The Ultimate Level of Commitment and Accountablity: Team Ownership

When you look around your organization at employee performance – what do you see? You probably see a bell-shaped curve with very low and very high performance on the ends of the bell curve and a continuum of mediocre or average performance throughout the middle of the bell curve where the majority of your employee’s performance falls.

In the past, when change, volatility, uncertainty and complexity were not as high as today, this type of bell curve was probably good enough for your organization to be competitive. Not so anymore – if you are going to do more than merely survive today, you need to shift that bell curve to the right quite a bit. 

We utilize a model that describes four levels of employee commitment and engagement.  As leaders, you can use this model to recognize your employee’s current level and then determine if/how you can increase their commitment and engagement resulting in higher levels of performance. Here is a brief description of the four levels:

Level 1: The Prisoner


The Prisoner is typically someone who really doesn’t want to be there. They are generally unhappy, disgruntled and very possibly a poor fit for their job. Unfortunately, they may be either too lazy or too fearful to go and look for another job. Sometimes they don’t feel empowered to request changes, so they just complain, and that can be very disruptive to the culture you are trying to create. They often resist change and can bring your change initiatives to a halt or at least a stall. They often have a “victim” mentality. 

Level 2: The Observer

The Observer is typically an employee who does their job but little else. They have their head down and don’t really contribute any more than they have to or is required by their job. They don’t rock the boat but they also don’t contribute to the boat moving any faster or more efficiently. They show up to meetings and take in information but don’t add a lot to the discussions. 

Level 3: The Full Participant

The Full Participant is someone that does their job well and participates in and adds to meeting discussions. They would typically be described as engaged in their work and they are usually okay with taking on additional work when asked by their manager. They tend to have a positive outlook and are considered valued members of their team.

Level 4: The Owner

The ultimate level of employee commitment is called the Owner. This person is a leader but not necessarily in title or position. The Owner is someone who takes responsibility for the results of the whole team, project or organization depending on their sphere of influence. An owner is someone who steps up to help even if it is not their responsibility. It is someone that has team members’ backs and will come up with innovative ideas and solutions to meet customer needs. In addition to holding themselves accountable, Owners are willing to hold others accountable as well. They understand the purpose of the project or organization and they are committed to the achievement of that purpose.

So look around your team, department or organization. What do you see? Imagine what your organization or team could accomplish if the majority of people were showing up as owners?! 

The first step as a leader is to identify what level of employee commitment each of your team members is exhibiting. Once that is done, the next step is one of discovery for employees that show up as Prisoners or Observers. The following are some questions to aid you in that discovery:

  • Does the employee understand the bigger picture – why this project or program is important? What does it mean for the customer, or the team or the organization?
  • Do they feel that they are able to contribute in a meaningful way? Are they valued for their contributions?
  • How does their work tie in to what is important to them, to their values or what they care about (beyond a paycheck)?
  • Do they have a say in how their work gets done? Are creativity and risk-taking encouraged?
  • Do they feel micromanaged or that they have too much autonomy?
  • Do they have the right tools or processes to be successful?
  • Are they getting the information that they need not only to do their jobs but to move towards ownership?

There are many more questions that you could ask in the discovery process, however, the above questions will most likely help you get to the heart of the matter as well as start to shift the curve as you discover what might be missing for certain employees or for the whole team. Your goal as a leader should be to create “owners” in the majority of your teams and organization. You will have a hard time surviving and certainly can’t thrive in today’s workplace with the typical bell curve where fifty percent of your employees would be falling in the prisoner and observer levels of commitment and accountability.


By |2019-03-21T04:11:38+00:00March 21st, 2019|

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