October 27, 2021

How to Empower Your Team in 3 Easy Steps

All teams have leaders. They're re accountable, amongst other things, for their team’s effectiveness. Perhaps the best way to enable this effectiveness is to empower the team. But how to empower the team? This article covers three easy tips to do just that.

A leader and a team

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Empower Your Teams - Advice for Leaders

As regular readers will know, I teach Scrum. You may wonder therefore, whether this is a post about Scrum and leadership within Scrum. It isn't. This is a post about leadership.

In my varied past, I've been an RAF Police Special Investigator, RAF Officer, Software leader, Scrum Master and Agile Coach, to name just a few roles. The three steps I am about to share with you would work successfully in all these areas. Let's get started.

Step 1 : Trust Your Team and Get Out of Their Way

A vital element of empowerment is trust. You have to trust your team. Offer up a goal, invite their discussion and agreement, and then let them decide how to meet that goal. Yes, initially they'll make mistakes. But they'll also learn and they will improve.

If you find this step difficult ask yourself this question: "Is my mind superior to the collective minds of the team?" If your answer is 'yes' I suggest you have things to consider other than leading a team.

Trusting the team means letting them organize their work. It means letting them choose their techniques. It means letting them manage themselves.

We're there to offer help, when asked. I call it 'leadership by consent'. If the team ask me for help, my options include coaching, teaching, mentoring or facilitating. Because these are leadership styles that go well with empowerment.

Step 2 : Remove Impediments to Progress

All teams will face blockers as their work progresses. As a leader, it's our job to watch out for these and work to remove them. If we work well, the team won't even be aware of these impediments because we've removed them before they impeded the team's progress.

To be effective at removing impediments requires a particular approach.

First, we have to identify them. To do this, we need to be 'invisibly present' as our teams work, and constantly listening for evidence of impediments. By making use of osmotic communication, we'll become aware of impediments early.

Second, having identified an impediment, classify it and mitigate it. Impediments can be classified as either internal or external. Internal impediments are ones that the team can resolve for themselves. External impediments are ones that the team cannot resolve and we must do it for them.

For internal impediments, our job is to bring the team's attention to the impediment and invite them to address it. An example might be Bob going on holiday next week and only Bob can work on a vital part of the product which we were looking to do next week. This is one that the team can resolve for themselves and they should. Our role is to make sure the team are aware and are addressing it.

For external impediments, our job is to address them on behalf of the team. An example might be that our team needs a testing environment in a months time. They have submitted a purchase request internally but the infrastructure team are dragging their heels. It's up to us to make sure the testing environment is available. Either by working closely with the infrastructure team or, where necessary, finding alternate ways to procure the infrastructure.

Step 3 : Remember - It's Not About You

I've deliberately left the hardest step to the end.

I've already used the phrase 'invisibly present' but it's worth repeating. Being a good leader is not about you getting attention. It's all about your team and their performance.

Some of the best leaders I ever met were quiet, unassuming, and laid back. Yet their teams achieved high performance. The contrary is also true. I've met leaders that were very visible. In the midst of crises, they could be seen barking instructions left and right. They were in their element but often, their teams were demoralised, disengaged and disempowered.

It takes courage to let your team own the solution and outcomes. But if you want them to be empowered and own the problem, its a necessary pre-cursor.

When your team earns recognition for their hard work, push them forward to receive it. Take pride in their achievements. Their results are your reward.

Conclusion

It's easy to empower teams. The hard part is applying the simple steps:

  • Trust your team and get out of their way
  • Remove impediments to progress
  • Remember - It's Not About You