How to Motivate Your Team to Take Ownership of Problems

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I need to motivate my team to take more action. I often tell them to bring me solutions, not just problems. But all I hear are complaints about what we need to do differently. As the leader of our advisory firm this smacks of saying “you fix it.The problems are not all mine and I don’t always have the right answers. Is there a way to motivate people to act instead of just talk and complain?


Dear L.L.,

There are likely a few root causes to the problem you are raising here. Is your team empowered to solve their own problems? I work with many leaders who are frustrated their staff doesn’t “do more” to fix things. But upon investigation of the inner workings of the firm, I find staff is actually stymied in implementing new ideas. There is a penalty for doing something that doesn’t work, or trying to fix something without all of the tools required to do so.

Make sure that when you tell your team to find the solution they have the wherewithal to actually follow through.

Next, are you open to hearing what’s wrong and why they believe these things to be problems? I will never forget many years ago holding a strategy session with a number of advisors in a firm, and completing what we called “the obstacles session” where we allowed people to vent about what’s in the way of their success Then we categorized those obstacles into what they can control, what they can influence and what’s out of their control. At the end of the session we had a working list to tackle to help the advisors find solutions. But the important learning for me was when they unanimously told me the most valuable part was just the opportunity to voice their concerns and have someone listen to them.