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February 20th, 2017

The decision-maker, problem-solver, planner and manager..

Mike Notman (Managing Partner at Bourton Group LLP) – February 2017

Empowered teams have increased levels of responsibility and authority over the work they do, giving them the autonomy to plan and manage their work, make their own decisions and solve their own problems – responsibilities that are traditionally owned by the team leader. So, you might be wondering where you, the manager fit into an empowered team.

As someone who leads a team, you may have been used to being the decision-maker, problem-solver, planner and manager. In short, you’re normally the one who’s in control. So, empowering others is very different from what you have been used to doing. In reality it means handing over much of this control, along with many associated responsibilities, to your team.  It’s only natural to feel a little anxious about this. You might feel that your role will become redundant. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – the team needs the leader more than ever, it’s just a different way of working for you now!

Even though you may have handed over a great deal of control, you’re still ultimately responsible for the work of the team. Just because you’ve given power to others doesn’t mean that you’ve lost it yourself. You’re still the one who defines the goals and boundaries, and your team will still look to you for support, guidance and encouragement. In fact, empowering your team will leave you free to concentrate on new and exciting responsibilities, some of which will include:

Defining Team Goals

Your team still need to know what they should be aiming to achieve. You are the link between your team and the rest of the department and organisation, so your understanding of the wider context in which the team operates will help you to define goals that are in alignment with the department and wider organisation’s objectives.

The goals that you set should be results-orientated (e.g. maintaining organised systems) rather than task-focused. Results-orientated goals are more helpful than lists of routine tasks as they express only the outcomes that are expected, without dictating how they should be achieved. This gives people the freedom to define their own tasks, as well as a clearer understanding of why they should be doing them.

Setting Boundaries

People need broad parameters to guide them towards the achievement of their goals. Although empowered teams have a great degree of freedom and autonomy over the way in which they work, they still need guidelines or boundaries to help them understand what is expected of them, so that they can channel their efforts appropriately and work with confidence.

Sharing Information

In traditional teams, team leaders often keep a great deal of information to themselves. However, in an empowered team, where team members take ownership of the team goals, people can only be fully effective if they have all the information that they need. They must have an idea of the ‘bigger picture’ to help them understand why they are doing what they are doing, and also their limits and constraints.

For example, why not share your customer feedback? If team members understand how they are doing in the eyes of the customer and what is critical to quality for them they’ll think more carefully about what they do and might even come up with innovative ways for delivering customer value.

Giving Advice

In many instances you may still be an expert in aspects of what the team does and people will look to you for advice. Make it easy for team members to approach you to ask questions and seek feedback. Let them know that you’re happy to help.

Developing People’s Skills through Coaching

Coaching is an empowering method of development, as it helps people to learn for themselves. Coaches help people to learn by challenging their assumptions; encouraging them to explore new ideas and different ways of thinking; setting development tasks for learning; or simply by providing a different perspective. Whatever method you choose, the important point is that you don’t ‘teach’ or direct the learner. Rather, you empower the learner by providing them with the tools to learn for themselves.

Encouraging People & Boosting Confidence

Everyone needs to hear every so often what a good job they are doing, especially people in an empowered team who may be taking on many responsibilities that are completely new to them. You know, of course, that they’re perfectly capable, but they might not know this themselves. Demonstrate your faith in their ability and build their confidence by highlighting and praising their strengths and key achievements.

Helping the Team to Acquire Resources

You’ll be an expert in acquiring resources for your team, from equipment and materials to training and development opportunities. Help them to secure everything they need to allow them to get on with their work.

Maintaining an Empowering Culture

Empowerment can only be successful in a supportive and positive environment – one in which creativity and ideas are welcomed; people are encouraged to improve working practices; there is no blame-culture; and mistakes and risk-taking are accepted.

Also, people must feel that they are genuinely in control of their work. However tempting it may be, it is important to make sure that you don’t try to take back control of anything after you have handed it over.

Helping the Team to Communicate with the Rest of the Organisation

As a team leader, you will have built up extensive networks and channels of communication across your organisation. Use these to help your team communicate with the rest of the organisation.

Mike is a highly experienced Change and Organisational Development specialist and has delivered significant change programmes in a wide range of larger private companies and public bodies since moving into consultancy in 1991. Having established a commercial consultancy for Leeds Metropolitan University in 1993 he went on to establish and lead two national consulting practices on behalf of major accounting firms. During the last 25 years Mike has focused on developing organisational structures, leaders, senior teams and corporate cultures to improve efficiency and effectiveness in business and operational performance.

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