Workplace Autonomy (Part 3)


In which organization would you rather work?

Organization A has a traditional top-down management style in which leaders determine the vision and assign tasks to managers and team members. Hours are a straight 8-5. Team members have little or no flexibility in determining what they will work on or how the job is to be done.

Organization B engages team members up-front in conversations that determine the priorities and strategies for achieving those priorities. Employees have freedom to determine the best way to accomplish the tasks they have been assigned, and have considerable latitude in scheduling their time.

No doubt, most people would rather work for organization B. That’s because most of us prefer to be free to make choices in the workplace. We also want to work in a culture that encourages our engagement in determining and implementing the goals and priorities of the team.

Autonomy looks different in every organization. There is no one-size fits all approach. Some people need more direction from management and are uncomfortable with autonomy. Too much autonomy can create employee dissatisfaction and a feeling that the organization is adrift. However, in general, higher levels of autonomy have been proven to lead to greater employee satisfaction, increased productivity and creativity, lower turnover and even a better bottom line. Here are some tips on how to build more autonomy into your organization:

Take a Workplace Autonomy Audit – It’s important to have a benchmark on where you stand. I referenced this audit from Daniel Pink’s book Drive in my previous post. You can also use this scorecard as the basis for a follow-up down the road for purposes of measuring progress

Hire people comfortable with autonomy – As I mentioned, autonomy doesn’t work for everyone. Google screens people in the hiring process for their comfort levels with autonomy. Google understands that great people with the freedom to do their job in a way that best works for them will unleash their creative power to the maximum.

Ask the team – You might get your best ideas on how to create autonomy in the workplace by asking team members what works for them. Enlist your team to develop an environment that encourages engagement, innovation, creativity and flexibility.

Trust – this is the hardest part for many leaders. You have to trust people to do their jobs. Give them the freedom to tackle the project in a way that might be different from the way you would do it. Allow them to make mistakes, even fail. You do this while continuing to hold them accountable for delivering results.

Empower – Another area where leaders often fall short. Many times the team leader assigns a project but does not empower the team members to manage the project. The leader insists on overlooking every detail. This is demoralizing and is really nothing more than paying lip service to the issue of autonomy. Team members will see through your charade.

Develop in stages – Any major culture shift is going to have awkward stages and times when team leaders and employees are uncomfortable and uncertain. It’s best to try one thing at a time, do it well and then move on to the next stage.

Feedback – Build in a continuous feedback loop so leaders and team members can evaluate what’s working, what’s not and what should be the next step.

No matter how autonomy is defined in your organization, employees that feel they genuinely have great freedom of choice in how they do their job will deliver better results which will benefit the entire organization.