How to Empower Your Team to Work Independently

Avoiding micromanaging, encouraging taking initiative, and fostering two-way communication are guaranteed to boost the independence of staff.

Add mentorship and a clear path to empower your team to the mix and you’ve got a bulletproof recipe for more self-reliant employees.

There comes a time when you need your workforce to step it up and take on more responsibility. To empower your team can be harder to achieve if your company isn’t necessarily known for having the culture of working independently. The solution is easy — start adopting principles that would cultivate a new, autonomy-based team dynamic.

Don’t jump the gun and enforce them all at the same time. This is likely to cause frustration and even fight-back from employees who aren’t used to being in control or making bigger-scale decisions.

Similar to babies who grow into toddlers and then into teenagers and adults, the transition from having a supervisor overseeing their work to being in charge of bigger projects should have a slow and steady pace. This way, you’ll be able to retain the focus of your team on learning how to take initiative and ensure that it’s on the right track to becoming confident enough to handle bigger tasks.

To show just how detrimental micromanaging is for the success of a company, take this study featuring over 7,000 workers as a point of reference. It revealed that employees who didn’t feel empowered to make decisions at work had an engagement level that was three times lower than that of employees who felt more empowered.

This directly impacts the overall performance of the organisation as those with highly engaged teams tend to outperform their competitors by a whopping 147% in earnings per share.

Still not convinced? Another study demonstrates that there’s a big gap between the amount of effort employees are willing to put in depending on how empowered they are at work.

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As few as 4% are inclined to work harder when not empowered while as many as 67% don’t mind going above and beyond when empowerment is high.

Now that you know for a fact that the empowerment of your personnel dictates how much your business will be thriving, you need to incorporate an approach that will allow your teams to operate without much supervision. Here’s what you can do starting today:

Leave micromanaging in the past

It can be tempting to want to control every process under the sun. At the end of the day, the fewer mess-ups, the better. But from the employee empowerment perspective, this can be counterproductive. If your staff knows that additional effort won’t be appreciated (or, worse, discouraged), why would they go an extra mile to then only be shut down?

It becomes even more damaging when employees start feeling threatened by overly authoritative managers who don’t give them enough freedom to think out of the box. This is where stagnation takes place and no progress is being made.

Instead, find the balance between guiding workers in the right direction and providing them with enough space to do their work without hovering over them 24/7. Direction is helpful, but excessive regulation is more often than not uncalled for.

Involve employees in the goal-setting process

Everyone likes to feel like they’re working towards something bigger than themselves — your employees aren’t an exception. Being able to contribute with insights and expertise, therefore, acts as a good motivator for them to operate independently and deliver better results.

So why not empower your team, and allow them to not only chime in but also have a say about the more substantial matters at those weekly brainstorming sessions?

Giving your team the freedom to make decisions on a bigger scale can greatly help bring fresh perspectives to the table. Besides, it prompts them to take on more responsibility and learn to be accountable for the decisions they decide to stick with.

Incentivise taking initiative

We aren’t talking about increasing salaries and promising big promotions — there are other ways to encourage and empower your team to step up and take more initiative.

To find out what it is that your employees will value the most, get a feel of the work culture they’re a part of, and ask them upfront about their personal motivations. There’s no harm in getting personal to then be able to offer the right incentives to the right people.

For some, it can be additional bonuses from closing every new deal, and for others, it can be profit-sharing which helps workers view the company’s successes as their own. Both are stimulating enough to make them want to lead and inspire others to do the same.

Allow them to come up with solutions on their own

Trusting that your team can solve their own problems goes a long way in facilitating their independence. It shows that you have enough confidence in them to figure out the solution without any interference from upper management and instills the same confidence in them to not give up and get to the bottom of the issue.

Whenever a point of concern comes up, listen to what your workers have to say and ask them probing questions without revealing the answer yourself.

Eventually, they’ll find the way out and be thankful for you having guided them in the right direction. Proving that you trust their judgment isn’t the same as abandoning them, so make use of it when possible.

Acknowledge and reward autonomy

Speaking about finding the right answers, it never hurts to recognise and reward your employees every time they’re stepping up. Whether it’s a new project they’ve taken on or a newcomer they’ve helped mentor during his first week, the commitment to be more autonomous should pay off.

Every time you encounter a change in behaviour of your team towards a more independent one, speak about it publicly. Public recognition of one’s accomplishments helps boost an employee’s sense of importance and, as a result, encourages him to continue playing big and reach new professional heights.

And since managerial approval means a great deal to your personnel, awarding them with more trust and bigger responsibilities is the right thing to do.

How to Empower Your Team

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Don’t punish failure but do provide constructive feedback

Mistakes are temporary and unavoidable, but your reaction to them is memorable. And while it’s smart to keep track of them and hold your team accountable when they do occur, you shouldn’t punish failure. In fact, the more you allow your employees to fail (in a controlled, low-stake manner), the better are the chances of them learning from their mistakes.

Aside from creating an environment where workers have space for failing and picking themselves back up, it’s vital to provide constructive feedback when needed. In an ideal world, you’d want to find the balance between letting your employees learn from their failures on their own and chipping in with advice to help them grow.

Make the communication a two-way street

To have a mutually accepting and encouraging work environment, communication between all management levels should be open at all times. Any employee should feel free to approach a colleague with a higher title and expect him to not only listen but also answer questions and take in suggestions the other party is proposing.

This way, all staff will feel empowered to make independent decisions and there will be no hindrance to progress.

No single person can make it on their own — even CEOs with decades of experience running businesses. By recognising that you, too, aren’t immune to making mistakes, you’re leaving room for improvement that will result in more self-reliant employees and a better-performing company. It’s a win-win.

Be (or assign) a mentor

Walk your talk or, in other words, be the type of figure that exhibits the behaviour you want your team to have. Once you do, it’ll be much easier to reinforce the company culture where everyone is helping each other to bring as much value to the table as possible. You can even consider assigning a mentor to each of your employees if mentoring them yourself isn’t in the cards.

A great mentor does all of the above and more. He’s able to draw from his experience and provide the mentee with advice that’ll help him get out of his comfort zone and take on more independent tasks.

For a newcomer, having a mentor can be life-changing as it’ll guide him in the right direction straight away. This will benefit the incomer in the long run as he’ll already know what’s expected of him.

Offer opportunities for growth

Your staff is more likely to want to put in more effort and undertake more ambitious tasks that require minimum supervision if there’s room for growth. It can be training they can take to hone their skills or a new project that will help them score a promotion down the line.

No matter what opportunity you’re offering, there’s a high likelihood that your workers will be able to reap the benefits sooner than later.

Holding back from investing in your personnel has never served anyone. The quicker they’re able to master skills that’ll help them move forward and work more independently, the more your company will be thriving. And isn’t this the goal anyway?

Experiment with going MIA

Don’t knock it till you try it — being absent for a little while for your team to work things through on their own can be a blessing in disguise. At first, it can seem counterintuitive, especially if employees have never taken on a fair amount of responsibility before.

But if you let them take ownership while observing their actions from afar, you’ll get a good idea about how well they can handle the responsibility on their own.

Do keep in mind that going MIA too often can backfire. Unless your team has proved to manage well the tasks that require a high level of independence, you should use this strategy sparingly. Test it out when the stakes aren’t too high and gradually increase the number of times you leave your employees to their own demise. You’ll be surprised by how effective being unavailable can be.

In Summary

It may feel like the effort to empower your team to work independently can be a hard feat. You have to implant it into your working culture and take small steps to ensure that your staff is on the right track to take on more responsibility.

It won’t be an overnight success but the results — a more independent team — will help you focus on bigger-picture goals and record bigger profits in the long run.

From cultivating a two-way communication structure to acknowledging and rewarding autonomy, there isn’t a shortage of strategies to implement to help boost your team’s self-reliance.

Start with ditching micromanaging and involving your staff in the goal-setting process and you’ll reach the point where there will be no need to ask employees to take on more responsibility; they’ll be taking the initiative themselves.

About the Author

Mikkel Andreassen is passionate about customer experience in every colour of the beautiful customer engagement spectrum. He loves building great connections with his customers, which often lead to meaningful friendships that last a lifetime and inspire his work.

Driven by the genuine belief that CX is the pivotal force that drives a successful business, he is currently at the helm of Dixa’s customer experience strategy.

Team 6Q

Team 6Q