Team Empowerment and the Cat Herder!

By Dr. Greg Halpern

Updated Over a Week Ago

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Think of team empowerment and leadership and then about how difficult it would be to corral a horde of feral cats!

It would take a tremendous amount of time, patience, ingenuity, negotiation, persuasion, and maybe even a bit of bribery. And you still may not be able to gather them!

As a leader of an organization, there are times when organizing people or groups may become extremely difficult.

This is especially true when deadlines are fast approaching, people have differing opinions and beliefs, and they are from different organizations where schedules rule the day.

This feat may seem all but impossible. But with strong leadership skills and organizational skills, along with proper networking, it CAN happen.

Team Empowerment Can Make the Impossible, Possible

There are three major components that must be considered when overcoming a difficult task:

  • Breaking the project into manageable chunks and assigning those chunks to teams where the expertise and interest are high
  • Empowering decision-making within each team, and
  • Creating an environment with a very high level of communication that is open and mutual among leadership and team members.

Let’s take a look at an example project, such as building a budget.

This type of project may perhaps consist of components such as finance, contracting, and project management.

Breaking this project into three separate teams and creating clear goals and objectives with a leader to champion the effort to its conclusion is typical yet effective.

However, it’s the WAY you, as a leader, conduct the endeavor that will be the difference between herding the cats and chasing them.

Project Management to Empower the team

Break the Project Into Manageable Chunks

Assigning a piece of the project based on interest or expertise in the subject matter may entice individuals to come together as a team and dig in.

Like catnip, the lure of an interesting project, even for a short period of time, may provide a high level of satisfaction to those who may not want to work on the other less interesting parts of the project.

Using several teams allows all parts of the project to be worked simultaneously, increasing efficiency while also allowing teams to create their own schedules for completion on or prior to the overall project due to the date set by leadership.

Empower Each Team and Team Member

Allowing a high level of autonomy for each team to research, discuss, and recommend solutions is a motivator and a key to participation and overall success.

Cats like to do their own thing without encumbrances. For example, how many cats have you seen on a leash?

People can be very similar when having the freedom to do things for themselves. Empowerment increases morale, removes roadblocks, and allows for creative and critical thinking.

By allowing teams to create their own environment for success, it may generate recommendations that may be both unique and innovative, which may provide a high level of ownership in the project.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

A critical piece to any successful project is to communicate, and the WAY you as a leader communicate with the team members will make the difference.

Yelling at a cat may make you feel as if you have power, but to the cat, you are just noise! This is not the time to be authoritarian.

It is the time when you speak with team members on an equal level, listen to the issues they may run into, and guide them without instructing.

This approach will show your commitment to the team’s empowerment dynamics and shows your trust in their efforts.


Take the time to break the project down into manageable chunks and recruit expertise to conquer each particular piece.

Like herding cats, completing a project with disparate pieces may be one of the hardest challenges a leader might undertake.

While an aggressive and dictatorial demeanor may work for some, it is not the preferred method to achieve overall success, especially when dealing with different personalities or skill sets.

The Right Environment

Create an environment of creative and innovative thinking and empower teams and team members to think of novel or new approaches to old problems.

Most importantly, communicate with passion for the work, and display caring and respect for those who are working hard to complete the effort.

Try calling a cat by screaming, “HEY, CAT!”  I believe your success would be minimal. Getting down to their level and calling “Here, kitty, kitty” will probably yield greater results!

How Can Team Empowerment Improve Communication?

If you have ideas about team empowerment that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Greg Halpern
Dr. Greg Halpern
Greg is a performance improvement consultant with the DoD. He holds a M.S. Degree in Applied Behavioral Science from Johns Hopkins, and a PhD in Organization Management with an emphasis on Leadership from Capella University.
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