In any organization, including people in important decisions is of paramount importance. It makes them feel heard and, subsequently, confident in their positions.
We are trying to construct a more inclusive society. We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
A few years back, I was involved in a startup company called egraphs. Our business development office was a tight group. We made decisions collaboratively, as a team. Everybody’s leans and opinions were carefully considered and respected. As a result, our culture was phenomenal, and we accomplished pretty remarkable outcomes. We all loved being at the office and truly celebrated together when we closed a deal, because we were each part of the process.
To feel empowered, employees must have a sense of self-determination, competence, meaning and influence. Employees’ sense of self-determination is the perception that they are free to make choices, and that their actions are not controlled by policies, systems or managerial dictates. Granting autonomy to employees helps them feel a sense of self-determination. The higher employees’ competence, the more they appreciate and thrive when given autonomy. On the other hand, new employees or employees who need to acquire new skills must develop confidence in their abilities before they feel empowered by that autonomy. A sense of meaning in employees’ work refers to the extent to which employees believe that their work affects the lives of others either directly or indirectly. This is not to say that only people working on “life and death” matters feel empowered. As long as employees perceive that doing their job satisfies important needs of internal or external customers, they’ll see the meaningfulness of their work. Finally, employees must feel like they are able to influence people and events in important ways in order to feel empowered.
During these processes, we became smarter about our business. We were learning, collaboratively.
Unlike individual learning, people engaged in collaborative learning capitalize on one another’s resources and skills (asking one another for information, evaluating one another’s ideas, monitoring one another’s work, etc.). More specifically, collaborative learning is based on the model that knowledge can be created within a population where members actively interact by sharing experiences and take on asymmetry roles. Put differently, collaborative learning refers to methodologies and environments in which learners engage in a common task where each individual depends on and is accountable to each other.
Our team felt ownership over every aspect of the process. We were all invested in the outcomes, and our job satisfaction couldn’t have been higher. From a study in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management:
The findings suggest that the most positive aspects related to job satisfaction are relations with the colleagues and physical conditions, while the most negative aspect is the wage issue, i.e. unfair payment. Furthermore, correlation and regression analyses indicate that psychological and behavioral empowerment has a significant effect on job satisfaction, and the effect is much greater when psychological and behavioral empowerment are taken as a whole.
These conclusions make sense. We trusted that the men and women working with us had our backs. We weren’t concerned with office politics or petty squabbles. Because we were empowered and had a say in the process, we were all pulling on the same end of the rope. This, in turn, made our organization better. From pepperdine.edu:
The evidence from “The 100 Best Companies to Work For” seems clear. Those companies in the analyzed sub-set of 40 empowered companies appear to maximize corporate wealth. Although we cannot precisely substantiate this claim, we believe that these companies have developed unique corporate cultures. Jay Barney has noted that “A firm’s culture can be a source of sustainable competitive advantage if that culture is valuable, rare, and imperfectly imitable.”…
We view culture, therefore, not simply as another series of manipulable tools available to managers for the implementation of business strategies, but as an entity that can be a potential source of sustained superior financial performance. Hatch and Dyer suggest that corporations that empower employees with the ability to learn (and improve) faster than their competitors do may enjoy the only truly sustainable advantage.
A collaborative environment doesn’t guarantee every decision will be right. There will always be mistakes and stumbles. But in any endeavor, downside should be a learning experience. In essence, if nothing else goes the way we plan, and our mission burns to the ground, did we come away from the process better equipped to manage the next one? Removing the back biting and blame from the equation allows us to grow for the next challenge.
PS: This post was indeed collaborative. I sent a draft to Stephanie (our superstar editor and my partner at KL), and she researched and improved it. I believe it turned out to be clearer and more thorough as a result. She’s empowered, you read a better product and we all win.