Eight Tips for Building Empowerment in Your Teams

A Practical Guide to Developing People

Before sharing the eight tips for building empowerment in your Agile teams it would be good to start with a definition of  empowerment. It can be defined in many ways but we like this definition:

“enabling an employee to think, behave, act, react and control their work in more autonomous ways, so as to be in control of their own destiny”.

Effective employee empowerment not only has positive implications for employee satisfaction, but also many other organisational facets, such as customer service and retention.

It will encourage entrepreneurial traits and prompt employees to make decisions, take action, and foster their belief that they can take control of their own destinies. This belief leads to self-motivation and a sense of independence that is translated into greater loyalty and extra effort for the organization.

Empowered employees come to believe that they control their own success through their efforts and hard work, which in turn benefits the success of the entire organisation. 

The Communication Imperative

The most important factor in effective employee empowerment is communication – in both directions. Employee surveys and evaluations show that empowerment and communication rate highest in regard to employee satisfaction in an organisation. Companies committed to employee empowerment provide more information in greater detail than the average company.

This will require management to invest in increased amounts of time communicating to employees and allowing for feedback. In addition, it will require that management evaluate honestly the communication styles and methods that are being used to ensure the most effective possible processes.

Engagement is key

The Agile Leader will always look to foster empowerment in the workplace, and they should start with engagement. People who are engaged are more likely to benefit from being given the authority to make decisions about their jobs. There are three important aspects to engagement:

  • Relationship with direct manager – If employees do not have a good relationship with their line manager, they are unlikely to be engaged in the workplace and will often seek pastures new.
  • Belief in senior leadership – staff need to have confidence in senior leadership and the future direction of the company under their stewardship.
  • Pride in the company – employees should be proud to work for their company and of the positive impact they are making.

But engagement is merely one aspect of empowerment, as organisations also have to take the leap of faith and actually hand over responsibility to their workers.

So here are some ideas on empowering your teams and your people. This is based on Kevin Daum’s excellent article in Inc.com

Empowerment: Tips for Good Practice

  1. Foster Open Communication

Many companies are built on top-down communication from management. Employees in this environment feel there is no purpose in taking a stand, since they have no direct channel and don’t feel they’ll have an impact. As a leader, you may have clear direction and more experience, but that doesn’t invalidate feedback and ideas from people on the front lines.

The Agile Leader will give employees structured ways to make their thoughts, feelings and observations known easily and regularly. Help them understand that their input is valued even if you decide to go a different way. Make sure you acknowledge them for sharing and reward valuable input that helps the company.

  1. Reward Self-Improvement

Many leaders complain that employees are stagnant but do little to help them grow. In such cases, somehow management has the idea that promotion and money are sufficient to get people to advance. More often than not, people don’t have the resources or knowledge of what to do. Many entrepreneurs are so accustomed to self-improvement that they assume everyone thinks the same way.

The Agile Leader will budget money and time for management and personal development training, helping employees set a plan for growth and rewarding them as they advance. They’ll be grateful and apply their newly-learned skills as they step up to leadership opportunities.

  1. Encourage Safe Failure

Many employees, by their very nature, are risk-adverse. That’s why they are employees and not entrepreneurs. If they work in an environment where the boss is always correcting them before they have a chance to execute, they will constantly look for approval before taking action or, worse, simply avoid any new or dynamic action.

The Agile Leader will give employees the opportunity to try new things in a way that doesn’t put the company in danger. Create milestone checkpoints or set up laboratory environments where people can test new ideas and learn from the failures as well as the successes. Then your employees will gain understanding and feel comfortable innovating.

  1. Provide Plenty of Context

Most leaders carry lots of information in their brains. Unfortunately, many employees don’t get the benefit of all that information, yet they are expected to take action and make good decisions as if they understood every nuance.

The Agile Leader will work out how to extract the important information from their minds and share it in a structured and consistent manner. An employee who clearly understands the core values, purpose and direction of the company can easily make consistent decisions and take appropriate action at any junction. It’s on you as the leader to impart your vision. That’s how you lead.

  1. Clearly Define Roles

People who don’t know what they are supposed to do can’t do it very well. Additionally, they need to know their boundaries so they don’t step on others’ toes or create inefficiency through redundancy.

The Agile Leader will establish specific roles and responsibilities with employees so all are clear and can work together cooperatively.

  1. Require Accountability

 People need to know when they are meeting expectations and, more importantly, when they are not. No one will maintain accountability if they don’t understand the consequences of failure. And if they see others not being held accountable, they will see little need to make the extra effort for success.

The Agile Leader will be consistent and diligent in their measurement and rewards so employees are motivated to do their best.

  1. Support Their Independence

A leader who is constantly looking over the shoulder of employees is little more than a babysitter.

The Agile Leader will give their employees reasons and opportunity to stretch out on their own and even lead others. They may stumble, but they’ll learn a lot and build the respect of their colleagues while preparing to be great empowering leaders themselves someday.

  1. Appreciate Their Efforts

Yes, it’s true that people get paid for the job. But the best employees don’t work at your company just for the money. Empowered people need a greater level of satisfaction than simply financial stability. They need to feel that leadership appreciates their contribution and values their participation.

The Agile Leader won’t be shy about finding ways to say “thank you” or celebrating the good things their employees do. If they have to ask how they are doing, you are doing your job poorly as a leader 


Try introducing just one of these practices every day

Author: Ed Holt