Building autonomous teams

The benefits of autonomous teams

An autonomous team is a team that’s empowered to make decisions in an organization. It often acts in transparent ways and finds innovative solutions to tough problems that align with the needs of the business. Just that alone sounds pretty great, right? There’s obviously more to it than that, but there are many reasons why a leader would want an autonomous team.

For starters, offering your employees autonomy is a great way to trigger intrinsic motivation—the desire to work because it’s fulfilling, not for fear of repercussions or in hopes of a reward. When you give your team the ability to solve those problems on its own, there’s a sense of accomplishment and ownership. The American Psychological Association found evidence in a 2014 meta-analysis that this form of motivation has an effect on the quality of performance as well. So, not only are you cultivating engaged employees, but you’re also receiving potentially better results from them.

There are also many negative effects when teams lack autonomy. At its most extreme, the opposite of leading autonomously is micromanagement. This can lead to disengagement for employees, especially those who are more independently driven. Even if it’s not full-blown micromanagement, you can still run into any a number of concerns when your team lacks autonomy.

A team that lacks autonomy can result in any of the following concerns:

Feeling they need to constantly run decisions by someone before acting will not only feel debilitating to employees; it’ll also cripple productivity. Checks and balances in some areas make sense, but team members should understand what is out of their control and feel empowered to make decisions on the things they do have control over.

If leaders are too busy worrying about every day-to-day action, they won’t have time to think about the big picture. Leaders need to take time to build a business strategy and vision for the team. If they don’t trust the team to take care of these other tasks, their focus will be spread thin.

Feeling they lack control over decisions can have some serious impacts on morale. This can lead to lower engagement and ultimately lower retention rates for employees.

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