The second article from a series exploring the topic of the ownership attitude. As we already know, it can be easily mistaken for responsibility or obligation but it is completely different. It deeply affects the ability to be a part of high-performance teams. This time I would love to tell you about the process of building and empowering the culture of being proactive at work. Without further ado, let's jump into the 6 points you should pay attention to when managing an IT team.
Does this picture ring a bell? Welcome to 2020. The year of lockdowns, hurricanes, massive fires in Australia and some other “minor” issues. Yet, in the IT field everything seems to be fine… or is it?
How to empower a sense of ownership at work
As I wrote in my previous article, it is easy to mistake ownership for responsibility and obligation. Understanding the distinction between these seemingly similar definitions is the key to step two – the process of building and empowering the mindset of your top-notch team.
“The worst guide” to managing a productive IT team
Action 1: Reassign your developers regularly
Software development has its own rules. Priorities shift rapidly and as a result, teams might be asked to hand over their project to another team, to start a new project entirely, or even to simply stop working on a project altogether. Management does not always look at these situations holistically and can sometimes miss the “big picture”. Moving teams around is likely to affect productivity, cause some amount of chaos and should be treated as a last resort move. Developers are not “resources” that you can freely move around from one project to another without affecting their motivation and morale.
Want to be sure that your project fails? Recruit people who do not care about the legacy they leave behind and have no investment in their successors’ achievements. Start the project with your best team and then reassign them to another project halfway through. In this manner, you will soon foster a culture of “that’s not my problem” and you will become the proud owner of a piece of software that nobody wants to take responsibility for. This is the easiest way to kill any IT project.
- Employees who show little to no interest in what they leave behind.
- A constant narration relating to “them” instead of “Us/we”.
- People who play the blame game and can always justify errors to be someone else’s fault.
Team players will take responsibility for their work and look inwards at their performance and areas in which they can improve. Non-team players will always look for outward sources of blame; they will shy away from responsibility and are always slow to take ownership of their work.
Action 2: Share no vision, give zero explanation why.
Simply knowing how to carry out a task is not enough on its own. Without understanding the importance of that task and how it fits into the grand scheme of the overall project, it’s just not possible to produce top-quality work. Software engineers who know why they’ve been selected for a particular job and why that job is important for the whole project will be able to work in a more rounded and flexible manner. They will find better solutions for issues that might occur during development.
- Employees who show zero interest in knowing any more than they need to in order to get their job done.
- Negative emotional attitudes towards the core concept of the project or end the user/ customer.
Vision without execution is just hallucination.
Action 3: Autonomy is bad. Long live micromanaging.
Let’s be honest, complete and total trust can, and sometimes does, work. However, in order to minimize the potential for errors and poor quality work, management still needs to check and double check on their staff to maintain the highest standards. On the other hand though, a lack of trust leads to unwanted stress, micromanaging and even mild paranoia for everyone involved. No one wants to be looking over their shoulder every 5 minutes only to see their manager standing there, glaring at them.
- People who just “go through the motions” and pretend to work from 9-5 but whose output doesn’t match their timesheet.
- Employees who do not, and cannot, explain with cognizance what work has been done.
Action 4: Ignore those who take initiative.
Always acknowledge the doers in your business and those who take initiative. Empowering positive mindsets that you want to see more of in the future sets a good example for the rest of your team and will serve to guide and motivate them into developing themselves, working harder and seizing opportunities to take initiative.
- People who never step up to a new (or difficult) task.
- People who sit on the fence, don’t like to be heard and are afraid to ever take a firm stance on any issue.
Action 5: Freedom! Hold no one accountable.
Even within a team it is essential that each member is a responsible individual even if nobody can hold them personally responsible for potential failure. That being said, employer’s trust and employee’s autonomy goes both ways. Meeting set goals and deadlines is a crucial part of delivering IT products. Being a reliable employee and having the ability to meet firm deadlines is a valuable factor in terms of a company’s needs. Do not let your team off the hook when it comes to your deliverables, but at the same time, don’t go too far with your demands.
- Employees who justify all mistakes, use excuses, and postpone tasks constantly.
- Individuals getting late to work on a daily basis.
- Team members not informing others about possible delays until the day before.
Action 6: Who needs feedback? Blame is the way to go.
No matter the result, a consistent feedback loop is a must-have in IT. Although your team might not ask for it, both constructive criticism and positive feedback are needed to develop their skills and knowledge.
- People who do not care about, or want feedback.
- An “I’m always right and do everything perfectly” attitude.
If you do not follow the rules, beware!
The morale and attitude of your team members could change dramatically which will likely lead to undesirable results. How can you avoid this? Shift the mindset from “My job does not matter” to “I can make a difference within the organization”. This is an absolute game changer for productivity and efficient workflows.
“I’m on my own” turns into “I have the support of coworkers and management. I want to be accountable for my actions” – Teamwork at its finest!
With these simple shifts in attitudes, personal and professional growth are absolutely possible which will only serve to benefit everyone. As an employee, being a valuable asset by incorporating private passions into your position is invaluable to a company and will be a hugely positive attribute. Positive actions create good results for both employee and employer and forms the foundation of a long-term partnership between both parties.
Being able to trust staff members to do their job fully allows managers to sleep much better at night. Let’s not get too optimistic, they’ll still have to check in on their employees and keep an eye on things but managers’ lives will become much easier when all the micromanaging is gone.
Trust, but double-check (especially with new employees)
First and foremost, we must always lead with the assumption that everyone has good intentions, although they possibly might not have enough knowledge or experience. Your assistance is necessary. Help often, help wisely.
If you want your employees to take ownership of their work then you must invite them into a culture where trust and accountability are fostered, valued and encouraged. You absolutely don’t want industry-era workers blindly following orders without a shred of creative input. You want insightful, engaged and flexible professionals caring about the work they do.
Double check to prevent a wreck.
The next step
To make things easier, I’ve put together all the information from both articles and created a handy checklist.
It will help you spot the ownership tendencies in your current team members and pick the right tools for empowering the mindset you want to grow in your environment.
To download it click the picture below or follow the link.