In many ways this first stage is closely aligned with the problem-solving phase that we described earlier in this essay. Provided with sufficient training in problem solving (as well as communication and conflict-management) an empowered team should be able to readily make decisions regarding tactical issues. Further group empowerment involves the progressive movement toward decisions that are complex, difficult and consequential. At each stage, it is helpful to draw upon those decision-making skills that have been previously taught. This training should focus on communication, conflict-management and problem-solving skills. Each of these skills gives the team greater decision-making responsibility. When team members have earned greater responsibility and exhibit increasingly skillful group functioning, they will feel appreciated and therefore will be even more motivated to address complex, difficult and consequential decisions.
This gradual movement toward increasing group responsibility for making decisions relates not just to the needs for new skills, knowledge and perspectives. It also relates to a deeper issue concerning the appropriate balance between freedom and control in the organization. The manager can’t just abandon control, given that ultimate responsibility usually resides with this person. Furthermore, is it fair to ask employees to assume responsibility when they are not being paid as managers or do not have the staff support of those in management positions. On the other hand, the granting of freedom to employees so that they can create, learn, and influence the operations of their organization is a very generous and appreciative act.
The real challenge during this last stage of the appreciative empowerment process is finding this right balance. We would suggest that this right balance is struck by helping group members master the subtle art of decision-making through the creation of appropriate group structures, processes and attitudes.
Decision Making and the Intentions of the Group
Clear intentions are critical to empowerment. We certainly must first seek to empower group members by promoting effective communication and the sharing of information, particularly in the meetings that these members regularly attend. This seems to be an obvious statement: we all know that communication is a good thing and that information should be shared. However, the real message regarding communication and information is not obvious. For one thing, information-sharing meetings are rarely discussed in the literature on group functioning. Yet, most meetings are convened primarily for this purpose. Many staff meetings, general organizational meetings, advisory group meetings, and administrative cabinet meetings are devoted primarily to the sharing of information. This function, however, is rarely acknowledged. Group members are led to believe that decisions will be made or problems solved at the meeting—the sharing of information is considered to be of secondary importance.