Empowering your Teams

How to create the culture needed for success

One discussion that comes up regularly when I’m running Product Management Training courses, or coaching new Delivery Teams; is how they can encourage their leaders to empower them, and trust their decisions more.

Whether it’s having their leaders back their decisions when something has gone wrong/ or not as expected; how they can encourage their leaders to not feel the need to scrutinise their story points; or how to ‘own’ their own backlog and/or roadmap at the team level without needing senior sign off of every decision; whatever the issue, it seems to boil down to a lack of empowerment and trust.

I talk to a lot of teams, and a lot of you through these blogs, about the importance of a good culture in enabling Product Delivery; why it matters, how it empowers teams and ultimately improves their ability to delivery. But perhaps it’s not just about why we should do it, but also about how?

How do we ensure that decisions are being made at the right level?

How do we back up our teams so they feel both trusted and supported when making decisions?

How do we create an environment where people can speak up and ask ‘why’ we are doing something?

And when bad practices are creeping in; how do we try and address them?

Sadly, I’m not sure I have any clever or unique answers here. As leaders we create the environment we want to see, by demonstrating the behaviours we want to practice. We make our teams feel supported and trusted by backing their decisions, and standing by them, even when things go wrong.

One thing I always tell my teams is “As long as you have made a decision based on the data and evidence you had available at the time; and have done so in good faith; then even if it turns out to be wrong, I will back your decision”, and I don’t just say it; I do it. If it goes wrong down the line, then that falls on me, not the team; my role as a leader is to lead them and give them the space and support they need to be able to deliver. Second guessing every decision they make, isn’t going to empower them to deliver any quicker or better.

We should actively want out teams to question us; that way we can be confident we’re making a decision for the right reason. When we’re demonstrating and advocating for proper prioritisation of work; it shouldn’t be ‘they who speaks loudest, or has the most seniority wins’; we should be considering all options and opinions in order to decide where the real value resides.

As Product Leads, our role is to ensure we are delivering the most value we can; iterating our approach based on evidence; data and user feedback. As Delivery Leaders; if we’re not achieving the velocity we expected; or our plans are constantly moving to the right; plowing ahead and keeping doing the same thing day in and day out isn’t valuable. We should be focusing on the outcomes we want to achieve in order to add value, not the outputs we expect teams to deliver.

As leaders we need to be asking ourselves, and our teams; how can we do this better? Are we making decisions at the right level or are we causing ourselves bottlenecks? Are we empowering our teams? Or are we slowing them down? How can we support them to deliver their best without burning themselves out?