You wanted proof to give your managers about the need to empower your teams, and here it is: Two major studies prove that if workers have “a sense of control in relation to one’s work,” it improves performance by individuals and teams of all types.
These are “meta-analyses,” drawing on data from a total of 231 smaller studies, most conducted with working adults. They aren’t new, but I haven’t seen them mentioned in the blogosphere, so chances are you haven’t seen these data yet. They will give you ammunition to counter the control freaks in your company.
One, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2011, provided the definition of empowerment above. It concluded, “empowerment is an effective approach for improving employee attitudes and work behaviors in a broad range of contexts (i.e., industries, occupations, and geographic regions).” Empowerment was related to higher job satisfaction and organizational commitment, and lower “strain” and turnover intention. Empowerment was also strongly related to team performance as rated by people not on the team, 0.43 (on a -1.0 to +1.0 scale). Overall, results were similar across industries and countries.
The other study, in the Journal of Organizational Behavior in 2018, found that an “empowering leadership style” (EL) had a positive relationship with: individual “organizational citizenship behaviors” or OCB (0.37); creativity (0.35); and routine task performance (0.21). At the team level, the correlations were OCB (0.36), creativity (0.32), and performance (0.24). (OCBs are actions going beyond one’s regular job duties to help the team or company.) There were no major differences between industries that require a lot of investment, such as manufacturing, and those that didn’t, like service firms.
However, one problem with correlations (as with averages) is they can hide important details. For example, EL only helped if it actually made people feel more empowered and built higher trust with the person’s manager, such that the pair had good personal interactions (“leader-member exchange” or LMX).
The 2018 study also challenges the claims by some that one leadership style is better than another. EL better explained individual creativity and sense of empowerment than did transformational leadership (TL) or LMX. The styles had similar results for OCB and trust in the leader, but TL and LMX were stronger for other outcomes, including routine task performance. In other words, adding these styles together will provide better overall performance from a team, as a group and as individual workers, than focusing on one style.
How do you create a sense of empowerment? The studies give us similar lists. The first says, “open information sharing, decentralization, participative decision making, extensive training, and contingent compensation” (such as reward pay for achieving team goals). The second says, “delegating authority to employees, promoting their self‐directed and autonomous decision making, coaching, sharing information, and asking for input.”
These studies provide evidence as good as we’re likely to get that turning decisions over to teams and workers, along with the same information the manager would have to make those decisions, brings many benefits to your organization. Upper managers who prevent you from doing so, or direct reports who refuse to, are harming your organization.
- Lee, Allan, Sara Willis, and Amy Wei Tian, ‘Empowering Leadership: A Meta-Analytic Examination of Incremental Contribution, Mediation, and Moderation’, Journal of Organizational Behavior, 39.3 (2018), 306–25 <https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2220>
- Seibert, Scott E., Gang Wang, and Stephen H. Courtright, ‘Antecedents and Consequences of Psychological and Team Empowerment in Organizations: A Meta-Analytic Review’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 96.5 (2011), 981