Why We Need to Empower Teams, Not Individuals

By Natasha Naderi, Co-Founder of Emerge


What immediately comes to mind, when you think about creating more empowerment within your organization? Do you think about how to empower individuals through giving them more authority, involving them in decisions, or somehow motivating them to take more initiative? Or, do you think about how to empower teams?


I’ve noticed in many conversations around self-management lately, that most people default to thinking about how to empower individuals, not teams.


You might be wondering, ‘what’s the difference between empowering individuals and empowering teams and why does it matter?’



Well, I think it matters a lot. And can even make the difference between success or failure in organization transformation. Let’s investigate why.


What’s the Difference Between Empowering Teams and Empowering Individuals?


When we empower teams, we ask questions about how to optimize capability of the container of the team. On the other hand, when we empower individuals, we ask questions about how to optimize the capability of one person. Those are two very different sets of questions that create very different results.


Questions you might ask around empowering teams could include: What piece of the business can this team successfully manage and improve? What customers (internal or external) does this team serve? What resources, skills, and information does this team need to achieve its collective purpose? What rewards will motivate the performance of this team?


Questions one might ask to empower individuals might include: What roles and decisions can this person take on, without too much risk for the organization? How can we make sure the roles do not conflict or overlap? How will this role coordinate and collaborate with others in the organization? What support does this person need to grow and perform and how will the organization provide that? What rewards will motivate the performance of this individual?

Do you see the difference?


When we empower teams, we design self-management at a macro-level. Answering these questions at this level simplifies complex organizations. Empowering individuals, on the other hand, requires detailed effort and maintenance at the micro-level. Individual roles must be carefully defined and continuously updated through a tight process of governance, in order to avoid conflicts.


Organizations move into self-management with greater ease and simplicity when the focus is on empowering and optimizing teams, instead of individuals.

Here’s why.


Benefits of Empowering Teams


1. Teams are Adaptable. When atoms, cells, and human beings bond, we create higher-order, more adaptable and resilient entities. Adaptability enables greater resilience and success. In a four- year study of two hundred organizations, John Kotter and James Heskett found that companies with strong adaptive cultures, outperformed companies with a rigid culture by significant margins. They experienced revenue growth 4 times the faster and the stock price grew 12 times faster.[1]

2. Teams Improve Systems whereas individuals can only improve tasks and simple, linear processes. Teams can manage complexity through their collective intelligence and diverse set of experiences and capabilities. As Deming said, 90% of problems are in the systems, not with the person, yet we tend to focus on blaming and fixing the person. Empowering teams shifts the focus to managing and improving the system.


3. Teams Create Containers for Healthy Growth of individuals. Healthy teams foster connection, love and support, which are critical ingredients for the growth of the people within them. When we are operating within small teams, our teammates offer us feedback, mentorship, coaching, and support our learning and growth. When we focus on empowering individuals alone, we risk perpetuating disconnection and isolation, increasing fear and stunting personal growth.


4. Teams are Courageous. When we are in it together, we can dream big and take risks. When I’m in it by myself, the fear of failure is just too high. When we succeed or fail as a team, I’m psychologically safe. We can be bold and try new ideas without fear, because we will have each other’s support and strength to carry us forward.



Business Impact of Empowering Teams


Structuring an organization into self-managing teams is a business strategy designed to improve the bottom line of the organization’s performance. Teams are not an end in themselves but a means to involve people into managing their piece of the business more effectively.


From both my personal experience implementing self-managing teams and research around scalable and sustainable models for self-management that yield business results, I see the greatest value in learning how to shift our focus from empowering individuals to empowering teams.


Many of the world’s most successful, revolutionary and human-centered companies are focusing on empowering teams as their core competitive strategy. Let’s look briefly at two examples.


Haier, the world’s largest white goods manufacturer, is organized into a swarm of 4,000 Micro-Enterprises comprised of 10-15 people each. Each micro-enterprise operates like a small business. Teams choose their own leaders and contract with one another to ensure access to the services and skills they need. The results? The company’s revenues and profits of $29.5 billion and $1.8 billion respectively, easily exceed those of its two largest global rivals, Whirlpool and Electrolux.


At Buurtzorg, home nursing org based in the Netherlands, self-managing teams of nurses are not only responsible for providing care, but also for deciding how many and which patients to serve. Teams set direction and priorities, analyze problems, make plans, evaluate one another’s performance, and make tough decisions. The teams of nurses share leadership responsibilities and are supported by coaches, with no hierarchical power. The results? An EY study showed that they use 40% fewer hours of care per client than other nursing orgs, patients stay in care half the time, an estimated €2B would be saved in Netherlands if all home care organizations achieved the same results. And, absenteeism is 60% lower than the industry standard.[2]


Powerful and entrepreneurial teams create a strategic advantage in our fast-paced global society, through their flexibility, innovation, and ability to be highly connected and responsive to the market. Working in teams creates belonging, heightens purpose and community, speed learning, motivation, and enables the emergence of higher levels of collective intelligence.


[1] Study referenced in The New Leadership Paradigm by Richard Barrett.

[2] Study referenced in Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux



Are you interested in learning more about how to successfully develop powerful & entrepreneurial teams?


You are Invited to Join a Free Webinar on ‘Keys to Developing Powerful and Entrepreneurial Teams’ on Tuesday, September 29th, 2:00pm China Time. In this session, you'll gain:

  • Clarity around why entrepreneurial teams are needed today

  • An understanding of the common pitfalls in implementing semi-autonomous teams and how to avoid them

  • An introduction into POWER Teams: A process that skillfully and systematically develops entrepreneurial teams to high performance

Free Webinar Sign Up Here: https://yoopay.cn/event/99654238

Check out our website to learn more: https://emerge-global.co/power-teams

About Natasha Naderi, Guest Author


Natasha is a global citizen from the US, who has been working in Asia for the past 12 years. She is a former business leader and HR Director, currently a Professional Coach, Mother of two boys, and Co-Founder of Emerge, a consulting firm based in Beijing, that creates entrepreneurial teams and organizations.


Her background and passion lies in creating empowered, self-managing work teams and team-based organizations.


She holds an M.Ed in Human and Organization Development from Vanderbilt University, a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) from the HR Certification Institute, and a Professional Coaching Certification from Transcend International.


Contact: natasha@emerge-global.co

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/natashanaderi/


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