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empowered team

How Managers (unintentionally) Roadblock an Empowered Team

by | Jun 13, 2022 | By David Dye |

Empowered teams will transform results, solve problems you didn’t know exist, and rapidly respond to change. Most managers will say they want those outcomes and that they believe in an empowered team, but unintentionally prevent their teams from doing their best. Avoid these common roadblocks and you’ll release your team to be their best:

  1. Soak up their time
  2. Unclear definition of success
  3. Be a chokepoint
  4. Misguided support
  5. Keep information to yourself
  6. Fear new ideas
  7. Lack of accountability

What is an Empowered Team?

“Empower” is one of those business lingo words that risks losing its meaning because it’s used so often – and often incorrectly. Even the core meaning of the word (to give power) is challenging. There are some times you do “give” power over…for example, when you ask someone to make a decision or offer an opportunity to try something new.

But most of the time, empowerment isn’t about you giving your team anything – it’s about helping them understand and own the power they already have. This means removing roadblocks, supporting them, giving them the information they need to make effective decisions, and helping navigate relationships with other teams.

An empowered team solves problems on their own, they think critically, the own their outcomes and work together to achieve them. They are confident and competent, while continuing to learn and grow.

One Big Reason Managers Disempower Their Team

The most common mistakes that disempower teams often result from a manager’s insecurity. Insecurity looks like a manager who feels they have to demonstrate their value by taking up everyone’s time, being the source of all knowledge, or unwillingness to consider new ideas because of the risk involved.

If any of those sound familiar, we invite you to reframe what success looks like in your role. It isn’t the work you do or how smart you are. Your success is how successfully your team performs, how they grow, and the quality of problems they solve.

Seven Common Mistakes that Roadblock an Empowered Team

As you build an empowered team, focus on removing these roadblocks and watch your team flourish.

Soak up Their Time

People need time to do the work that’s at the core of their function. Take up too much of that time with meetings or endless discussions and they end up working after hours to make up the gap (or not). Either way, it’s a problem.

At the same time, your team needs to meet. You should have one-on-ones. You should discuss and make decisions together. How do you find the right balance?

The shortest way to answer this question is to ask, “Is this meeting for the team/employee’s benefit or for mine?” Will it truly help them be more connected, productive, effective, visible, or equipped? If it’s not an effective use of their time, consider eliminating, consolidating, or automating that process.

If it is a good use of time, lead your meetings efficiently with a clear outcome for the discussion. Protect your team’s time—in today’s workplace, it’s one of the greatest acts of service you can give.

Unclear Definition of Success

When we talk with managers about empowered teams, one of the first questions they ask is “How can I empower my team when they don’t get the results we need?”

The answer to this question almost always comes back to two things: unclear definitions of success and/or a lack of training.

The challenge for most managers is that they think they’ve communicated what success looks like, but their team doesn’t have the same picture at all. It often takes far more communication up front than you think it will.

Take the time to check for understanding, schedule the finish, and describe in detail what a successful outcome looks like or will accomplish (and if you don’t know yet what success looks like, be upfront about that. Include future time and emotional energy for edits).

As your team works toward that goal, revisit those outcomes – will their current approach achieve those goals?

Be a Chokepoint

How often is your team waiting on you for information, your opinion, or a decision? If you are a consistent chokepoint, there are several solutions. You may need to give the team more information. You might need to invite them to trust their judgment (and respond with regard as they learn). It’s possible they need more training in how you would think about the subject or make a decision.

If you’re a consistent chokepoint, set aside consistent time to invest in growing your team’s skills and abilities. Get comfortable with not being a part of every decision – remember, that’s not your job. Helping your team know how to make good decisions is where the magic happens.

Misguided Support

Like the people in them, teams have natural life cycles. They usually start needing training and equipping, then need to grow their competence and confidence on the way to mastery. Give your team the support they need when they need it.

Some managers over-rely on one type of support. For example, if you’re an ace at coaching and accountability conversations, and you tend to see everything through that lens, you will miss opportunities to help a low-confidence team build their belief in their own ability. Encouragement would be more effective.

The confidence-competence model is a useful way to think about the specific support your team needs.

Keep Information to Yourself

There are usually two causes when managers don’t share information with their team. First, the manager doesn’t want to share it for fear of becoming irrelevant or losing the value their knowledge gave them. The second cause is time – you’re moving fast and hadn’t realized the team didn’t know or could really use that information.

If you worry about losing value when you share information, remember:

Success isn’t the work you do or how smart you are. Your success is your team’s performance, how they grow, and the quality of problems they solve.

To help your team get the information they need, include five-why questions (ask why five times until you get to foundational reasons) to uncover needed connections and purpose. Another useful technique is a pre-mortem – done well, you’ll uncover critical information and opportunities.

Fear of New Ideas

Another common roadblock for empowered teams is a manager’s reluctance to consider new ideas. It’s understandable: if what we did yesterday worked, why would we want to change it?

It’s a natural way to think and, unfortunately, it doesn’t serve you or your team well. The world is changing. Your competition is changing. Technology evolves.

New ideas and solutions are critical for your long-term success. You don’t have to embrace every idea, but the more you create a culture where solving problems and daily innovations are the norm, the more relevant and effective you and your team will be.

Start here to help your team think through and contribute game-changing ideas. And here’s a resource to help you share your ideas (and be a role model for your team).

Lack of Accountability

A poorly performing team member or someone’s disruptive, negative behavior are roadblocks to team performance. In highly effective, empowered teams, the team may address it internally. If not, healthy accountability and feedback conversations are another place where you help remove obstacles to a truly empowered team.

Here’s a resource for more on how to have effective performance conversations that achieve results and build relationships.

Your Turn

Leading empowered teams can be one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences you’ll have. But it requires reframing what success looks like in your role. Become a leader who removes roadblocks like the seven mentioned here and watch what your team will achieve.

I’d love to hear from you: what would you add to this list? What other common roadblocks can frustrate or undermine an empowered team?

Team Accelerator for Empowered Team

David Dye helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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