Instead of asking one person to do something, ask two

Most of the way we think about ownership and accountability means we want a single person to be responsible. As we end meetings and review our key takeaways, we hear (or say) this a lot, “Whose name am I putting next to this item?”

I am a product of the United States, where we value our independence and our superhero myths all revolve around a single, lone figure.

Yet, when it comes to interviewing employees, we often find ourselves asking, “how well do you work on a team?” And when we talk about culture fit, we often think about it in the context of how well they’ll do working with others.

When I speak with new managers, one of the most surprising dynamics of planning meetings is that they’re suddenly made responsible for objectives that span more than what they control.

Cross-team and cross-functional execution is more valuable today than at any other time. And yet we often persist with approaches to accountability and ownership that focus on the individual.

I recommend another approach.

Instead of asking one person to do something, I often ask two or three people to work on it together.

Right away, you’ll see the question in their eyes, “but who is in charge? Who is ultimately responsible?”

The answer is all of you.

Almost every worthwhile thing my team sets out to do requires more than one of them, and likely others in the organization as well.

And since we know practice makes perfect, I don’t want them to learn it slowly by only having joint assignments every few months.

So almost no assignment is given to a single person. And while it feels harder initially, in the long run, it helps everyone.

Team members ask one another for help.

Team members learn to cooperate faster.

Team members learn that each brings strengths and weaknesses to every task and that self-discovery is awesome.

Team members tackle more and often accomplish more, when working together.

Team members train each other without formal instructions or pressure. It’s a natural approach to growth.

Team members learn quickly that success is a team dynamic.

In just about every way, it’s better than assigning every task to a specific person.