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Organisational Psychology – Team Participation and Empowerment: A Multilevel Perspective

Answers the Question

How can organisations leverage their human resources to meet complex challenges?

How it Began

Interest in empowerment and participation can be traced back to Kurt Lewin’s classic research on leadership styles and the 1930’s Hawthorne studies.  Individual agency needs (e.g. need for control and achievement) have long supported motivation provided by employee involvement and empowerment.  At an organisational level the growing importance of self-managed and self empowered teams has led to a growing interest in participation and empowerment especially with the shift to a knowledge economy and delayering within organisations.

Psychology

Much research into empowerment has been conducted at an individual level.  However, Kirkman and Rosen (1997, 1999) explored empowerment at a team level, arguing that team members can share the belief that their team has autonomy, performs meaningful tasks, is competent and can make an impact.  There is an assumption that these dimensions have the same conceptual meaning as those at individual level analysis.  However, team empowerment is distinct from individual empowerment in that individual members may differ in their beliefs about personal empowerment but have a shared belief and experience among the team members.

A closely related concept is that of Team Participation which entails greater engagement of team members in the processes contributing to team success.  There are three key processes; transition processes, how team task strategies, goals and plans are generated; action processes, how the team coordinate and regulate effort to achieve team goals; interpersonal processes, how teams manage conflict and morale in the team.

Both empowerment and participation assumes that involving team members in core team functions would lead to improved team effectiveness and improve team outcomes.  This would prove satisfying for team members and would further motivate and engage the team further in their work.  Thus capturing important aspects of engagement.   However, team empowerment captures the psychological engagement among team members whereas team participation involves collective behavioural engagement of team members.  The interconnectedness between empowerment and participation across both individual-level and team-level reflect both a bottom up and a top down process through which individual members influence their team, and the team influences individual members.

Key Terminology

Empowerment – an employee’s actual (subjective) sense of being empowered determined by a set of believes or states; autonomy, meaning, competence and impact

Autonomy –  An employee’s sense that they have latitude to choose how and where to get their job done

Team Participation – A process of information exchange and knowledge transfer.  The extent to which team members collectively and actively engage in transition, action and interpersonal processes.

In Brief

Job Characteristics Model (Hackman & Oldham, 1976) – The key to employee motivation  is the task itself.  Monotony stifles motivation to perform well, whereas challenge enhances motivation. Variety, autonomy and the ability to make decisions are three ways of adding challenge to a job. Job enrichment and job rotation are the two ways of adding variety and challenge.

Self-determination theory (Deci, Connell, & Ryan, 1989) is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways.  Thereby capturing the belief that employees possess the competence to perform effectively work tasks and roles and the belief they can make an impact on the workplace.

Participation in Decision Making (Locke and Schweiger, 1979, Locke et al., 1997) assumes that encouraging and allowing employees to be involved in decision making processes motivates employees and promotes decision quality and outcomes.  Perceived fairness, nature of task and employee knowledge contribute to understanding how participation in decision making is related to performance and motivation outcomes.

Proactive and Citizenship Behaviours Personal Initiative (Frese & Fay, 2001), Voice (Van Dyne & LePine, 1998) and Citizenship Behaviours (Podsakoff, Mackenzie, Paine & Bachrach, 2000) directly consider employees’ active and proactive engagement in work.  Employee choose, and are encouraged, to actively participate in and contribute to organizational work.

Self-Managed and Autonomous Work Teams (Cohen & Bailey, 1997) is where members of self-managed work teams are encouraged to be involved and participate in making decisions that previously were made by supervisors and managers.  Self managed teams are reliant on team design and structural empowerment.

What does this mean for Organisation Development?

The OD practitioner must recognise that teams consist of a social system of interdependent individual members – that is, individual team members cannot accomplish their roles effectively, and the team as a whole cannot function effectively, unless members work together in a coordinated fashion.  In this respect individual and team empowerment are positively related.

At an individual level developing individual employees in respect to positive self-views, including self-esteem and general self-efficacy are positively related to psychological empowerment.

Supporting individuals to interpret work experience more positively, as well as enabling individuals to be more proactive at work will enhance the likelihood of an individual being more empowered.  Working with individual’s through coaching and self-awareness can help develop motivational attributes; increase awareness of cultural differences; develop an understanding of employee expertise and highlight the quality of leader-employee relationships.

Other areas to focus on through Management Development is for Managers to support the individuals need for achievement and openness and emotional stability.  This can be achieved through review job characteristics to ensure that job tasks are less ambiguous; there is access to more information; greater skill variety; autonomy; team based rewards, role expectations; task significance and job feedback.  The quality of relationship between employees and their supervisor and co-worker must also be developed through social support structures.

Social-orientated inputs also need tackling, specifically leadership behaviours and climate which exert social influences on teams, and play a major role in allowing, encouraging and enabling team empowerment.  Developing empowering leadership behaviours will help team members to set their own goals, delegate responsibility, enhance the teams’ sense of control and autonomy and raise team members’ expectations regarding team outcomes.

An empowerment climate and participative leadership can be developed through making use of organisational structures, encouraging information sharing, team accountability, policies and practices which support employee empowerment.

References

  • Cohen, S. G., & Bailey, D. E. (1997). What makes teams work: Group effectiveness research from the shop floor to the executive suite. Journal of management, 23(3), 239-290.
  • Deci, E. L., Connell, J. P., & Ryan, R. M. (1989). Self-determination in a work organization. Journal of applied psychology, 74(4), 580.
  • Frese, M., & Fay, D. (2001). 4. Personal initiative: An active performance concept for work in the 21st century. Research in organizational behavior, 23, 133-187.
  • Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: Test of a theory. Organizational behavior and human performance, 16(2), 250-279.
  • Kozlowski, S. W. J., (2012) The Oxford Handbook of Organizational Psyhcology Volume 2, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Pg. 767 – Pg. 788
  • Kirkman, B. L., & Rosen, B. (1999). Beyond self-management: Antecedents and consequences of team empowerment. Academy of Management journal, 42(1), 58-74.
  • Kirkman, B. L., & Rosen, B. (1997) A model  of work team empowerment. Research in Organizational Change and Development, 10, 131 – 167
  • Locke, E. A.,Alavi, M., & Wagner, J. A. (1997) Participation in decision making: An information exchange perspective. Research in Personnel and Human Resources Management, 15, 293-331
  • Locke, E. A., & Schweiger, D. M. (1979). Participation in decision-making: One more look. Research in organizational behavior, 1(10), 265-339.
  • Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. B., Paine, J. B., & Bachrach, D. G. (2000). Organizational citizenship behaviors: A critical review of the theoretical and empirical literature and suggestions for future research. Journal of management, 26(3), 513-563.
  • Van Dyne, L., & LePine, J. A. (1998). Helping and voice extra-role behaviors: Evidence of construct and predictive validity. Academy of Management Journal, 41(1), 108-119.