After-Works as a model for Empowered Teams

The science is clear that empowered teams are more innovative and cost less than non-empowered teams when it comes to developing products. So naturally, all product companies want to have empowered teams for their development. 

But the vast majority fail. Why?

I claim that this is because empowered teams are completely counterintuitive in a corporate context. To make things even worse, the move to empowered teams typically takes a leap of faith, where you need to decide on a completely new way of working and then just hope that it will work out automatically. See my article on the Circle of Safety for a description of a transitional organisation that makes this leap a lot shorter and less risky.

I believe that a company leader must have seen an empowered team in action, to be able to make that leap. I first met empowered teams in the Scout movement, which unlike their own marketing is first and foremost in the business of teaching people how to form empowered teams. The whole nature-thing is just a means to that end. Without that Scouting experience, I don’t imagine that I would believe in the magic of the empowered team either.

But there is one situation in a run-of-the-mill company where I have seen many empowered teams. And that is in the planning and execution of an after-work or company party. Why do I believe that this situation allows empowered teams to emerge? Here is my list:

  • Clear goal: We want a party and we want everyone to have fun. Any employee can understand the value proposition as well as the general scope limitations. The success criteria is typically not quantifiable, but still easy to agree on if it was achieved or not.
  • Freedom: Management usually does not interfere with the details, but at best indicate a date and allocate a budget. As long as the party planning committee stays within the budget and does not break any laws, no questions will be asked.
  • Engagement: Some party committees are drafted rather than volunteer, but often in a company there are some people who engage very passionately and the parties they arrange tend to live long in the collective memory.

The end result tends to be parties that are planned in a short time, use minimal budget, and are very appreciated by the intended audience. 

So the next time you tell a team what to do, mentally picture how you would approach the situation if you wanted them to arrange a company party. Because if you do, chances are that you will have cause to host a party soon enough.