Three principles for empowering your team

Stepping into a management role from a technical role, especially in creative work can be tough. Since September 2020, I have been a senior manager and shareholder in a creative consultancy and I wanted to take some time to reflect upon my journey to management, taking a deep dive into one of the most difficult yet essential aspects of better management and that’s empowering your team.

Team members with coffee

The micromanager trap

Otherwise coined as the 🚁 helicopter boss, it’s fair to say most new managers (especially those who started out in technical/creative work before) are typically hands-on and controlling. This is largely due to the fact that as new managers, we have a part of us that thinks are colleagues don’t have sufficient skills to make good decisions or are not sufficiently accountable. In other words we are unable to “let go” and provide an environment that is “safe to fail”.

Despite being fortunate to work in a company that was accepted failure as an opportunity to grow, only through regular one on one meetings as a manager did I hear time and time again that my team members welcomed the opportunity to make their own decisions and learn how to “fail” well.

This “learning to fail well” stretches even further than just management. Through product design, entrepreneurship and broader decisions of life we often grow the most when we fail well.

Reversible vs irreversible decision making

Related to reaching a point that we can “let go” more as a manager and trust our team mates, it’s important that our individual decision making aligns with this as well. With this in mind and also as you will quickly find out as a new manager, daily you’re going to be making a bunch decisions so it’s going to be a massive help to have some guiding principles on how to handle this; and this one is stupidly simple that it’s easy to overcomplicate it.

If a decision is easily reversed such as setting up meeting times, picking a font or an image for something, booking a meeting room or ordering office supplies, you don’t need to dwell on it. Just quickly ping a team member to help you out or go ahead and action the task yourself — no permission needed.

A general rule of thumb in categorising a reversible decisions is to ask yourself a simple questions:

  • Is this going to cost a lot of time and/or money?
  • If no, action the decision
  • If yes, this could be an irreversible decision so get a second opinion

Like I said, it’s so simple that it’s easy to overcomplicate this one. Myself included, too many times do I catch myself being indecisive and not sticking to this simple principle.

Delegated decisions

To delegate decisions to your team members is, in my experience, one of the fundamental principles that underpin better management. In delegating decision to other team members, we’re paving the way for our colleagues to develop their managerial capabilities and provide them with the authority, autonomy, trust and power to act and ultimately leading to greater autonomy and empowerment of our team members. In doing so, as a manager we’re removing ourselves from the need to micromanage and significantly reducing the risk of decision fatigue by allowing our team members to thrive and develop by learning from their own decision making processes.

Last words

With these three things in mind, I want to leave you with a picture of a new type of organisation in which the title of “manager” may no longer be appropriate. With each individual team member having the power and autonomy to make and learn from their own decision making, the role of the manager would become a “facilitator” of this culture and environment and to ensure that this autonomous corporate ecosystem is adequately supported. In doing this, alongside creating and growing a more efficient company, we’re facilitating real growth and empowerment of our team members in which it’s in their best interests to perform well at what they do.

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