Self empowered teams

Having control — over your career, decisions that impact your work and your deliverables — are usually important to most people. This is a really difficult thing for most people though. Sometimes even the realization that they have the option of taking control of their own path and having a say is a blurry concept at best.

Self empowerment at work

This feeling could be described in a few different ways — autonomy, self-empowerment, ownership — are just a few words to describe this “sense of control over your own work”. For the purpose of this post, let’s stick with self-empowerment.

Empowerment as action refers both to the process of self-empowerment and to professional support of people, which enables them to overcome their sense of powerlessness and lack of influence, and to recognize and use their resources. — — from wikipedia

To me, self-empowerment means the intrinsic ability of a person to take ownership of what they’re responsible for (no matter how small or big that responsibility is). It means a realization, that you have a set of skills and experiences that make you suited to do your job, and do it well.

Let me “empower” you?

Nice buzzword right? Can’t you just imagine a job description with this phrase peppered in somewhere — “..we value self-empowered and self-motivated people…”. But I have seen another version of this, where employers feel that self-empowerment is “given” to their employees. That implies a position of authority, from which “empowerment” is gifted to the employee. And that is an unfortunate way a lot of leaders in the industry tend to talk about empowerment, where it shifts from “self-empowerment” to empowerment which is given.

Instead of trying to “empower” your employees, consider stepping out of their way, giving them the tools and authority to make their own decisions and watch them empower themselves to do the work they are passionate about.

Intrinsic motivation

Daniel H. Pink talks about autonomy in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” — where he describes autonomy as one of the three characteristics (autonomy, mastery and purpose) that intrinsically motivate us to do our best work. Self-empowerment and autonomy are slightly different concepts, but in this context, they might be two sides of the same coin. The author talks about how self-empowerment leads to heightened intrinsic motivation in a person, which leads to a much higher level of creativity and productivity in a person than extrinsic motivation of what he calls “if-then rewards”.

What it comes down to is being intrinsically motivated to do what you’re passionate about, and being able to own the decisions and defining your own path that leads to that goal. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation needs to be nurtured within the right environment, or it can be lost.

Self empowered teams — why is it important

One of the fundamental problems that an organization faces, is to get every individual to care about the goal of the business or organization. For this to happens the organization needs to enable self-empowered teams which would help break the organization goal into smaller goals that the team can achieve. The teams still need to work together to achieve the goal. But as each team gets the ownership of to achieve their own part of the goal, they start to have the feeling of not letting themselves or bigger team (organization) down. And this leads us to High Performing teams. Creative thinking would be at its best because the team owns the product or project (not the company or someone within the company).

Right environment

There is another part of this equation that is often overlooked or understated —Environment. It is often taken for granted that once the company or leadership declares their values of “self-empowerment” or “autonomy” for the employees to take control of their decision, must be enough to set the ball rolling.

Passively declaring that in a “company values” webpage or an internal memo isn’t enough, not by a long-shot. If companies want to encourage this type of motivation within people, they need to actively invest in creating the “environment” in which self-empowerment can flourish.

Values that help create that environment

At the start, when an organization moves from the traditional command-and-control driven organization to self-empowered teams and individuals there are a lot of changes that need to happen in how the organization and individuals need to go through. There is actually a value system change that needs to happen. I think this is where a few of the XP values of courage, trust and feedback come together and help in creating an environment which fosters self empowered teams and individuals. Take away any of these values from the system and the whole system can just collapse or take away the effectiveness that you would have gained.

Why now?

The amazing thing about self empowered teams, is how communication and collaboration fosters and how individuals take the steps to break down intrinsic organizational and team boundaries. This gives the organization an edge by being adaptable/nimble to stay ahead or even survive.


Self empowered teams and individuals are more likely to give you the competitive edge that is required to excel in todays fast paced business environment. As leaders, we need to create the right environment at companies that nurture intrinsic motivation within people, that can cascade into an entire team’s productivity increase and supercharge the creative process. It makes the “whole is more than the sum of its parts” philosophy possible in a team and even across the organization.

This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owners and do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owners may or may not be associated with in professional or personal capacity, unless explicitly stated. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

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