Many teams have members who work hard but behave more as “order takers” than as fully empowered staffers. Optimal teams are made up of members who treat their work as if it were a reflection of themselves, so that everyone is pulling their own weight. How can a manager encourage ownership when staffers are in the habit of bringing problems to someone else to solve?
First, recognize that you, as their manager, have had a role in creating this behavior. You may have inherited the group but if you’re not requiring them to come to you with solutions, you’re reinforcing their old habits. Your first question when approached by a team member should be, “What is your recommendation?” It’s okay if they don’t have the answer, but they should have some ideas about direction or be able to explain why they’re stymied. Control your urge to step in with suggestions on how to solve the problem. Your goal is to shift that responsibility to them, which is where it belongs. If you’re not sure, ask yourself, “Whose problem is it to solve?”
When they tell you what they plan to do, be supportive. Ask, “What do you need from me to make this a success?” Reinforce that you value their contribution and articulate that you have complete faith in their ability to deliver. Then step back and let them perform.
If things go wrong, normalize it for them, e.g., “It’s not ideal but everyone makes mistakes. How can we do this better next time?”
Embrace this sequence of questioning as integral to your delegation style and you’ll have higher-performing teams in no time.