I was recently asked, “How do I get my team to run with the ball instead of relying on me so much to tell them what to do? They should know how to and when to move things forward!”
Every leader wants a highly competent and motivated team who, with some planning and reflection, can move their areas of responsibility in the right direction, based on company vision, values, and goals.
When this doesn’t happen, you must look at yourself first. After all, you control the conditions employees work within. So it’s a safe bet that you might be encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors – in this case, an over-reliance on you and your opinion.
In general, I assume you have the right people in the right roles, but that is something to take a look at. Maybe a team member isn’t competent or is in the wrong role. Well, that at least tells you something about your hiring process and criteria. Maybe you need to look at that. But assuming you have capable individuals in place, here are some things to consider:
1. You could be sending mixed messages.
That is, your actions say one thing and your words say another. For example, you might tell a direct report to “run with” an idea, but if you believe that you are the smartest person in the company or that no one does as good a job as you do, you might criticize decisions your direct report makes or grill him on how things are being done, even when his judgment calls are perfectly acceptable. You might say you trust him to move forward, but you end up breathing over his shoulder for every move or even wrest back control by inserting yourself into decisions or conversations with others. In effect, your actions end up cancelling out your words.
2. You may not have set a clear path.
If your team does not know where they are going with an aligned vision, goals and priorities, they will be lost. Having a clear path forward empowers them to know what to do, when, and how to work together. That means that they won’t need to check with you so frequently about what to do next.
3. You may not have put in place supportive work structures.
If you don’t build supportive work structures, your team won’t work together the way you want, such as being interdependent, cooperative, and accountable to each others. These structures include fair compensation that is internally equitable and externally competitive, bonuses that don’t get in the way of taking appropriate risks, and recognition for things like creativity, innovation, surpassing customer expectations, etc.
4. You may not have created a culture of responsibility and accountability.
This means behavioral expectations are lacking for handling conflict, working across “silos”, taking risks, etc. Hey, we would like to think that adults do this automatically, but they don’t. You have to make sure there are clear behavioral norms in place, so your team knows how to act. And of course, you need to enforce them, too.
Assuming you have the right people on your team but are disappointed that they don’t seem to take responsibility, you are probably doing something or have failed to do something to be clear about your expectations. It all starts with you.