Are You at Work on Your Own Planet? Or, How Empowered Are Your People?

Sol 17 – I woke up today with a killer headache, alone in an unknown place, with a book full of instructions on what to do next. The worst thing is, I have no idea who I am.

Sol 19 – Major breakthrough today. I remember, my name is Susan. I work here. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where “here” is.

Sol 23 – I’ve been trying to reach other people for many Sols at this point, no joy. This morning I gave up and started reading the instruction book. It sucks.

Sol 24 – Some clue as to what happened to me. Page 147 says “Don’t push the red button.” And remembering back to Sol 17, I woke up right next to that button. Oops.

Sometimes our life or work-life plays out like a novel or movie, but seemingly always less exciting. The Martian, by Andy Weir, is a play by play of one person’s struggle to survive against any imaginable (and some unimaginable) challenge with help from people millions of miles away.

For our purposes, it is a dramatic look at three critical business concepts worth considering:

  1. How well do we empower our teams? Can they survive and thrive on their own?
  2. How important is our ability to solve problems and depend on our own skills and strengths?
  3. How critical is our investment not only in our teams but in each individual?

These topics are particularly resonant with me in my work with teams and organizations. Engaging teams in experiential role-plays based on this and similar stories has been a powerful experience for me.

Here, I’ll explore how we’ve encouraged people to think creatively using different and exceptional (e.g., I’m alone on Mars) perspectives.

Experiential Role-Play at Work

Returning to our original story; what would happen if someone from your team was completely cut off, communication-wise, from her colleagues? And not anything as hyperbolic as “I pressed a big red button, and now I don’t know who I am.” Simply: working from a home office, working overseas, managing a project alone. Are your leaders, your managers, your working-level personnel able to sufficiently manage their work and achieve established outcomes with minimal or no communication?

There are many opportunities for us, as leaders, to develop an environment of empowered individuals. Asking the questions here or—better yet—having team members take part in an experiential role-play where they are forced to deal with being on their own, help us determine our level of individual empowerment.

A number of opportunities and challenges arise for participants during a role-play situation.

  • Do a full evaluation or assessment of my current situation: Why am I working on this project? What essential tools and references can I leverage? How will I know when I’m successful?
  • Remain aware of hurdles or pitfalls. Now that I’ve solved one problem have I caused another?
  • Understand what processes and outcomes I can truly impact or control. How can I make progress on my own and effectively align with my team at critical junctures?

These experiential situations aren’t just for fun. Team members begin thinking beyond their immediate knowledge, trusting the existing processes and procedures, assessing their individual strengths and weaknesses while being aware of other peoples’ strengths and weaknesses. Participants begin to self-identify when they need help and where they can lend a hand to their teammates.

These exercises help people take different perspectives when confronted with new and unexpected challenges. In my next article, I’ll explore the remaining two concepts: problem-solving and human resource investment.

Sol 38 – Hello, anybody? I’m still here… Instruction book still no help. Please come back.