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Transforming Teams: From Powerless to High Performing

by Michael Murphy / October 7, 2020

Are your teams performing to their full potential? Very few managers can answer this with an unequivocal yes. The fact is that many teams are floundering, feeling powerless, and not performing or finding the growth mindset that leads to true success.

A team that feels powerless and has no purpose will never be more than mediocre, and certainly will never reach the soaring heights we all hope for.

So, how do you move your team from powerless to high performing?

Always Explain Why

Some people’s management style is close to how an authoritative father speaks to his children: The why is ‘Because I said so.’ This is generally not appreciated by children and certainly won’t get you far with adults.

Make sure that your team is clear on why they are doing things the way they are, and on how their work contributes to the overall goals of your organization.

Explaining the goals improves motivation and makes sure the entire team is on the same page. It keeps people from floundering or seeing what they do as makework (which can rapidly result in an employee sprucing up their resume) and it also prevents people from coming up with their own idea of what the goals are.

Keep Goals Clear and Attainable

Make sure that whatever goals you set for the team are clear, understandable and attainable. A goal should be challenging; if your team meets goals too quickly or easily it’s time to increase them. However, it needs to be achievable. Nobody likes the boss who puts eight hours of work on somebody’s desk at 4:30pm and expects it to be done that day.

Accept feedback from employees. If employees are asking questions about a task or goal, then you may not have explained it well enough in the first place. Listen if they say tasks are too hard or too easy for them. If tasks are consistently too difficult, make sure you are applying team members properly and playing to their strengths.

Learn the Signs that your Team Feels Powerless

Watch for behaviors that indicate that your team feels as if they don’t have agency. If people are feeling powerless, this means they are afraid of you. This might lead them to do assigned tasks and only assign tasks, hide errors, seek approval for everything and shift the blame to others.

If you are a new manager or they are a new team member, then this may be the result of past issues. A new team member who comes from a very authoritarian background might show all of these until they learn that there are no issues speaking up. If you start seeing these behaviors, though, it’s best to avoid the knee jerk reaction of them being lazy, and look instead to whether your own management style is supporting growth and empowerment, or stifling it.

Establish Boundaries of Decision Making

Two common mistakes managers make when seeking to empower a team are either to hand over too much control, leading to a bad decision, or to give only its illusion. With the latter, it will come out and then your team members will feel let down and betrayed. This is a very quick way to lose good talent.

Instead, think about what decisions you need to make yourself and which are safe to delegate. Make sure that you keep responsibility for high stakes and irreversible decisions, but delegate to your team things which are genuinely important, but can easily be halted or reversed.

One good approach is to decide the what yourself, that is the overall strategy, and then delegate the how to the team. For example, if you need a new ecommerce provider, you might delegate the research to part of your team and allow them to come up with a short list of possibilities, then make the final decision yourself. This gives them input, but if they miss a good option you can add it to the list yourself.

Ditch Unnecessary Meetings

Every one of us has, at some point, been hauled into an hour-long meeting that could have been handled in a couple of emails.

Before calling a meeting, consider whether it is absolutely necessary. Then if it is, limit it to 30 minutes and set a proper agenda, which is discussed and fixed beforehand. Keep meetings organized. Make sure you time them for when employees are going to pay attention. Few people like breakfast meetings.

Do Continuous Performance Evaluation

Younger employees don’t like annual reviews. They don’t want to wait that long for feedback. Providing continuous evaluation helps employees improve and encourages them to seek professional development. It also helps make sure you and that employee are on the same page.

Regular one on ones are good for both the employee and the employer and carry with them less fear of negative consequences than one huge review. The right software helps do this effectively, and can tie it into measurement tools for performance management. Avoid, though, taking it to the point where employees feel as if their every move is being watched. Make it clear that performance management is not about finding people who “aren't doing their job,” but about making sure employees who need training and refreshers get them, making sure the right tasks are assigned to the right people, and identifying unmet staffing needs.


Last but not least, communication is always key to helping people feel empowered. Your team should know everything they need to know; and listen to them on what they need to know. Sometimes they might feel better knowing things you did not think they needed, such as what is happening in another division.

Provide the right tools for internal communication, especially if you have team members working remotely. Team-building activities can help with this too, but be careful as poorly chosen activities only cause irritation. “Mandatory fun” is not a thing, so choose activities your team is interested in and let people other than you come up with ideas.

Empowering your team requires the right tools. Check out our HR Powerhouse demo to learn how it can help you efficiently manage your employees, and also iSolved’s Performance Review solution for providing ongoing, useful employee reviews.

About Platinum Group

Platinum Group is a human capital management resource with solutions to help you streamline operations so you’ll have time to manage your business. For more information about Platinum Group, or to schedule a demo of iSolved, please visit our website.

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Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

Michael is the founder of Platinum Group. His passion is in helping businesses to simplify their employee management and accounting processes.