Employee empowerment and team performance
Employee empowerment has been a topic of interest ever since American social worker and management consultant Mary Parker Follett distinguished between “power-with” and “power-over”, suggesting that integrating desires would increase power-with and power-over.21 The existing literature on this topic is varied: some researchers have focused on psychological aspect of employee empowerment (i.e. meaningfulness, choice, impact, and competence) while others have suggested that there are seven dimensions of employee empowerment (i.e. power, decision making, initiative and creativity, responsibility, autonomy, information, and knowledge and skills).
Considering the model of seven dimensions of employee empowerment, Yang and Choi felt that there was noticeable overlap between dimensions.21 For example, decision making overlaps with autonomy, which also overlaps with power. Based on these observations, the researchers identified four dimensions of empowerment: autonomy, creativity, information, and responsibility. They wanted to examine the effect of employee empowerment on team performance, specifically in the context of municipal work teams.
Surveying 176 American municipal government employees, the researchers found that all four dimensions – autonomy, creativity, information, and responsibility – had positive and significant effects on team performance.21 Increased autonomy was associated with more intrinsic motivation, increased information was associated with more accurate decisions, and increased creativity was associated with more motivation to work.
The findings suggest that employee empowerment programs should consider different dimensions of empowerment, allowing managers to design more successful programs and experience improvements in the workplace.21 The findings also suggest that dimensions of empowerment may vary across domains and populations. What is necessary for one group may not apply to all, which is why it is important that research addresses many different marginalized communities to better understand and apply empowerment approaches.
The first developmental perspective
Charles Keiffer, psychologist and Executive Director of the SOS Community Crisis Center in Michigan conducted one of the first empirical studies on personal empowerment, examining empowerment as a change process.22 Keiffer was motivated by Rappaport’s emphasis on rights and abilities, rather than deficits and needs, when addressing people as “citizens” embedded in their political and social environments. Inspired by Rappaport’s ideology, Kieffer realized that there was no research on personal empowerment as an issue of adult learning and development. Through his experience as a clinician, organizer and educator, Kieffer felt this would be an insightful perspective.
In 1984, Keiffer selected fifteen participants who had been active in community-based grassroots organizations, all of whom were characterized by: self-acknowledgement of personal transformation; recognizable transition into proactive and multi-issue engagement; and evidence of continuing commitment to local political processes or grassroots leadership roles.22 These participants engaged in open-ended, reflective, and critical interviews with Keiffer, discussing their empowerment or lack thereof.
Based on these interviews, Keiffer felt that the transition from powerlessness to community participation – or, “participatory competence” – was best characterized as a dynamic of long-term development from sociopolitical “infancy” to sociopolitical “adulthood”.22 His development approach to personal empowerment conceptualized a process with four stages:
- Entry: Motivated by the participant’s experience of “provocation”, an event or condition that threatened them or their family.
- Advancement: Three core factors are important in this stage to continue the empowerment process, including a mentoring relationship, supportive peer relationships with a collective organization, and the development of a more critical understanding of social and political relations.
- Incorporation: The main focus of this stage is on the development of a growing political consciousness.
- Commitment: Participants apply their new participatory competence to increasing areas of their lives, subsequently increasing empowerment for both themselves and their community.