Improving performance requires leaders to consider employee engagement, satisfaction, and culture and ask how these areas can be strengthened.
One how element of performance that deserves an in-depth look is autonomy.
What comes to mind when you think of autonomy? You might imagine engaging in solo work with your headphones on, focused, independent, and free of distractions.
While there might be some truth to this idea of autonomy, there’s a lot more to it. For starters, it’s less about how often we interact with others and more about ownership, accountability, trust relative to our work, and having a sense of control over how we use our time. In a larger context, autonomy creates a sense of empowerment for the person who is autonomous.
Let’s look at some data that supports just how much autonomy matters…
Researchers from the University of Birmingham have reported that if you have flexible working hours or the ability to work at your own pace (ahem, autonomy), you’re likely to have higher job satisfaction and higher overall well-being than other professionals who don’t. In other words, we need it to achieve satisfaction in our careers. Published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that “gaining autonomy quenches the desire for power,” and people would rather work in a non-managerial autonomous position that grants self-empowerment than take a promotion offering power over others.
So how does autonomy improve performance? By increasing our sense of satisfaction. It also motivates us and gives us a sense of control over our working lives. Some individuals choose to leave their organizations and start solo businesses to achieve autonomy, but luckily, leaving our organizations isn’t required in order to create it.
Here are a few ways you can increase a sense of autonomy within your team and organization.
1. Make collaborative meetings productive.
Collaboration is important for engagement and results, but meetings for the sake of meetings can disrupt workflow and aren’t the best use of time. For pre-scheduled meetings, make sure to set an intention and provide attendees with an agenda beforehand. Ask yourself where you are wanting your team’s input. In what ways can collaborating benefit the project or issue at hand? If needed, use today’s robust technology to make accommodations for remote workers.
2. Make time for uninterrupted work.
Autonomy is broadly defined, but one aspect includes the ability to work independently and focus on the tasks or projects without interruption. Respect your own time and the time of others--set up boundaries with others and be realistic with projects, deadlines, and timelines. If meetings and chat time are outweighing independent work time, much will be talked about but little will get done. It’s often the “heads down” time that produces the rewarding fruits of our labor by allowing us to put all of our attention on the product or results we want to produce.
3. Provide trust and flexibility.
Simply put, life happens. Between the needs of family, our own needs, doctor’s appointments, and personal preferences, strict scheduling doesn’t work for everyone. Pose questions to yourself and your team—how do you want your workday to look? What environment allows you to work most effectively? If expectations and objectives are clear, flexibility is beneficial for both individuals and organizations. Trust that objectives will be met, and if they aren’t, commit to following up with the conversations that need to happen in order to address the issue. For more on strengthening trust, read our previous blog post herehere.
4. Have conversations about the amount of autonomy that’s currently present.
Whether you’re a leader or individual contributor, have a conversation with the people you work with most closely. Do you feel a sense of ownership and independence when it comes to your work? Do you feel empowered in your schedule, the pace at which you work, and feel there’s a sense of mutual trust between colleagues? If the answer is no to any of these questions, a conversation can open up the possibility for more autonomy that then leads to stronger workplace relationships and improved performance.
If your current work environment isn’t supportive of autonomy, don’t let it slide. I repeat: have the conversation.
How have you benefited from autonomy, both personally and professionally? Share with us.