The executors of the empowered

5 min read
fix me

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As an individual contributor who is part of a team with a common goal in terms of performance and deliveries, it's our responsibility to understand the role that we play across the organization.

Software product companies are not an exception, and like in every business, decisions have to be taken. Regardless of the level of consensus, decisions have to be taken somewhere.

Considering the spectrum of options we can pick, the company will be the one deciding the level of responsibility we will have. There are necessarily no good or bad sides. It's a matter of defining a common way of working and institutional knowledge everyone can understand and develop.

The abstraction we follow in terms of levels of middle management between the staff and the top executives will be one of the main factors affecting our autonomy.

And this is where I would like to dive in - the difference between a team of executors vs the empowered, and the impact it has on the team.

Where do I stand?

The difference that I am trying to distinguish is regarding the sense of impact and belonging. Regardless of the company structure, among the people, some prefer to be told what to do, and others prefer to understand the “whys” so we can better define the “hows”.

On one side, being executors means we, as a team, have a goal that is cascaded to us shaped as an order, about what needs to be done, where most of the things are discussed and polished in advance.

On the other side of the fence, the empowered team receives a goal, so it's up to the team to decide which technology is best and the most efficient way to achieve it, considering the requirements and the long-term plan. Decisions are going to be led by the context, and will potentially create subject matter experts.

I prefer and feel like my profile adapts better to the latter, as a flat organization promotes a more decentralized decision-making process and encourages a collaborative and open communication environment. There's potentially a greater emphasis on employee autonomy and a reduced number of hierarchical layers, leading to a more flexible work environment.

Contrary, the executors feel a bit old-fashioned influenced by a deprecated management style, with decisions being dictated by hierarchy, making pushbacks hard to find. This creates a sense of hermeticism and gatekeeping at higher management levels.

People first

Although software feels artificial, we as humans have very different ways to feel involved, and this is where company culture plays an important role.

Should the software adapt to the company structure or should we define the hierarchy and layers based on the software we build?

Again, this a decision that needs to be taken, and shouldn't last forever. How many companies have we seen shifting paradigms, based on the success of others, making huge and painful re-organizations?

This is in constant evolution, but not everyone will survive, the context and the way we adapt to it, will be the ones deciding.

In the end, when building structures, we need to understand, that underneath this all theory, we are still humans with emotions, wishes, and preferences.

Not everybody likes to feel involved or deal with the pressure of making a decision. Executors like to perform actions, not necessarily interested in the chain of events that took us there, nor the explanation of why we need to do a certain task.

It makes no sense to feel forced or force others to behave in a particular way, which is probably one of the main purposes of having a culture-fit interview before starting a new gig. The main goal is to find potential mismatches and collisions, in terms of way of working and core values. All interviews should be bi-directional, but especially this one.

Culture shocks

It happens when people migrate to different countries and have to adapt to a new culture, that can also happen within the context of a company.

If we don't manage to get a clear sense of what it feels like to work in a place, or if the company has grown into something different, we might end up in a situation where we have to decide whether we can adapt to the culture or not.

One of the problems of not belonging to a company culture is getting trapped in a place where we adapt and give up our beliefs and ideas. Hiding our discomfort.

Working for a place for a short period has a bad reputation, but there's nothing wrong with it. My recommendation is to try different ways of working, discover new ones, and re-try the ones you know. Based decisions on your own experience and not from others.

Delegation with no trust

Between the empowered and the executors, there are multiple grey areas in the middle, where the feeling of belonging and responsibility is just a facade.

Delegation is a common word in the field, but it has a downside or confusion when it's just an illusion that makes us believe we are contributing to something important.

If there is no room for trying out, or to show what a team can do, or if every decision we make is challenged in a way that we are always wrong, or we are constantly being controlled or supervised - then that will cause frustration or demotivation. Meaning that we are just executors with a fake layer of empowerment on top.

That empowerment of autonomy has to be in the companion of trust. This will encourage team members to participate more, be open-minded, regardless of the role and responsibility, and move across the company both horizontally and vertically.

If we can normalize that, collaboration and commitment won't be a surprise.

Thanks for reading ❤️

Written by Manu

I am a product-driven JavaScript developer, passionate about sharing experiences in the IT world, from a human-centric perspective.

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