Should We Forget the Word Empowerment for a Time?
So what is this Empowerment? In what context do we use Empowerment? And what are the barriers to Empowerment? The meaning of the word is to empower, strengthen, transfer power. An Agile team needs authority, decision, and space to manage itself. First of all, they should make their own decisions about Sprint management.
Empowerment, the Need for Protection in Companies and Strong Agile Intellectuals in Companies
Everywhere, we talked, we said, we shouted, we called, we set fire... We said that Agile Teams should be Empowered. We said empowerment and empowerment. Management also loved this word, as they thought it would increase employee ownership, and they are not wrong. However, they may have overlooked the fact that sometimes one’s possessions must be given up in order to increase the ownership of others.
So what is this Empowerment? In what context do we use Empowerment? And what are the barriers to Empowerment? The meaning of the word is to empower, strengthen, transfer power. An Agile team needs authority, decision and space to manage itself. First of all, they should make their own decisions about Sprint management. We want the team to decide on issues such as who will do what work, how it will be done, how will the internal process be when the constraints are evaluated, etc. and to be able to implement their decisions. We also want the team’s word to be heard and them to be at the table in terms of delivery times, cost, planning. Because we know that people care much more about their own promises than the promises made by others on their behalf. At this point, we use that magic word again. Empowerment.
Frankly, I wonder if the word is actually understood correctly.
I even think that we should not use this word anymore. Because the one who empowers, that is, Empowerers always stay Empowered. I knight you and I am the king/queen. Well, we have already been questioning the royalty, how will this work now? I think there are also symptoms that this approach brings out.
- Determining deadlines, giving costs without asking the team and expecting the team to comply with them
- Meeting requests from managers to the team without question, tickling the value of focus and respect… And is a team something to be respected?
- The ability to quickly replace the Reviews during non-executive hours with executive assistants.
- Removing a team member from the team and giving the member to the other team without the team’s opinion
- Calling the Product Owner and trying to get him to make the team do things right away
- Giving work to team members from different managers during the Sprint, etc.
On the other side of the coin, I observe the existence of another powerful phenomenon that causes people to do the above blindly.
You have heard in many organizations… When you ask the employees how satisfied they are with their managers, you will get the answer from many people that “he is not a good manager, but he protects us”... This answer inevitably brings to mind the questions such as: “Who is it protecting from?”, “Why is it protecting?”, “Why is protecting people more important than ‘managing/leadership’”, which takes us back to the second level, Safet primitive need, in Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs..
How do companies create such environments that people feel the need to be protected so much? Why do they need people around them who can protect themselves in that environment?
What comes to my mind about the reasons for the need for protection people experience in companies:
- The general feeling of fear towards management in the company; Fear of being fired, fear of embarrassment, fear of being disgraced, fear of career jeopardy (we also know that people can be threatened with this at some companies)
- The lack of communication created by the “Let your manager come” attitude, being treated like dirt. That is the feeling of being nothing in the eyes of a few top ranks, as if in the military.
- The feeling of being lowly is experienced in one-to-one communication with the manager of a unit other than the unit he/she works for.
- A different approach to the team, a different one to the manager that is experienced in teams that meet with the customer one-on-one
- Parental fear created by the manager on the employee. They even apply some tactics to create this, that is, to be the one to be afraid. For example; if someone has just started working in the company, behaving badly to someone else next to him, getting angry. A kind of primitive show of force…. In this case, it shows its strength in the area where it is active, lowering the bar to the level of “Look what I can do, but if I am not doing it, it is a good thing”. Being more distant with the employees than in his life, not laughing too much, keeping his life private, etc.
- He will secure my promotion, support higher premiums, and increase my salary. He will defend my rights against the company. (I won’t get into the feeling of helplessness caused by people’s lack of power in this matter)
In other words, since all the powers in the hands of the person who was very strong when entering the company are given to the company, people are rendered powerless and unprotected in this environment. While people on the team think their managers are protecting them in the company’s wild ecosystem, Agile comes and says Empower the team. So who will protect the team/team members when the team is Empowered? There is a serious question here. If the people in the team cannot find the answer to this, the old status quo will work... People will tend to take care of whoever is protecting them. Therefore, there will be a situation called “Empowerment”, whose operation is “Old Status quo”. Neither the team will give what is expected nor the management will get what they want.
Apart from the Epic of forcing the organization off of the place that is wild and needs protection, what can be done here might be to create a real safety zone for the team. In other words, from what we know as a civilized society. Making decisions, implementing these decisions, being consulted, putting the team’s ideas into practice, being able to speak their mind without fear, being able to protest, criticize and show the courage to be open to criticism... In short, I think it's what is called the field of psychological security. I think that this field can be done with sponsors who are “Agile Intellectuals” (a kind of new generation bourgeois) who sincerely understand the issue of Empowerment and are ready to use their power for teams. Otherwise, I think the word Empowerment can go no further than being an extraordinarily powerful way of selling “to hold teams accountable for results” to management. For this reason, instead of saying the name of Empowerment without seeing it, it may be healthier to understand and question “which powers the administration has given up.” Otherwise, I think we are misusing this word. In fact, we may have approached this way as consultants many times over.
Thinking that every day is a new learning opportunity, feeling that you are getting better, and best of all, thinking that it is valuable to experience staying within the limits of the truth... We are also learning…