Giving employees “ownership” of a project or department has gained currency among entrepreneurs, and for good reason: when staffers have the agency to manage their tasks, they generally work harder, more productively and more creatively.
But this practice can produce a nasty consequence—and it’s akin to a young kid screaming, “Mine!” Researchers Graham Brown, Craig Crossley and Sandra L. Robinson (of the universities of Victoria, Central Florida and British Columbia, respectively) discovered that staff who “own” a task sometimes can become extremely territorial about it, engaging in such collaboration-killing behaviour as locking up files to prevent others from “stealing” them.
So, how do you empower your staff without turning them into a bunch of toddlers?
Build workplace trust. The academics found territoriality was most common when employees suspected their peers of the intent to undermine them.