How to Avoid Disempowering Your Workplace Team

Managing is a great position from which to enthuse and encourage people. Yet, this is a balancing exercise too; while seeking to encourage your team to greater heights, there are some pitfalls to avoid that can potentially disempower your team.


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    Avoid using empowerment as an excuse for a "hands off" approach. Empowerment is never a reason to abandon employees to their own devices, to strike out on paths unknown and risky. You need to remain involved, engaged, and actively listening. Let team members know that while you trust their skills, your door is always open and no question is ever stupid. Think of empowerment as a way to stimulate the best in your team members, to help mutual dialog flourish and to open up the availability of innovation tied to experience. You remain the experience at the top of the task and it's up to you to keep up on the progress. And consider the next step.
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    Practice knowing when to stand back, and when to intervene. There is no hard and fast rule here and sometimes you'll make mistakes by not intervening when you should have and by intervening when it wasn't needed. That's OK; it's all a learning process and you can take responsibility for your blunders and bolster team morale, provided that team communications are permitted to be open and honest. It might help to develop a system trigger that helps you know when it is vital to intervene, such as when a crucial looming deadline seems to be falling off the rails, or team members are duplicating work without cross-communicating this.
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    Don't be tempted to pull the leash too tight. The opposite of letting it all hang loose is keeping tight reins on your team. This will never lead to empowerment because team members will learn very quickly to question their own judgment and look to yours only. You will grow a group of copycats and the disgruntled will probably move on. Instead, embrace the possibilities and don't be afraid of the sense of loss of control. Empowerment is about letting go of your own concerns and trusting others to meet your expectations. Know your team well and then give them the discretion to make decisions to the extent of their skills, while at the same time helping them to learn new ways to meet challenges. Regular team and individual debriefing is a really important part of not being afraid of empowerment; provided you stay informed, you'll feel a lot more comfortable about letting go of the reins some more.
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    Avoid confusing the mission of the organization with empowerment of the team. Empowering employees doesn't change the business nor its direction. What it does do is provide your employees with a new managerial ethos to live up to their skills, to innovate within parameters and to create a business-wide culture that respects the autonomy of each individual employee.
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    Keep positive and avoid taking a threatened stance. Grooming team members to take your place is a good thing because eventually, believe it or not, you will want to move on, be it up or out, and transitions are always much easier on all involved if there are ready, good up-and-coming people beneath you. Besides which, think of it as leaving some of your stamp on the organization through coaching others.
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    Avoid dismissing team ideas out of hand. Although you have your vision of the business direction and you have your opinions about managerial skills, your team will always have ideas that come as a result of being at the front lines of the actual work you're managing. Always stay receptive, make it obvious that you're listening openly, and take on board the sensible and enhancing ideas. Make it clear to your team members that you're doing this and do it regularly.
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    Don't deny leadership within a team. Although you're the manager, natural leadership within a team can be very fruitful provided the leader respects your authority. Be aware of natural leadership tendencies and harness them for the good of the project and the growth of the individual. When such an aspiring individual realizes that you are both respecting and making use of their leading skills, they will be more prone to work effectively as a "sub-manager" on whom you can rely.
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    Give praise its dues. There are gruff managers who believe that praise should come at Christmas time in the form of a thank you card. A healthy and productive team environment regularly cross-praises and praises from the top-down. It gets even better when praise comes from bottom-up but don't expect miracles! Cultivate a culture of praise and this will feed directly into boosting the culture of empowerment. Avoid praise and you avoid full empowerment.

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