42nd Street Company (#42stc)

Empowerment – a two way street

By on September 13, 2015

Yesterday @davidjbland tweeted: We talk about empowered teams being at the heart of agile, but I don’t see many teams that are really empowered.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 11.43.45Unfortunately I think David is right and that leads to some reflections.

We tend to think about empowerment as something that is granted by an organization to teams and individuals. ‘I have the power and I give a lot/some of it to you … now you are empowered!’

This is probably not the best way to think about it.

In my view every individual and team is obliged to seek the relevant level of empowerment for the job at hand. Empowerment is not something absolute and exact measurable. It’s highly contextual and related to what you are trying to achieve.

As a knowledge worker often you know more than anyone else about what you are contributing. This calls for an obligation for you to help find out what the needed level of empowerment is.

This is again related to the importance of structure for creating an environment where everyone has the freedom to perform and opportunity to contribute. In this aspect I keep coming back to the work by Signe Groth-Brodersen explaining the relationship between stress and freedom. You can find it in some of the earlier posts.

If you have the wrong kind of freedom, then that leads to stress. What is important is that you find the sweet spot – aka the right structure – to support you in what you need to get done and having the relevant level of engagement with and feedback from the organization.

People working together will always require some ‘structure’ to be efficient in working together. Level of freedom and empowerment is all part of that equation. It’s contextual and relative – and we all need to help figuring out exactly where and how much.

Empowerment need to be nothing more than a tool in the box.

As a team, if you are not given access to the tools needed for your job, then that need to cause some conversations and potentially lead to some choices.

Empowerment is not a right and not an obligation … it’s a tool in knowledge working contexts that requires hands from multiple people and quite some skills to maneuver.

This line of thinking – as an implication – strongly calls for you as a knowledge worker to ensure that you keep the option to chose who you work for. To keep the balance in negotiations.

Empowerment is a two way street. The best way to find the balance is to help create it … and walk away from the situations where that’s not possible.

We talk about Empowerment 2.0!

(PS: This also relates to the new trends of #NoManagers, #NoStructure, #Unbossed companies and #Holacracy – these are all good – as long as your structure supports the people in getting the job done, then there are no other constraints – but sometimes you wonder why make things so complicated when it’s all about finding the right people and right structure. The former more resemble fighting the symptoms of bad structure and people – not really putting on the lights and showing what our real options are.)