Certainly there are many types of teams, but in recent times it’s been similar to the alphabet soup of quality tools and techniques. Top executive teams, project teams, six sigma teams, cross-functional teams, improvement teams, self-directed teams, and ad hoc teams are some of the more recognizable forms.

Even though teams come in several varieties, they all have one thing in common. Teams are constructed entities designed to achieve some desired outcome.

One key ingredient for teams to be successful is empowerment. It wasn’t until 1984 that Dr. Julian Rappaport, a professor at the University of Illinois, introduced this concept in his book “Studies in Empowerment.” Subsequently companies began to understand this approach that would be key to unlocking employee potential. 

A team that is empowered is nurtured by a supporting culture in which the organization’s vision, mission and corporate values are substantive and sustainable. An empowered team, therefore, has the necessary information, skills and authority to make decisions that ratchet up performance and drive results.

Additionally, how well a team functions depends largely on how well it is structured, the interpersonal relationships and the quality of team leadership. There are five elements required for high performance.

The team must be guided by a clear strategy. This strategy actually directs decision-making and gives team members a sense of purpose. Otherwise, what’s the advantage of being empowered?

Operational goals that flow from the strategy must be clearly understood. At the tactical level, a team without clear, specific operational goals can easily become a house divided, with each member empowered to follow only his or her own pet initiatives.

Roles and responsibilities must be clear and agreed upon. Otherwise empowerment is apt to devolve into individualistic behavior of passing the buck and blame fixing.

Business relationships must be transparent and honest. Effective empowerment assumes team members can confront issues, as well as one another, openly. No amount of empowerment, however, will cure a culture that avoids conflict and buries disagreements, which Janis Irving termed Groupthink in 1971.

Protocols for decision-making must be established. Empowerment often gets derailed because there is no agreement on how decisions will be made. For the most part there are three primary options to consider. First, will decisions be made consultatively by one person after soliciting input from the rest of the team members? Second, will decisions be made only when all team members are in agreement? Third, will decisions be made by consensus where everyone has input and must agree to live with the outcome of majority rule?

Beyond the team agreeing on how decisions will be made, team leaders must establish a decision-making process that includes: (1) Identifying the decisions the team must make. Restating the situation so that everyone clearly understands the challenge; (2) Selecting the appropriate team members who must be accountable as the data gatherers for each decision; (3) Establishing a date for feedback and update to the team for each identified decision.

Once the team receives all of the feedback, they make and announce their decision according to the agreed upon process. Then it’s on to the next stage: implementation.

While the team leader frequently plays a key role in a high-performing team, success depends largely on the organizational environment and on team members’ ability to perform at a new level.

Truly empowered teams help their organizations create better quality products and services, increased customer satisfaction, while also bringing about enhanced profitability. So what’s the downside? Such growth doesn’t happen overnight!

Creating truly empowered teams is a process that cannot be done quickly. It’s certainly a lot more involved than just having an executive say, “You’re now empowered so go out and make it happen.”

It’s a process that can take years to fully develop and one that needs both a very supporting environment and an upper management dedicated to sustaining such an environment. The benefits, however, of a truly empowered workforce are immeasurable.

The team-building process produces more confident and motivated employees that should result in a better organization. Empowered teams have been known to drive performance improvement and often solving problems even before it’s evident that they’re necessary.

In today’s business environment many organizations have transformed their corporate cultures with empowered teams, while at others the transformation is well underway. If your organization is not on this path, your competition is set to outpace your efforts.