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What Makes a Good Team? It Starts with Empowerment

What makes a good team all comes down to one thing: Empowerment.

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In our operating definition of team effectiveness, we explored the five components that influence how effective a team can be. At a closer look, it becomes apparent that empowerment is implied in each one.

Let's break it down.

What Makes a Good Team Capable of a Strong Start?

Individual Empowerment

You've probably experienced this. Some people join a team confidently and openly, eager to participate. Others seem more guarded and less committed to the team. They hold back, at least initially.

What's the difference?

Those who are individually empowered feel safer. They have a sense of power and, therefore, are less reserved about the inherent need to share power with other team members. They are operating from a place of abundance. Their empowerment may come from their job role, from support they get from their managers, from clarity of purpose for being on the team or from experience in working with similar teams.

Those who are not individually empowered enter into a team at a disadvantage. They may feel threatened by being asked to work with a group, particularly if they view the team assignment as an affront (secretly wondering why they weren't considered to do the work independently, for example). Operating from a position or feeling of low empowerment, it's challenging for them to positively consider sharing power or relying on others' power.

When teams are assembled, consider whether or not individual members generally feel a sense of empowerment or not. Empowered team members bring a "can do" attitude to the team and will navigate more quickly through the natural "forming, storming" stages of team development. Further, those who have been empowered have the example for empowering others -- this is a critical need for ongoing team success.

Individual empowerment includes:

  • Giving people authority, influence and control.
  • Involving people in decisions.
  • Allowing people freedom in the way they will complete their tasks.
  • Trusting people to be responsible for their own work.
  • Helping people work through obstacles.

If you are a team leader who is looking for empowered people. Use these factors in your selection process. If you are a manager with direct reports, this list can help you determine whether or not you are empowering members of your own work team.

What Makes a Good Team Effective in Reaching Shared Goals?

Team Empowerment

When a group of empowered individuals comes together, there will be a strong start for the team. However, the individual empowerment alone won't carry the team all the way to their goals.

Instead, attention is needed to establish empowerment for the team. Without team empowerment, the competing interests of individual empowerment can lead to unproductive conflict.

To empower the team, establish:

#1 - Shared goals. A team is united by a common purpose. From the very chartering of the team, this common purpose must be conveyed and mutually understood. In all likelihood, team members have been individually charged with representing the needs/wants of their own constituent groups, so these potentially competing interests need to be addressed. Ideally, they would all be possible within the larger purpose of the team.

#2 - Respect for the team. How familiar are others with the team's purpose? What access do they have to give the team input? How are they informed about the team's progress? These considerations may determine whether the team is respected or rejected by others. If others respect the team, they are more likely to provide information and other resources the team may need to reach its goals.

#3 - Team autonomy. Empowered teams operate autonomously when it comes to decision-making and work processes. They are more than worker bees executing someone else's decisions and vision. If a team has clear direction and well-defined outcomes to work toward, there is not need to be overly prescriptive in how they choose to do their work.

What Makes a Good Team Lose Momentum?

Barriers to Team Empowerment

Roadblocks to team effectiveness can usually be traced to a deficit in team empowerment. These obstacles often occur after a team has already made a strong start. The stall-out is perplexing and causes a focus on symptoms rather than getting to these core issues:

Lip Service: The initial build-up boosts confidence and opens doors for a new team. But if the empowerment promised verbally isn't delivered on in the day-to-day actions, that lip service will backfire. A deflated team, one that comes to the realization that they've been set up, is a team that will give up.

Command and Control: It could be external or internal, exhibited by any individual who operates on power vs. empowering all team members. Each authoritative mandate to the team erodes the team's empowerment. Soon, team members will feel like drones and lose their passion for achieving team objectives.

Unresolved Conflict: Teams that are truly empowered address issues as they arise. They don't let petty differences, personality clashes, turf wars or other interferences compromise their progress toward a shared purpose. Unresolved conflict is insidious and will divide a team if not swiftly resolved.

Lack of Trust: From the beginning, team members should continually work to understand each other. Trust is the foundation of compromise and collaboration. When team members do not trust each other, the work they must do together will take longer, cost more and yield less.

Lack of Clarity about Team Purpose: It's the essence of empowerment. Knowing the team's purpose and having a common understanding of it is the root of a team's power. Without this, the team cannot operate autonomously. It won't be respected. Individuals will not be motivated to look beyond their own personal needs. Getting clarity at the onset is critical. Keeping full focus on the team purpose is also essential.

Genuine empowerment is what makes a good team. Without it, the team is inherently less capable than it could be.


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The CONNECT2Win Blog has been discontinued. The CONNECT2Lead Blog continues, and you'll find free and affordable resources for team on People First Leadership Academy