BL&T No. 024: Defining Ownership for Team Success

Ways of Working

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


"If you have a small team and you have clearly delineated responsibilities, then you can still keep a very high level of accountability. Accountability is really important because when something succeeds or fails, if it fails, everybody points fingers at each other, and if it succeeds, everybody steps forward to take credit."

From "Embrace Accountability to Get Leverage" by Naval


I am proud to add Dishwasher to my title at home. Husband, IT Director, Head of Maintenance, DJ, Health & Wellness Director, Financial Advisor... Dishwasher.

I would have never thought I could find joy in cleaning a sink full of dirty dishes but, here I am, smiling at the thought. Dana and I have historically shared the responsibility. If I made dinner, Dana would clean the dishes. Vice versa.

Over the past several months, this has become a source of tension. We're home more, so we're cooking more, which means more dirty dishes. When one of us puts it off, the dishes quickly pile up. Whose turn is it again?

Relationships are all about teamwork. Balance is key. Both parties need to feel like the other is pulling their weight. When it came to cleaning dishes, it consistently felt like there was an imbalance.

The more this happened, the more I joked about hanging up an activity log in the kitchen. I almost did a couple of weeks ago, frustrated when we lost track again. “You can't dispute the facts!" I thought. Luckily, I stopped myself.

What was really going on?

I was reminded of a revelation last October after hosting our Monthly Team Meeting at Barrel.

Since its inception, this meeting was a shared responsibility among the four partners. We rotated hosts each month. Over time, each partner developed their way of preparing for and hosting the meeting. As a result, it was not a guarantee that one host’s improvements would continue with the next.

October was my turn to host. I decided to experiment with an updated format and new content. While the presentation was well-received by the team, I wondered how best to keep up the momentum. Should I make a new template? Should I walk next month's host through my notes and process?

As I searched for answers, I realized that I was solving for a symptom without addressing the root cause. Had we lost sight of what it means to work as a team? We were sharing ownership in an effort to collaborate, but in the end, no one was an owner. Accountability was monthly. No one had their eye on the long-term.

In November, I volunteered to take ownership of Monthly Team Meetings. The partners agreed. Each month, I talk through ideas and review the presentation with the partners. As the owner, I can improve upon what's working, rethink what isn't, and delegate tasks among the team.

The solution for cleaning dishes was not an activity log. Sure, it may create less confusion in the short term. (Although, I could see us forgetting to log. Then what?) Like the Monthly Team Meeting, the real problem was a lack of ownership.

Dana and I tricked ourselves into believing that we were working as a team by cleaning the dishes "together." This led to finger-pointing and both of us feeling irritated. Not very team-like. Why don't we have issues managing any other household responsibilities? We own them. We may consult each other as needed, but there is clear accountability.

The exciting thing about ownership is that you can own it! It's only been a few weeks, but now, there's rarely a dirty dish in the sink. Like the Monthly Team Meeting, I've found ways to optimize and improve. The best part? I've made it a habit, so now I can habit stack. Cleaning dishes is now my time for listening to podcasts, an activity that I used to struggle to make time fitting into my day.

Lesson? We grow up learning that there's no I in team, that we must work together to achieve our goals. While this is true, a functioning team cannot thrive without ownership. There may not be an I but there is a t...e...a...m. Each is unique and accountable for their position. Without them, there is no team.

Added bonus: Every year, Dana and I opt for dinner over gifts for Valentine's Day. It was about a week before February 14 that I declared the new dishwasher title. I can't quite describe the look of pure disbelief and delight on Dana's face when I delivered the news; I think this self-imposed promotion may qualify as a gift.

Thought Starter

Where is a lack of ownership holding my team back?

Join My Newsletter

Every Monday, I share weekly themes and progress in running an agency business/team and doing my best to live a good life. Details