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Why good managers struggle to get their team to take ownership

If you’re a people manager, you will immediately think of someone in your team when I tell you about people who never take ownership for anything – right? When something goes wrong, …

… it’s never their fault;
… they had bad luck;
… someone else didn’t do their job;
… nobody ever told them that this was expected from them

The list is endless and continues to grow each time something goes wrong.

They don’t seem to take any ownership at all. They don’t recognize that they might have made a mistake. And so, next time, in a similar situation, you can bet your money on it that it will go wrong again – because they take no ownership…
It’s really difficult to have these people in your team.

So how do you get these people to change and to take ownership? Let me share 5 tips on how you as a manager can turn this behaviour around in your team:

  1. Focus on the way forward – and ask for input!

    Whenever something goes wrong (and things go wrong all the time!), it’s important to focus on the resolution, NOT on finding the guilty one or on avoiding this to happen again (that will come later!).

    Instead, start by identifying some actions that are needed to resolve the problem. But don’t do it on your own – ask for input from the team. And more importantly, ask for input WITHOUT judging and work through different options together. What would be some potential paths to resolution? What are the advantages and disadvantages of these options? How feasible are they? Who would do the actual tasks?

    Then, jointly decide on the best option and put a plan in place to execute the identified actions.

  2. Follow-up on the execution & celebrate the resolution

    When the actions are defined to get the problem resolved, make sure that everyone has a good understanding of what is expected of them and by when. Ensure that other teams also know that some other tasks might get postponed.

    Then, follow-up on the execution: is everything going according to plan? Did we miss anything while we were putting the plan together? Are there any unexpected hick-ups?

    When the plan is fully executed, celebrate the joint team efforts and dedication. Fixing something before it gets worse and causes more damage is a big achievement and should be celebrated!

  3. Search for the root cause, not for the guilty one

    When you know HOW to fix the problem, you will want to also understand WHY it went wrong in the first place. So that this can be avoided in the future. Obviously. However, very often, people might feel threatened or guilty. So, they start hiding stuff so that you cannot find the root cause and a similar problem will happen again.

    To avoid this, make it very clear that you’re not interested in finding out who made a mistake – everybody makes mistakes all the time. You’re not interested in hearing a name – actually, you do not even allow people to give you a name.

    The only thing you’re interested in, is understanding WHY something has happened. So do some analysis together, learn something you didn’t know before and find the root cause for the problem.

  4. Jointly formulate strategies for avoiding similar situations in the future

    When you have identified the root cause, take some time to assess how similar situations can be avoided in the future. Maybe something from the resolution plan can be used? Or some additional checks can be put in place?

    Important here is again to ensure that you are never making it personal! If something goes wrong, it’s because there was a flaw in the process that allowed this to happen. So, it’s about fixing the process, not about fixing the people involved in the process.

  5. Communicate clear expectations

    Afterwards, communicate clear expectations about what you would expect people to do when they are facing a similar situation. If people know what is expected of them, it’s so much easier to do the right thing.

    And in that odd case where people don’t do what is expected of them, go through the same process all over again and avoid the blame game. How can we fix it now? What’s the root cause for not executing the expected tasks? How can we avoid this in the future?


By applying these 5 tips, you will start to notice some change in your team.

  • People will come to you more pro-actively when something goes wrong,
  • they will come with a proposal for what to do next,
  • they will own up to mistakes and fix them asap,
  • they will even propose new initiatives to avoid other mistakes in the future.

Of course, you cannot expect things to change overnight, but if you implement these tips on a consistent basis, I promise you that your team will amaze you!

Wouldn’t you like to be the manager of that team?

What happy clients say

“During her coachings, Birgit creates a ‘safe space’ and she knows how to build trust with a client. She always asks clarifying questions and her curiosity drives the question “what’s possible here?” She allowed me to discover what works for me and guided me through my journey. But she also shared information in a way that allows me to learn. For me, it was the perfect balance. Thanks a lot Birgit. Wishing you much luck on your coaching business!”

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“Birgit is a very enthusiastic and competent coach who really listens and responds to the needs of the coachee. Her extensive experience in consulting and project management is of great added value. By asking the right questions at the right time, she supported me in doing critical self-reflection. I would definitely recommend her as a coach.”

Stéphanie Vets

“I had the great opportunity to get advices from Birgit in an HEC leadership training. She provided me very relevant advices with regards to management of self and others. Birgit is great in listening to others and I had several to-the-point recommendations that were very useful in for improving my leadership style and making the decision making smoother in a complex environment (multi-cultural for instance). I would definitively recommend Birgit for coaching activities.”

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Katy Willems

During her coaching, Birgit shows the coachee how and where to improve – not in a directive manner, but in a way that the coachee sees the gaps himself and can formulate his own path for improvement. Birgit will also continue to support you after the coaching session, informing about your progress and making corrective suggestions if and when necessary. In small steps, she helps the coachee to reach a common goal.

Malika Rahou

Mpower Coaching & Consulting

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Are you interested in joining a coaching program or starting a project together? Reach out for a free intake session!

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Mpower Coaching & Consulting

Contact us

Hof van Delftlaan 60, 2180 Ekeren

Free intake

Are you interested in joining a coaching program or starting a project together? Reach out for a free intake session!

Free intake