Autonomy Management: Balancing Employee Self-Direction and Team Orientation

By Jezabel Southard

Posted on February 20, 2018

Manager on a seesaw trying to balance autonomyAutonomy is a hallmark of the job search for many candidates. Younger candidates are more likely to desire a job where they can work on their own.

While this desire for self-direction comes with benefits, it can also pose a challenge for management. New staff straining for autonomy may do so without realizing the company’s “tried and true” processes are in place for a reason. They may also be seeking a job in which “going it alone” is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive.

Managers need to understand how to strike a balance between self-direction and team orientation.

What’s Wrong With Employee Autonomy? The Good (and Bad) of Going It Alone

Like any employee trait, autonomy is useful and even positive in certain amounts. Some benefits of having autonomy-oriented employees include:

  • Intrinsic motivation, which reduces the need for a “carrot and stick” managerial approach
  • Increased initiative-taking
  • Creativity and a sense of ownership, which can improve the quality of results

But when autonomy gets out of hand, the problems it causes may include:

  • Reinventing the wheel instead of completing substantive tasks
  • A lack of responsiveness or “being present” when needed
  • A failure to align work results with the “big picture” goal or needs of the team

For managers, the key is to strike a balance that allows the benefits of an autonomous orientation to flourish without allowing the detriments to fester. Here are a few ways to reach that balance:

A Quick-Start Guide to Autonomy Management Without Killing Staff Motivation

Once you’ve identified an employee’s autonomous streak, here’s how to keep them oriented to the team without destroying their internal desire to work:

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  1. Focus on onboarding, not training. While training can be a part of onboarding, the onboarding process should place specific task training within the context of the team’s work and the company.
  2. Create a process for suggesting ideas or projects. Whether it’s to send you an email or drop an idea in a suggestion box, a process for sharing ideas can help autonomously oriented staff feel they are acting on these ideas without getting sidetracked by them.
  3. Schedule check-ins and stick to them. For instance, let staff know “I’ll drop by your desk around 4 to see how it’s going.” Then, do it. This process makes it clear you intend to participate in the process (and are available for questions), but still leaves staff the space to work without feeling stifled.

At TERRA Staffing, our recruiters can help you fine-tune your employment branding and hiring process, so you attract, hire and retain candidates whose level of desired autonomy fits well with your management practices. Contact us today to learn more about our recruitment services.

Categories: HR and Management Advice

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