November 29, 2017

Empowerment and Borrowed Authority – A Cohesive Relationship

By Sherman Gomberg

What is Empowerment? For those of us who have experienced it, Empowerment comes when oneself comes to the realization that they are self-powered to make things happen. For example, “As a Scrum Master, I am empowered to protect the development team.”. Not only is it my job, but it is expected. This is the embodiment of Empowerment.

There are many types of authority, you’ll see some in government, education, healthcare, business and familial. For the purpose of this blog, let’s introduce Borrowed Authority. Borrowed Authority is authority that is granted to you from someone who naturally has authority. The person who naturally has the authority might be a world leader, executive or matriarch. Thinking about this Borrowed Authority from a business standpoint and how it relates to Empowerment, a person of authority might hire you with an expectation that you are empowered to perform the job for which you are hired. However, this does not naturally mean you are able to perform the job effectively. Let’s continue with the example of the Scrum Master. As a newly hired Scrum Master, you start to perform the job and protect the development team. However, you tend to notice that the sprint goals aren’t being met. Upon further examination (i.e. retrospective), there are members of the development team that are performing outside work. Since this development team is embracing the retrospective – good job – you learn that an executive is directly contacting the development team and requesting special work.

Are you seeing the picture? “Wait, I’m empowered – why is the team taking on special work? Oh wait, I don’t seem to have Borrowed Authority! Why am I here?” Don’t fret, this can be fixed.

Since we have now realized team success will come with your Empowerment and Borrowed Authority, it is time to talk with the executive. “Hey executive, I’d like to be the Scrum Master that I was hired to be. In order to create a self-directed team, I need your authority – as in Borrowed Authority. Please meet with me and the development team. You can state that I am acting on your authority and the team will work through the Scrum Master so we can do great things. The Scrum Master will bring any blocks to my attention that need resolving.”

Is it coming together? By having the executive, who we discovered is the root of the cause for missing the sprint goal, grant his/her authority to the Scrum Master, with public display, the Scrum Master can now act on the Empowerment of the role.

We have now come back to the title, “Empowerment and Borrowed Authority – A Cohesive Relationship”, Empowerment is great and necessary, but to be truly effective, add the cohesiveness of Borrowed Authority.