room to serve as a daily reminder to everyone on the team.

 

3. Use the, “Building your own house” metaphor

Use the concept of building your own house in a creative way to celebrate the characteristic of continuous improvement. 

You could do this in a number of ways. 

You could create a weekly award to recognize a player who has made a unique investment in “building their house”.

Or you could create a graphic of a house, hang it in a common space, and have everyone write down one way that they have “built their own house” during that week.

The possibilities are endless. Get creative with it.


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