Team Member Empowerment: It's Not As Difficult As You Think

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LeanCor Leadership Principle: 

Team Member Empowerment – Define the role and responsibility of every team member and support them in operating accordingly.  Assign a process owner who will be responsible for process improvement activities.

Doing “The Job”

Empowerment sounds like such a “businessy” term, doesn’t it?  “You have to delegate responsibilities and, therefore, empower your employees,” says every well-practiced manager everywhere.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but how do we internalize that concept and make it real?

Let’s start with a parallel drawn in a little bit of a different environment.  Heist movies.  Yep, heist movies.  Those are awesome right?  The best ones have a team of people that have come together to do the job.  Sometimes they are well-practiced crews with great chemistry and other times they are thrown together for this specific grab.  However, when it comes down to it, all the success stories have two things in common… 

First, a great leader.  This leader typically has the both authority and the credentials, but is not so far in the weeds, themselves, that they can’t see the big picture.  When they are good, they have a deep understanding for what has to get done and can even see things that no one else can.

The second thing that the most successful teams have is a clear division of labor amongst the team members.   Typically, each person is either already an expert in their role or they are empowered to quickly become one. You have the computer guy, the safecracker, the getaway driver, the muscle, etc.…  All of these team members are given the assignment by the leader and then free reign to find the best way to accomplish it.  And they usually do.

Really Doing the Job

As leaders, we can still model this concept of building our team with members who are enabled and encouraged to own processes within their work in an effort to develop subject matter expertise and foster continuous improvement.  In order to align this properly with their development and the actual execution of the work for our customers, we must bridge the gap between our roles and responsibilities, standard work and project management.

These things should tie together in order to paint a clear picture of our expectations for our team members. There is nothing more empowering than knowing where you fit into the process and being allowed to take full ownership of that duty.  

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Clarity is key in this arena.  Use language in your one-on-one time that indicates that you want a team member to “become an expert in” or “take ownership of" something.  This will demonstrate that you value your team members and give them a reference point from which to view their progress.  Additionally, while in the day-to-day work, should one of your team members have a question/issue with a process or type of work that you have entrusted to a team member as an owner, send that individual to this owner for the answer.  This will foster a coaching environment and lead team members into learning how to explain their processes and solve their own problems.

Just Doin’ My Job

In Chapter 7 of the PEOPLE book (one of our favorites), the authors indicate: “A lean leader is not a super-hero who swoops in with all of the answers.  Instead, give the responsibility of solving problems to those who own the problems while providing the tools and education to support them.“  Essentially, we are empowering our team to do the work and enabling them through a developmental focus to make it better.  Think Professor X from the X-Men minus the constant dramatic action peril….we’ll call it Supply Chain exciting!

A useful facilitation tool for our team members comes in the way of formal problem solving.  In order to be able to leverage inquiry in our coaching and build the lean culture, we should practice the ORLOE model with our team members who are engaged in problem solving.  Even if they don’t use every lean tool or document all of the minutia, framing the problem solving on the tollgate questions can help develop their ability to be systems thinkers and understand the CTQ points necessary to move through the phases.  With this learning the team gains confidence and eventually expertise.

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Reflection Questions
  • What are some clear roles that you have assigned to team members and who are the owners?
  • List specific examples of responsibilities assigned to team members where you challenged them to “become an expert” or “take ownership” of something.
  • List some examples of improvements to standard work made by the team based on their mastery of the work.
  • What are the top two problems you would like solved on your team and who should drive that problem solving?
  • Do you have any hesitations to directing team members to others to gain knowledge rather than just answering their questions?  How do you plan on practicing this more?

Next week, we'll talk about open and frequent communication...

 


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