Recently I was facilitating a team of 15 – a group that wished to enhance their team skills by creating a culture of empowerment. As I progressed through the training, I saw that when I asked a question and asked the team to spend some time (generally 3-5 minutes) planning how they would solve the team building activity – all I heard was silence.

Then after about 10 seconds their manager would jump in and tell the team what to do, assign roles and delegate tasks. During the break time I met with the manager and informed him that he was creating a team of Learned-Helplessness. Every time things became challenging and the team was forced to decide they know if they wait long enough the manager would jump and save the team from struggling.
The manager said “Isn’t that my job to save them from struggling and to ensure that they understand what is expected of them?”.
I responded, “NO, you told me that this team is not taking responsibility for their outcomes and that production and moral have dipped. If you keep giving them the solution what part of the accountability are they supposed to have.
They will just keep saying – It was managements idea I knew it would never work – they have no idea how to run things. Let them struggle. When the team returns following the break, I am going to ask you to sit out the remaining portion and keep silent.”
He did – the time came when I asked for the team to set a goal for themselves. Silence – awkward silence for a full 5 minutes. I could see the sweat dripping off of the managers face, and he left the room. More silence now 7 minutes – finally one of the participants says, “What is our goal, what are we doing?” Then the dam broke! The team fought it out, had conflict, debated and agreed on a time goal. The mood shifted from Learned-Helplessness to Empowerment.

They not only achieved the goal they bettered it by 2 seconds.
During the processing session of the activity – the team spoke about how they set their goal, met and improved their goal, how they were surprised that they worked it out.
The team met with their manager, and I facilitated a plan for the team to start taking on critical decisions within their team.
Silence – just when you feel that you need to jump in and save the team, that is when you need to be a real leader and get out the way. Teams are only accountable if you expect them to be accountable – put the power where it belongs in your team’s hands.