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Organizational Consultation XXII: Empowerment (Part Two)

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Blanchard suggests that further group empowerment involves the progressive movement toward decisions that are complex, difficult and consequential:[vi] At each stage, Blanchard and his associates suggest that it is helpful to draw upon those decision-making skills that have been previously taught. I would specifically propose that this training focus on communication, conflict-management, and problem-solving skills. Each of these skills gives the teams greater decision-making responsibility. “By allowing [team members] to make more complex decisions that previously were restricted to learners, the teams will solidify their skills and be encouraged by seeing their abilities in action.”[vii] When team members have earned greater responsibility and exhibit increasingly skillful group functioning, they will feel appreciated and therefore will be even more motivated to address these complex, difficult and consequential decisions.

This gradual movement toward increasing group responsibility for making decisions relates not just to the needs for new skills, knowledge and perspectives. It also relates to a deeper issue concerning the appropriate balance between freedom and control in the organization. The manager can’t just abandon control, given that ultimate responsibility usually resides with this person. Furthermore, is it fair to ask employees to assume responsibility when they are not being paid as managers or do not have the staff support of those in management positions. On the other hand, the granting of freedom to employees so that they can create, learn, and influence the operations of their organization is a very generous and appreciative act.

Scott and Jaffe suggest that this is always a critical balancing act in any empowerment process:[viii]

The new workplace is one where people are empowered to make their own decisions and manage themselves. Empowerment is quite different from the traditional notion of control. It is an environment where people want to be responsible and are free to take action. But too much personal freedom would lead to chaos. You, as a manager or supervisor, probably feel that you are caught between imposing control and allowing personal freedom. . . . You want to keep tight control over quality and resources. But you want to enhance individual creativity, make people responsible for results, and invite them to develop high commitment to their work. Empowerment is finding the right balance.

Thus, the real challenge during this last stage of the appreciative empowerment process is finding this right balance. Blanchard and his associates suggest that one will strike this right balance by slowly phasing in increasingly demanding decision-making tasks. I would suggest that this right balance is also struck by helping group members master the subtle art of decision-making through the creation of appropriate group structures, processes and attitudes.

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