The progress we humans have made is remarkable. Today we are collaborating across offices and landboarders. We are constantly looking for better ways to deal with our challenges.

Many organizations now structure their employees in autonomous teams. In other words, teams that govern or control itself. Teams that decides for themselves how they should work to handle their daily tasks. Organizing people in these type of teams has a lot of advantages over traditional hierarchies.

Hierarchical Organizations

In a hierarchical organization the power is kept in the hands of the upper management, the power flows vertically and upward. All employees follow a chain of command. One of the benefits of a traditional hierarchy is that employees have a clear knowledge of their role and responsibilities within the organization. Managers use predetermined guidelines so that rules are properly followed and conflicts managed. There is no focus on the employee experience in this type of a structure. Innovation, engagement, and collaboration will often suffer and stagnate.

In a hierarchical organizations the information flow can be quite slow. New information often have to be sent through or evaluated by multiple people before a decision is made. This type of structure can of course be useful in organizations where strict rules and guidelines have to be followed.

Autonomous teams

With autonomous teams, the information flow is quite different. Since the team works on its own merits, every member get more involved in the decisions being made. Problems, improvement ideas and other forms of feedback is addressed regularly in meetings designed to do so. Read more about retrospectives here. Every team can distribute information quickly among its members and the leader becomes a facilitator rather than a boss who dictates every decision.

Challenges with autonomous team can be seen in organizations that are new to the idea. For teams new to autonomy, leaders have to set the direction and help the team establish new norms. The leader should be be a coach for the team toward autonomy and teach team members how to learn, adapt and implement new ways of working. In complex large-scale projects that require a lot of communication between different teams, organizations should use well experienced leaders to manage autonomy.  

Some advantages for autonomous teams:

  • All members gets a better shared understanding of the current situation.
  • It is easier for all members to experiment with new ideas and continuously improve
  • Knowledge between team members can be shared freely, making it easier for new and existing employees to learn from one another.
  • It increases motivation. Being able to direct your own work, getting regularly feedback and being more involved with the purpose of your work, makes you more engaged and motivated.
  • It improves problem solving skills with multiple people involved.

Imagine multiple teams always trying to improve themselves. Sharing their best ideas with the other teams. Constantly improving each part of the organization and innovating from the bottom and up.