Quick Wins: 5 tactics for developing autonomy in your team

Gustav Jonsson
Quick Wins: 5 tactics for developing autonomy in your team

Autonomy is freedom. It’s independence. It’s when you throw away the Lego instructions and still build something that resembles a spaceship. It’s about doing things your own way.

In the workplace, autonomy is one of the key motivational drivers identified by psychologists Ryan and Deci. When employees’ talents and intelligence are acknowledged and acted upon, motivation increases. Here are five tips to encourage autonomy in your teams.

Establish choice

Choice is a great motivator, so encourage your employees to achieve their targets in their own way. At a review or appraisal, set the end goals but discuss rather than direct the means to reach them. To use a cooking metaphor, the best dishes don’t get made by following the recipe book exactly: they’re made when the chef is allowed to improvise with a touch of their own spice and flair. Just remember that increasing autonomy must never leave the employee feeling abandoned (or make them go completely off the rails). Make this clear during the target setting.

Encourage learning

Autonomy and continuous learning go hand in hand, but you don’t need to go as far as sending your employees back to school. Time spent in another department, a short course, a book… Anything that encourages people to develop new skills and affirm existing knowledge will help boost their confidence to act creatively.

Use existing skills

When was the last time you checked an employee’s CV? You could be missing rich mines of untapped talent. Maybe someone in accounts is fluent in business Spanish. Or perhaps one of your team has their own vlog and could provide assistance with your company’s video marketing content. Making the most of individual skills can be of huge benefit to the organisation, while providing job enrichment.

Listen up

Employees have good ideas. At some point one of your colleagues will think “Hang on – I’ve worked out a better way of doing this”. When that time comes they should know that their idea will be listened to. Don’t forget the quieter voices either. Have an anonymous system for more reticent colleagues – a suggestion box perhaps, where that initial idea can be shared without shyness.

Develop trust

Trusting others to reach targets doesn’t always come easy. The trick here is to realise the difference between guidance and instructions. Managers may need support to do this, especially if they have a tendency to be a helicopter boss that’s always hovering. Look into management coaching to help your team learn how to nudge rather than push.

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