Last week was another where I was fortunate enough to work with positive feedback from one of the teams I coach. Our retrospective showed the team feeling proud of the work they were doing, and safe in the way they were working.
As a coach, this is edifying to hear but also presents its own challenges. If processes fail or communication breaks down, it’s straightforward to ask the team what needs to be fixed and how. When things are going well, the precise reasons for that aren’t always as obvious. In this particular conversation, one theme stood out - autonomy. They feel in control, trusted to meet the challenges put to them, and correctly resourced. Their level of need is low, and their confidence is high.
There’s an awful lot of management speak floating around about autonomy. It’s often discussed as a characteristic of a high-performing (whatever that means) team, but it’s rarely that simple. Giving a team absolute decision making authority is no guarantee of success or development. Autonomy needs to go with a maturity of thought and experience within a team and an established and supportive system around it. The coach’s job is to ensure that their work not only meets expectations, but is compatible with the work of other teams, the organisation and their customer.
One of the potential improvements identified by the team was attributed to another team not having the level of autonomy it needs, and we sought to identify practical ways we could support that team. A single autonomous team can’t succeed in a culture without trust, and trust is not a passive state - to trust a colleague or team to succeed requires active engagement, experimentation and judgement. It requires knowing when to intercede and when to step back, when to suggest and when to stay silent. It’s complex, and as context changes so do the best available actions.
A few links about autonomy then: why autonomy at work is the key to happiness; the challenges of retaining autonomy as your team grows; and one view of a spectrum of self organisation. And finally wandering off topic, smart toilets are here. At last, an end to stupid toilets.