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Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

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Once a group has become proficient in communication, managing conflict and solving problems, it is ready to tackle the task of becoming more effective in making decisions. Actually, as both Ken Blanchard and Scott and Jaffe have noted, this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Typically, the authority to make decisions and the accompanying responsibility are slowly phased in. First, little decisions. Later, there will be big decisions. The phase-in should be gradual because this is often the most demanding and important process in which any group will engage. Without this careful preparation, groups often are ineffective in making decisions. The meeting often becomes a waste of time when the group flounders in making a decision. The meeting soon becomes even more wasteful, because the decision is now being made prior to the start of the meeting: “since the group can’t make a decision to save its soul, someone else will!” The meeting becomes nothing more than “window dressing” and tends to produce alienation and resentment, rather than any feeling of ownership for a decision that has already been made.

To make group decision-making successful and empowering, Blanchard and his colleagues propose a multi-stage process of increasing responsibility. They suggest that initially the team should address such issues as “how to improve operations in ways that cut costs, reduce defects/errors, enhance quality, reduce down-time, and so on.”[iii] At this initial stage the team should “not be asked to decide on new markets to enter, new products to introduce, or new production techniques with large budgetary implications.”[iv] These latter issues are strategic in nature, whereas the issues the team should first address are short-term and tactical.

In many ways this first stage is closely aligned with the problem-solving phase that I described earlier. Provided with sufficient training in problem solving (as well as communication and conflict-management) an empowered team should be able to readily make decisions regarding tactical issues:[v]

Team training is critical to helping teams learn to make team decisions and begin dealing with some of the smaller decisions that managers have traditionally made in hierarchical organizations. It can be beneficial to start with nonbusiness problems, which avoid the emotional element of the decision making and that are also fun.

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