Giving Back Ownership Means Sharing Strategy

I have not been doing this health care thing for very long (I hit my five years next month!)  but one thing I’ve learned is that giving team members control of their work and the improvements that must be made is key to making this all work. Over and over I’ve seen the power of involving team members (front line staff) in improvement initiatives,  giving them the floor to contribute their ideas, and letting them own and develop the outcome of those ideas. Giving them back control is the foundation to success.

This is not just a phenomenon in healthcare, it’s a principle that works across industries. My mom has spent her entire career in education, and the conversation is similar there: how can teachers create an environment that encourages students to take back control of their learning? How can teachers facilitate  and create the structure and choices that enable students to take off, on their own? Learning doesn’t happen otherwise.

What does this look like in healthcare? It starts by inviting frontline team members to the table.  Once there, they need information. So much of the time the why behind what we do is reserved for “leaders”, when in reality everyone in the organization would benefit from understanding the road we are on and why we are on it.

Think of random puzzle pieces, scattered everywhere. There’s no box with a pretty picture on the front to let you know what exactly this puzzle is supposed to be–you just know there are A LOT of  random pieces.  None of it makes sense.

Those who have the box get it: the puzzle makes sense. But to those  who don’t have that crucial information, the puzzle pieces are meaningless. In fact, they even seem to get in the way.

This is how it can feel to front line staff when tactics are thrown at them without really taking the time to educate on how they all fit together. Without this crucial big picture, it’s impossible for team members to have the information they need to take ownership of their work.

For me, it can be hard to let go of control and trust others. Case in point:  I lead an ER service excellence team. We meet bimonthly. I create the agenda and the activities we will do each week, and I’m always a little paranoid of having enough to do for our hour and half. But here is what always happens: we only get through about half of what I have planned. The more I let them discuss and work through whatever it is that they need to work through the more we are able to really identify meaningful improvements.  If they want to take the conversation in an entirely different direction than I had “planned” I have to let that happen. And I’m always amazed at the “good” that comes our of these conversations, because they know the big picture and they own their work.
I have discovered that leading this team effectively is creating an environment in which they can take control. Because once they do, they own it. It’s theirs.


I think the more ownership we can give back to our front-line team members, the quicker we will accomplish our goals.  We must give them the same information we have: the plan, the why’s, the who’s…and let them be a part of coming up with the how’s.  Ownership like this contributes to pride, which is essential to meaningful work, work that makes people want to stay. It’s work that makes sense.

How about you? Have you ever been asked to do something without really know how it fits into the bigger picture?  If you are a leader, do you like to involve team members in improvement initiatives?  If you are a team member, do you like to be involved? Let me know your thoughts below!


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