Small, cross functional autonomous teams are at the heart of agile and digital working. Autonomy allows them to react fast and enables leadership to flow to people with the expertise to solve the problems. But what does autonomy really mean?
When we talk about autonomy, we often think about being able to take decisions and actions free from interference from others. However, in any organisation, it’s rare that we have complete autonomy to take action or spend money.
Complete autonomy would imply that the team can decide what it’s going to deliver and how it’s going to deliver it and has financial approval to spend money, probably within an overall allocated budget.
In reality, in most of today’s autonomous teams there is a fair amount of structure around what will be delivered. This is often determined at a high level by leaders or product owners.
Autonomous teams may break this down into more granular goals. In some areas where teams are highly skilled in a particular technology or area of operation, they may take much more leadership in defining what is possible.
Even in this case however there usually needs to be some coordination outside the team to ensure that the objectives are consistent with the mission of the business and the needs of its customers.
Teams typically have much more autonomy in how they will deliver goals. They are often the experts in the methods, processes and tools needed to achieve the objective.
Financial approval is still often exercised by a team leader and constrained by their organisations budgeting on financial approval processes.
So in deciding how much autonomy we have and need, we should discuss who will decide what we do, who determines how we do it and what level of financial approval is required. The answer to these 3 questions will determine how much autonomy we really have.
How autonomous is your team right now? What do you need to do to take the next step towards more autonomy?