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3 reasons to empower teams to help minimize the impact of cost reductions

Over the last two decades, the American workplace has become much more team focused. It meant increasing the number of leadership positions forming smaller “more manageable” teams in many companies.

Now, amid the economic crisis, companies are looking for increasing efficiency, in many cases by reducing leadership positions. Companies like ExxonMobil said after reducing 11% the European workforce,  “significant actions are needed at this time to improve cost competitiveness and ensure the company manages through these unprecedented market conditions.” Companies like Shell, BP and other oil services companies are cutting even more positions.

While reducing hierarchy levels is imperative to become more agile, depending on how teams and internal structures work in each company, teams may not be prepared to interact in larger groups effectively if leaders are reduced. Companies need to improve empowerment to help minimize the impact of a flatter structure.

The delegation trap

After some time working remotely, some people may have learned to work autonomously, while others may still be struggling. During a hard time, leaders tend to micro-manage more than usual, dedicating more time to operational tasks, reducing efficiency, increasing stress and reducing employee engagement. They convince themselves they are delegating, which usually means telling someone to do part of their functions; usually, the ones they don’t like, and not particularly the challenging ones.

Empowering is much more than that; empowerment enables leaders to work through other people. It has to do with giving the team member a complete task to do, own, make decisions, and feel responsible for, where they can unleash their strengths.

Empowering means giving more autonomy to people in their areas of expertise. The company AES in the book Reinventing Organizations confirms that “the more you increase individual responsibility, the better the chances for incremental improvements in operations.”

Strengthening employees’ autonomy through empowerment to decide how to work makes it easier for employees to work remotely and makes it easier for leaders to manage their teams.

Benefits of effective empowerment

  • Increased engagement: Autonomy increases engagement and job satisfaction, as the employees feel unique and valued. As per Gallup research, managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.
  • Cost reduction: it carries smaller costs than waiting for leaders to direct activities and make decisions. Even in nature, many organisms choose to be self-organized over having leaders, blueprints or recipes (like genetic coding) in complex systems, such as ants or termites. A colony of termites can exceed a half million individuals builders, so a decentralized system is much more effective. Self-organization is based on simple instructions: trust your employee's expertise, agree and define a set of behavioral rules or core values, and develop various communication channels to increase interactions across team members, not only with the leader.
  • Flexibility to change behaviors based on new information from the environment. Making decisions during a crisis is like planning long term: everything is variable. While you empower your team, they will become sensors to help detect and deal with issues in the future more quickly than if you had to do it all by yourself.

As part of the leadership team, encourage associates to set up goals and be owners of their work. Your role is to unlock the team’s potential by promoting interactions among team members. Avoid being their regular contact and decision-maker.

Even online, you can create an environment where people feel safe to provide updates, offer ideas and ask for support. Make it more a pull system where they ask for help, not a push where you tell them what to do and when.

Shifting the leadership style will help your company become more agile, flexible and productive during this period.


This article was written by Luciana Paulise from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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