Article

Oper­a­tional Excellence

To gain from employ­ee empow­er­ment, lose this one thing

December 13, 2019

Employ­ee empow­er­ment is a man­age­ment tech­nique that involves equip­ping teams with the tools and resources they need to take ini­tia­tive, make con­fi­dent deci­sions and solve prob­lems with­out supervision.

While empow­er­ment is tout­ed as the answer to many a cor­po­rate conun­drum, the results often fall short of lead­er­ship expec­ta­tions. Lead­ers can improve the results by focus­ing their efforts on enabling the team to suc­ceed. How­ev­er this can be a tall order for many man­agers, who have built their rep­u­ta­tions on the basis of the decision-making skills they have devel­oped through­out their careers.

It can be hard for them to hand over a project to a group of indi­vid­u­als with vary­ing view­points, com­pe­ten­cies, per­son­al­i­ties, social skills and agen­das. As a result, it’s com­mon for man­agers to active­ly manip­u­late the team mem­ber selec­tion and rules of engage­ment in an attempt to influ­ence the out­come to fit with their pre­con­ceived vision of the answer.

Get­ting the most out of empow­er­ment means being com­fort­able with los­ing control
When a suc­cess­ful leader entrusts the devel­op­ment of a solu­tion to a team, they do so with­out reser­va­tions. They embrace the uncer­tain­ty as an oppor­tu­ni­ty for inno­va­tion and con­cen­trate on facil­i­tat­ing an order­ly process to help the team devel­op the best pos­si­ble solution.

This is how it should go…

First, the team is gath­ered togeth­er and the pur­pose and chal­lenges of the project are pre­sent­ed to them. Togeth­er they devel­op a project struc­ture, includ­ing a char­ter, rules of engage­ment, gov­er­nance mod­el and gen­er­al time­line. Man­agers then step back and assume the role of break­ing down bar­ri­ers to the team’s suc­cess. The team meets peri­od­i­cal­ly to dis­cuss the project and pro­vide time­ly reports to man­age­ment regard­ing their progress.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly not all projects run by empow­ered teams are suc­cess­ful and this may some­times come down to the man­agers involved. Too many focus on influ­enc­ing the direc­tion the team takes rather than facil­i­tat­ing the team dynam­ic. Some may even start out with a spe­cif­ic out­come in mind and let this influ­ence the choice of team play­ers and the lan­guage they use when explain­ing the project. Reach­ing an out­come that’s aligned with a manager’s expec­ta­tions, arranged under their con­trol, com­plete­ly con­tra­dicts the pur­pose of empowerment.

The key to unleash­ing the pow­er of empow­er­ment is to let go of the urge to con­trol the direc­tion of the project and con­cen­trate on using prop­er team facil­i­ta­tion to pos­i­tive­ly chan­nel the chaos. Let the team form, storm, norm and per­form through the team build­ing process, because solv­ing this one par­tic­u­lar prob­lem is just the begin­ning of what a well-led team can achieve.

An effec­tive leader can pro­vide a group of indi­vid­u­als with the skills and abil­i­ty to eclipse lim­i­ta­tions. The team will learn how to extract the best from each oth­er and the results they achieve will be far greater than the leader could have real­ized on their own.

So trust the struc­ture you have cre­at­ed, sup­port the team and embrace their ideas. Let them reshape your pre­con­ceived vision of the answer so you can reimag­ine what’s possible.
To suc­cess­ful­ly empow­er a team, you must be aware of your inter­ac­tions with them. Choose your words care­ful­ly, learn to rec­og­nize when you’re try­ing to manip­u­late the sit­u­a­tion and remind your­self that the team has the pow­er to achieve more than you could imagine.

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