There was a time in my corporate career, and sadly it lasted a few years, when I was seen as a micro-manager. I wasn’t proud of it but struggled (read resisted) to accept why. While my wife and son might still disagree, I have evolved over the years and believe in the power of autonomy and am very comfortable being a leader and a follower in any team whether at work or outside.
I was recently reminded of the magic of autonomous teams when I participated in ExO (Exponential Organization) Challenge COVID-19 — a 24-hour global workshop with people from all around the world in order to generate solutions to win the war against COVID-19 that could have a massive impact in a short period of time.
We were provided a simple and clear objective — come up with scalable, disruptive and quickly implementable solutions to fight the immediate spread and impact of COVID-19 and problems that might arise later such as mental health issues, economic downturn, etc. This was opened up to anyone interested and within 3 days we had over 300 participants willing to act. Participants were then allocated into 20 teams with diverse backgrounds and assigned a coach and a disruptor to guide them through the process. Most team members had never worked together, yet in less than 24 hours over 20 amazing ideas were generated of which 3 were selected for implementation. My team was not 1 of the 3 but I had a great time working with my team members and we delivered a solution that met all the objectives and ran the winning solutions close.
So what is autonomy and why does it matter?
For me autonomy is creating an environment where people organize themselves into small, diverse and nimble teams that operate with decentralized authority and allow free flow of ideas. In an organizational setting an autonomous team has a flat structure without unnecessary decision making, approval, management and bureaucratic overhead.
Autonomy matters because it speaks to the root of the human heart allowing people to feel a level of ownership and accountability for what they are working on. When people feel this level of ownership and accountability they bring their best and do their best. And when everyone brings and does their best, there is an ease and flow that brings out the best ideas making agility, innovation and quality results the norm.
It is important to note, autonomy is not anarchy where anyone does anything and it takes effort to create the right dynamics, culture and yes structure for autonomous teams to deliver their promise.
How then do I implement autonomy?
It is a simple 4 step process but one that requires constant attention and care.
- Shared purpose — the magic almost always begins with the massive transformative purpose (MTP) that everyone rallies behind and then objectives that flow from the MTP and everyone within and outside the team measures the results against these objectives. In the case of the ExO Challenge COVID-19 the MTP was ‘Making COVID-19 History’ and the objective was to identify solutions that are scalable, disruptive and quickly implementable.
- Trust — leaders need to build and maintain an environment of trust where while people are held to a high standard, it is ok to stumble (not just 1 or 2 token failures for show) as long as there is learning helping the team in achieving the MTP
- Competence and Diversity — autonomous teams like any other successful team need the right mix of competence and diversity. This is required to bring in different perspectives, experiences and expertise as these ultimately result in richer solutions.
- Communication — this is the ingredient that brings the autonomous team recipe to life. This is not the massaged communication couched in political correctness that flows top to bottom, this is fostering clear, consistent, timely and transparent communication in all directions.
I Don’t Know if this post inspired you enough to reflect on your team dynamics and promote greater autonomy, what I know is autonomous teams whether at work or outside are the way to go. I am going to keep beating the drum on and making the case for autonomy regardless of the role I am playing, be it a leader, team member, community member or global citizen.
This article was originally published on Medium by Mayank. Mayank is a dedicated member of the OpenExO Community, Global exec living on a beach helping people/organizations unlock collective power of diversity & 10X their impact, blogger (IDontKnowByMP.com), keynote speaker