There was a real buzz in the office. Ideas thrown around. Plans hatched in a fun environment. Useful input from all members of a cross-functional team. Problems solved.
I was facilitating an autonomy event as part of my client’s team day. With a team of about 25, people worked in groups of three to seven on five projects available. We had taken submissions on project topics prior to the team day. They had four hours. The only output requirement was a presentation to the wider team to show the outcomes and next steps. I based the activity on Atlassian’s ShipIt Days. We went for four hours instead of 24 due to time constraints. Most projects focussed on process improvements or strategic initiatives. Examples included “New ways to segment the client base” and “Ways to reduce costs by 5%.”
The goal was to make space for people to exercise self-direction. On a project and team of their choice. We left our titles at the door to ensure everyone had an equal voice.
What We Learned:
- When people have clear objectives, and the space, they produce innovative solutions. We resolved process problems that had been going on for some time.
- We fast-tracked a lot of work needed for strategic decision making. eg. Segmentation of clients by behaviour rather than size. The four hours taken saved many more hours of work in the future.
- Having team members from different functions (ie. Finance and sales working together) provided richer insights and more holistic solutions.
- It was fun and the exercise helped people from different teams to get to know each other better.
- It is challenging to take time out without disruptions. Day-to-day demands of phone calls and emails. In some cases, we had to adjust the scope of the project to ensure a specific output in the four hours allocated. Set clear parameters as best you can at the outset.
So What Is The Purpose Of The Exercise?
People at all levels of the organisation learned an important lesson. Autonomy, with accountability, leads to increased productivity and better quality work. We created a contained environment to experiment with increased autonomy. We then take those learnings into the day-to-day work environment to increase accountable autonomy.
Why Autonomy Drives Employee Engagement
With autonomy comes responsibility. Staff are accountable for their work. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink explains that a management style that focuses on external rewards and punishment only leads to compliance. A management style that taps into what internally motivates people (intrinsic motivation), leads to engagement. Along with Purpose and Mastery, Autonomy is a key to unlocking intrinsic motivation. By giving staff more control over the work they do, when they do it, who they do it with and how they get it done. When people have more freedom in these areas, the results are remarkable. Potential benefits of autonomy in the workplace includes greater staff commitment, better performance, enhanced productivity and decreased turnover.
In my experience, autonomy is the hardest of the three principles (Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy) for people to accept. It involves trust with clear guidelines and communication. A good way to start in that direction is to have an autonomy event as part of your team day.
Want to give an autonomy event a go in your organisation? Get in touch to receive more ideas that could work in your workplace.
Doug Maarschalk is a trainer, facilitator and coach who uses the principles of intrinsic motivation as the foundation for his work. He has worked with New Zealand businesses in the horticulture, legal, accounting, financial services, real estate and healthcare sectors.
Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.