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Leadership and providing your team with autonomy

Since blogging about the concerning fact that engagement scores in organisations are trending down, I have heard from many people confirming that this is widespread.

As leaders, it is essential for our teams wellbeing to halt this downtrend.

I’ve written about the importance to provide a clear sense of direction and purpose for the organisation and the team. A lack of understanding of our purpose creates disengagement.

Lack of autonomy is also known to reduce engagement. Autonomy provides a sense of control over our role which can affect our response to stress factors in our lives. When we are feel more autonomous we are more resistant to stress, less autonomous can mean that we perceive the same circumstances as more stressful.

“Autonomy is the antithesis of micromanagement.

Self-chosen goals, create a specific kind of motivation

called intrinsic motivation—the desire to do something

for its own sake.” Joan F. Cheverie

A definition of autonomy is ‘the power to shape your work environment in ways that allow you to perform at your best’.

A greater sense of autonomy leads to a greater sense of certainty.

My first job was as a receptionist in a forestry commission – a small office in a rural town. My role was a bit of everything – from typing letters, leasing bee sites and tracking tree logging. Even though this was my first ever office role, my boss gave me significant autonomy. He directed me as to what I needed to do, however left it up to me how I achieved that. During the 12 months I felt empowered and created several new more efficient systems for managing and tracking bee sites, and for tracking tree felling.

I loved that role mainly due to the degree of trust and autonomy that was given to me.

Autonomy in a team is about focussing on what gets done rather than how it gets done – more choice for employees in how they do their work rather than being directed on how to do it.

The opposite of autonomy is micromanagement. Micromanagement can lead to low team morale, high employee turnover and less productivity.

As a leader, focus on the team and give them to room to do their job; treat them as individuals and coach them to reach their potential. My belief is that everyone comes to work to do a good job.

While true autonomy can be hard to achieve in the workplace, a feeling of choice can be created. Some ways to build or create a feeling of autonomy in your team:

  • Put boundaries in place and, within that, create choice to allow team members to determine how they do their role. When a task or goal is decided upon by management, allowing individuals to decide how they will achieve it is intrinsically motivating
  • Clearly define roles to encourage ownership of them. This allows employees to tap into the ‘why’ of their work. Understanding the ‘why’ of a goal or task employees have been assigned has value. Don’t assume the ‘why’ is obvious – even if it seems so to you.
  • Build the capability in your team – what do they need (training, tools etc.) to reach your goals and theirs. Show that you are willing to invest in them.

If you would like to talk about your team engagement scores and ways to build engagement in your team please feel free to contact me.

Ph: 0419106343
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