Autonomy without purpose is a bad mix

1 minute read

Micromanagement is a sign that your product development approach has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Unchecked, it leads to problems in culture, vexed people and low-quality outcomes. Reassuringly, teams given the autonomy to determine the best path towards an outcome are becoming more widespread.

This shift makes sense when you consider the potential uplift in motivation, morale and creativity (since teams can control more of what they do, when and who they work — ideally using small patterns rather than inapt playbooks) when delivering outcomes.

However, be aware of 2 potential hazards whether you are bestowing or accepting this gift: autonomy without purpose and autonomy without accountability.

  • Lack of purpose (working without understanding why) can lead to depleted morale, low-quality outcomes and a loss of expertise as people become frustrated with a lack of meaning
  • Lack of accountability (focusing on how to work without considering much else) can lead to disappointment as value delivered at the team-level falls short of organisation-level expectations

To avoid these, here are 4 recommendations irrespective of your role or seniority:

  1. keep talking & collaborating — sounds obvious but poor communication is an evident problem; increase trust & understanding via a ‘we’re all in this’ together mindset
  2. be sincere — show real interest in what’s happening by asking insightful questions and being proactive to help solve problems
  3. don’t look to blame others when things go wrong — instead look to understand why and help put in place support to avoid repeats in future
  4. promote what and why you’re working on throughout your organisation — ubiquitous language and the same/complementary metrics towards an outcome helps here

Autonomous, empowered teams are significant steps towards a better way of building products. But — as you move away from the world of micromanaged, feature-factory teams — don’t lose sight of your responsibilities to each other to provide purpose and be accountable too.