Building autonomous teams

Finding the right balance between micromanagement and too much autonomy

If you’re too deep in the weeds and making every decision for your team, you’re most likely not giving your people enough autonomy. At the same time, if you’re too hands-off and allow them total control, this can be problematic as well. You shouldn’t be defining every choice for team members, but there will also be decisions that are out of their span of control. Defining what those items are is key to finding the right balance for your team’s level of autonomy. Think about it: Even the most autonomous teams will run into business decisions they don’t feel prepared to make.

Keep in mind that the objectives your team is trying to accomplish may play a big role in how to balance your team’s autonomy. This is why, following the principles of Talent Optimization, can greatly benefit your company and team. Specifically, the Design section of Talent Optimization enables you to look at your team’s strategic goals and compares those to the team’s strengths and potential pitfalls. Depending on how well your team is positioned to execute on their goals, they might do well with complete autonomy or they might need more guidance from a team lead.

For example, if your business strategy is to innovate and bring new products to market, ask yourself: Does this individual have either the autonomy to make the decision or quick access to a decision-maker? If not, you might need to push for changes in structure.

Try the activity below to assess if your actions align with an autonomous leader’s:

Finding that balance won’t always be easy, and will likely be defined on a case-by-case basis. But there are steps you can take to get closer to that right amount of autonomy. Sometimes, it’s as easy as just asking. Not every member on the team will want the same level of autonomy or interaction with their manager. Some individuals will prefer to embrace a more steady pace and have fewer check-ins. Others might want a more social approach and have more frequent interactions. Using the PI Behavioral Assessment and Management Strategy Guide will help give you clear insights into your employee’s preferences. 

There’ll be time, either at the start of projects or when new teams form, to design this span of control. But new problems or events will occur throughout the work, so how you handle these situations is important. Design channels that can provide quick information flows when your team needs it most. Creating avenues for people to raise questions as simple as, “Is this OK for me to do, or do I need a review on it?” will help your team define what it should or shouldn’t have autonomy over.

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