As our work environment continues to evolve, one question has remained pretty constant.
How much autonomy should employees, or better yet, teams have?
While it’s evident that for simpler tasks direct coordination and control bring in results, the same can’t be said when it comes to more intangible, harder-to-track activities. In these cases, intervention may sway the culture of a team in a more negative direction, even incentivizing seemingly selfish behavior. Where otherwise an atmosphere of trust would’ve emerged, we now have individuals looking to present themselves as best as possible to management overlooking their work.
This is where empowered teams step in. They are given a large degree of autonomy in decision-making and freedom in their everyday work. In return, they control their own activities and results. This type of team can also be referred to as a “self-directed team” or “self-managing team”. What this does is produce more confident and motivated employees who often solve problems by making changes even before it’s evident they’re necessary.
Are fully empowered teams an unrealistic ideal?
Not necessarily. That is – not if the organization identifies the specific areas of responsibility that will be managed by the empowered groups and the skill set needed to manage these responsibilities. While every team member is still firstly held responsible for their specific job, they need to be able to look one step further.
A good path to achieve full team empowerment is to first have a transition period of sorts. During this time provide everyone with additional learning resources and set aside time for consultations both with management and between team members. Instead of communicating the goals you set for them, focus on principles they should use to guide them.
This will allow for confidence and trust to build within the team and make the transition to self-management less stressful for both them and management.
How is an empowered team created?
For teams to successfully self-organize, authorization and trust from management is the first step. Furthermore, to be truly empowered a team must continuously work on 3 key areas:
- Reiterating their joint purpose or objective and keeping the entire team well acquainted with where their work is headed
- Maintaining an open flow of communication among everyone and encouraging and promoting the free exchange of ideas between all team members
- Empowering a sense of collaborative autonomy in both learning new skills and completing ongoing task
One area that also shouldn’t be forgotten is conflict resolution. This is often one of the key obstacles in transitioning from traditional teams to empowered ones, as no one solution fits all. The best way to mitigate this is to continuously teach and encourage the use of decision-making and conflict resolution techniques. If everyone is on board with these, the risk of serious disagreements that can affect the end result is minimized.
A word of advice for leaders
If you want your team to be an empowered one, your focus has to be on evaluating and encouraging both teams and individuals. Leaders should foster autonomy by assuming the role of a mentor or coach instead of micro-managing teams. A true leader of a truly empowered team should allow employees to run meetings, plan their own projects or initiate side projects.
Plus, providing a clear path for employees to create this change is definitely an advantage. If they aren’t sure where they stand when it comes to managing their responsibilities, people are likely to start drawing back from their work, become less passionate and proactive and bring way less creative energy to the table.
And how can you be sure that your team is truly empowered? There are 2 very clear signs to look out for:
- Employees believe their actions can change the organization for the better
- They are provided with clear guidance, autonomy, and support to make changes.
The synergy that a truly empowered and properly structured team creates is simply amazing and results always follow. Four positives that are at the forefront are:
- Boosting employee morale – employees who feel appreciated are more likely to be loyal to the company, while continuing to perform their best
- Increased productivity – self-managing teams have a lot less hoops to jump through when making changes and settling on decisions, which gives them a lot more time to focus on the work at hand
- Improved creativity – as with productivity, creativity is also more likely to flourish and bring results in an environment without too many formalities
- Greater trust in leadership – trust that is given to employees is often reciprocated back to leadership and the decisions they make for the company’s future
At the end of the day, organizations that promote employee empowerment are, in the long run, performing better than those that don’t. Show employees that their feedback matters, recognize how to empower, provide opportunities and support their professional development and watch both them and your company grow in a positive direction.