It should be easy, right. I trust my team to make their own decisions, meaning that I get on with my job as boss; leading the business forward on a strategic level, rather than being drawn into the gritty details of everyday office life.
But - sadly - it’s not quite that simple. In essence, you’re looking to grow your team so they can not only think for themselves, but so they can, in effect, rise above their own jobs. So they can progress and develop; so one day, they might even be better at their jobs than you are at yours. Empowering your team can be frightening as well as rewarding, and done properly, it requires a boss to take a degree of risk themselves.
To paraphrase Richard Branson, you are looking to empower your staff so they grow enough that they can leave; but treat them well enough so they don’t want to. That way, everyone grows and flourishes together.
The foundation of successful empowerment is trust. As a manager you must trust your team. Your team must trust each other; and you as their leader. Building trust is a culture issue, and changing or developing a culture takes time and effort - but as a manager you are in the right place to influence this. Get to know your staff as well as you can, as a starting point. Build relationships and leverage the trust equation before you worry too much about empowering your team to make decisions.
After establishing a degree of trust with your team, move onto communication. Make clear to your team what you need to know about on an everyday basis, what you don’t, and when - and how - people can raise concerns. Have an open door policy, and be honest with your team. If someone brings you an issue and you really don’t have time to coach them through it right then, arrange a time to talk more fully, being honest about the reasons you can’t deal with the problem there and then.
Set out your vision
Make sure your team understands how you want to work as a leader. Describe to them the high performance, self directing team you envisage - paint a picture so they can imagine the end point you’re working towards. Raise your thoughts with the whole team, make clear your expectation, and reaffirm this through one to one meetings and group events. Make sure people feel supported and able to take some considered risks.
Encourage controlled risk taking by sharing context. As manager you will always be privy to information not shared widely with more junior employees. However, without this bigger picture information, some colleagues might find it more difficult to make decisions that propel the business in the right direction. Err on the side of sharing if you possibly can without jeopardising information that may be critically business sensitive. You want people to think like they’re the boss, and putting them into the picture helps this, resulting in improvements all round.
Get the structure right
Support your vision with a structure which facilitates your team to make decisions without seeking approval. Be clear about which things they can deal with and which they can’t - this will differ greatly depending on the context of the business you operate, but in retail, for example, you can set relevant budgets to allow individual employees to resolve customer complaints independently, bringing the best outcome for customer and showing trust for employee. Whatever your business context, your structure should reflect a support and challenge structure, with clarity about who is responsible, accountable, consulted and informed about each element of each task. (For more on RACI see here).
Practise what you preach
Finally, make sure you practice what you preach. Think about your reaction when things go wrong - this sends a powerful message through your team. Think about who you praise and how you value staff members who make independent decisions. Delegate appropriately, and make sure that you require accountability from each individual taking on tasks and decisions on your behalf.
Empowering your team requires patience, effort and a willingness to take a personal risk. However, give it a go, and the potential benefits that can be harnessed through building your team in this way, have been shown time and time again to outweigh the time and emotional effort expended in doing so.