Empowering Autonomy Builds Productive Teams.

Ron McIntyre
3 min readMay 24, 2024

In an organization that champions autonomy, the focus shifts from how tasks are accomplished to the results they yield. This shift empowers employees, leading to increased job satisfaction, commitment, productivity, and reduced turnover. The result? A more engaged workforce, ready to take on new challenges and drive innovation!

Autonomy in the context of an organization does not imply working in isolation. It does not grant anyone the right to work without supervision or collaboration. Instead, it fosters a culture where individuals are empowered to make decisions and take ownership of their work, while still being part of a collaborative team.

Autonomy is not doing whatever you like whenever you like. Any organization with high levels of independence defines the boundaries of the employee’s control and decision-making power, creating an environment where employees can choose how autonomous they wish to be.

Autonomy is not working without a net. In any well-run organization, the employees receive robust and clear guidance from supervisors, established procedures, manuals, etc. When employees are left to figure out their jobs with little or no input from management, it becomes a dysfunctional organization. That’s not autonomy; that’s chaos and lack of leadership.

Here are six ways to encourage and build autonomy:

  1. Mistakes will happen, so use them as learning experiences, not punishment. People who work and live in fear will not be engaged or productive. If you want your company to be innovative and growth-orientated, you need people willing to contribute.
  2. Foster trust! Autonomy thrives in an environment of trust. It’s a mutual process. As an employee, you should feel trusted by your manager, and vice versa. Unfortunately, trust is often undermined when managers feel the need to micromanage, eroding the autonomy they seek to promote.
  3. Creating flexibility within boundaries is an essential aspect of autonomy. While freedom of choice is crucial, too much choice can be overwhelming and counterproductive. Boundaries, in the form of clear expectations and guidelines, provide a framework within which individuals can exercise their autonomy. A system that holds people accountable for results is also essential for flourishing autonomy.
  4. Granting employee ownership is a crucial aspect of fostering autonomy. Ownership occurs when what you are doing is yours, not just a dictated task. It’s about feeling a sense of responsibility and pride in your work. Practical autonomy empowers employees to tap into the meaning that underlies their work, fostering a sense of ownership and commitment.
  5. Providing practical tools to reach goals is crucial to fostering autonomy. These tools can include training programs, access to technology, mentorship, or even introducing new team members. Equipping your employees with these resources demonstrates trust in their abilities and commitment to their professional growth.
  6. Hire people with the right attitudes, willingness to learn, and open communicators.

Takeaway: As a leader, you are key to unlocking your employees’ autonomy. It’s a shared responsibility, a two-way street that requires open communication and trust. By empowering your team, you’re fostering autonomy and cultivating a culture of accountability and innovation.

Leadership Question: What can you, as a leader, do to encourage autonomy and flexibility in positions?

Notes:

Keys: |Application: Leaders |Status: Strategic |Duration: DNA Embed |Impact: High

--

--

Ron McIntyre

Ron McIntyre is a Leadership Anthropologist, Author, and Consultant, who, in semi-retirement, is looking to help people who really want to make a difference.