What is "empowerment," anyway?
The heart of empowerment is an agreement—a trade
The idea of empowered teams has taken the product and tech world by storm over the last five years. And for good reason: they work.
By now, most people accept that stable, durable, cross-functional teams lead to better results. Yet many (most?) product teams out there aren't meaningfully empowered.
Why? What's the difference between a team that externally looks identical--same number of people, role mix, and general level of resourcing--but isn’t truly empowered, and the enviable product teams at Google, Amazon, Stripe, Netflix, etc?
To borrow a favorite definition of "information"—what's the difference that makes the difference?
In a word: trust. Trust that is mutually earned and demonstrated between product teams and leadership.
This is the fundamental "trade" of empowerment: autonomy for accountability.
Product teams get (bounded) autonomy, and leadership gets the true partnership of a creative team that agrees to be accountable to find ways to delight customers in ways that also deliver the results the business needs.
If things don't feel very “empowered,” start by looking at this trade. Specifically, have a look at the behaviors that mutually extend and earn the underlying trust that this all depends on.