Empowering the Team

I guess the shoe is on the other foot now.

In previous work environments I was sometimes asked for my opinion on a specific matter or to provide feedback as part of a larger group. It was frustrating to find that when the final decisions were made, it often appeared my voice hadn’t been heard at all. Consequently I wondered why I had bothered to contribute in the first place and would be tempted to hunker down and just mind my own business.

Nowadays the position is reversed as I’m the one who as project director is soliciting feedback and opinions from the others on our team. In fact it’s even more than that for me as it’s not only about feedback and opinions; it’s about ensuring consensus and collective decision making – a key principle of our community development approach. With a team as diverse as ours, the end results are always more sound, richer, and innovative.

On paper that sounds great but here’s my dilemma. What happens when decisions are time sensitive, opinions vary too widely for consensus, or decisions are better made by those with more technical knowledge and expertise? 

There are a lot of times when I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place in trying to answer those questions. 

Regardless I’m left wrestling with how to maximize the contributions of team members.

Additionally, I’m struggling with the realization that those on our team who come wearing business lenses sometimes place less importance on feedback and collaboration thereby often moving too fast. However, those from the community sector tend to be so much about collaboration and consensus that it can slow them down.

Of course neither the business nor the community viewpoint is right or wrong because communities need to make business-oriented, economically sound decisions just as much as they need to engage and involve citizens and community organizations.

So maybe, just maybe the answer is that we need one another.

As one of our team members recently put it, “The weirder the mix, the better the fix”.

Something quite wonderful does happen when individuals with diverse lenses, skills and backgrounds are brought into the mix.
Ultimately though it is all related to learning because along the way we all tend to become more aware of what we know and what we don’t know.

So here’s what I’ve learned this week.

When asking for feedback I need to be clearer up front about the kind of team engagement being sought as there is clearly something of a continuum.

At the one end of the spectrum it will sometimes simply be about communicating information.

At the far end of that same spectrum, it would instead be about empowering the team to share the decision-making power.

While empowerment is probably the ideal, there are situations where that just may not be practical or feasible.

For instance in making decisions about our logo this week, empowering the team to make the decision just didn’t work out. While we did solicit feedback from team members during the process that was given serious consideration there were a lot of diverse opinions. Ultimately the final decision was made by those who know most about design. Even though I really wanted the team to have the final say, the knowledgeable feedback from the graphic designer was just too sound to ignore.

I guess the point is that in between simply communicating information at one end, and empowering at the other end, there are stages in between that are more about consulting and involving. Sometimes the reality is that it can only be about seeking opinions or asking others to be involved in the decision-making and action and therefore not always be true empowerment.

I could probably write more on the subject but right now I need to write an email to explain to the team why the logo they chose won’t be the one we’re using. That is in fact something else I’ve learned this week. When you ask for someone’s feedback and then seemingly ignore it, at the very least, you owe them an explanation.

Most importantly though I’ve learned that my job is to be clearer in the first place about whether I’m informing, consulting, involving, or ideally, empowering.

After all, as another of our wise team members suggested, “In community development there is no one best way. Instead, there is a way.  And, together will definitely be better in finding the way to active, creative, engaged communities.

Posted on 08-31-08


If we all would have read this one before our gathering it might have given insight into not only the name change but also to the dilema placed before you in many situations. I’m going to include this blog for all of our coaches to read. Thanks Brenda for being who you are and sharing yourself with us.

•Posted by Karen Driedger  on  09/28/08  at  06:32 PM

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