Empowering People Isn’t Easy!

Most organisations strive to build an empowered workforce, yet despite their best efforts surveys continue to show that employees do not feel empowered by their line managers. Why is this the case?

If we look at the characteristics of an empowered team then we get a real insight into what empowerment looks like. In an empowered team 6 things are obvious:

• Authority is dispersed
• Decision making is shared
• Team members can be both leaders and followers
• Collaboration is present
• Trust is demonstrated
• Relationships are effective

But creating a team where all these characteristics are present is not as easy as some managers think. When starting to build an empowered team it is not unusual for the team members to feel anxiety as they often perceive empowerment as a lack of clear leadership. Managers attempting to empower their team members push out responsibility and authority and their team members react by trying to delegate back up. In this situation it is very tempting for the manager, who is used to making quick decisions, to take back the control. Managers complain that their team won’t make accept responsibility and decisions and the team complains that the managers are simply paying lip service to the concept of empowerment: frustration on both sides builds.

So how can we overcome these problems? There are two key areas that managers need to focus on if they are to improve engagement. These are:

1. To increase your awareness of the unconscious organisational dynamics that empowerment initially brings.

In other words, you need to be aware of when upward delegation is happening and make a conscious intervention to change your “knee jerk” reaction to simply taking back the responsibility for making decisions.

2. To improve your communication skills.

Empowerment can initially lead to increased confusion in your team members. Managers who are skilled communicators (who are capable of being clear about their own needs and experiences, and who are open to and curious about the needs and experiences of others) are more successful at creating a truly empowered team. Such managers are able to work through the conflicts that arise, rather than supressing or ignoring them. To do this well managers need a high level of emotional intelligence (EI). These skills are difficult to sustain without development, practice and commitment.