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.