A topic I’ve been coming across in my work lately is the autonomous team – worth the effort or not? Today I’d like to talk about why autonomous teams can be great for an organisation and how to build them.
An autonomous team is one which manages itself within the boundaries you set. It gives people a lot more control over how they work and usually leads to higher productivity.
In fact, these are some of the best reasons to create an autonomous team:
- Autonomy motivates people to work better
- Autonomy gets people involved
- Responsibilities are shared
- Better support develops within teams
- More generous and confident sharing of ideas between team members
- Increased engagement with the task
- Increased work agility and faster (and better) decision making
Over the years I’ve seen some autonomous teams succeed well and others fail dismally. The difference comes down to the way the teams were set up.
Here are some of the must-dos when you set up your autonomous team.
Make sure your team is competent
Does your team have the capability it needs to get the job done? If not, can you bring in a new team member to fill that gap?
Without confirming their level of competence, you could be setting them up to fail. Choosing the right people for your team is critical. And one more thing… Even autonomous teams need someone to step up as leader, so make sure your people have the skills to do so when they are needed.
Define your expectations
Your team should be clear on the outcome it will be working towards.
- What is the goal?
- What are the signs of progress they should be looking for?
- What will their success be measured against?
Shared understanding between you and the team should keep you both on track. Be clear on the level of authority you’re giving them, too. What decisions can they make for themselves and when do they need to discuss it with you?
Hold them accountable
You’ve created an autonomous team to deliver something and you’ve given them the power to do it. That’s their purpose and they need to be accountable for it. There has to be a balance. Your team can’t have the power without the responsibility. Being accountable helps keep the team members invested in their work and the outcome. It increases their sense of ownership in their work.
Don’t be afraid to discuss accountability with the team when it is created. It’s part of setting expectations. Just as you’ll be held accountable for your teams, your team will be held accountable to you.
Remember, accountability isn’t about consequences; it’s about opportunity for learning and growth.
Get out of their wayward
If you’ve giving them their autonomy, let them get to work.
If you micromanage or hang over them as they work, they’ll feel your lack of trust. If you’ve created a solid team, agreed on expectations and outcomes and discussed accountability, let them work out their own way to achieve it all.
Let me sum it up
Autonomous teams can lead to happier, more productive people in happier, more productive teams. To create real autonomy your team must be competent and share an understanding about its goals and boundaries. Above all, you need to trust each other to deliver.
Setting up an autonomous team might be harder for you because you need to believe in them and let them go. Believe me – it’s worth it.