It’s an old line that has helped inspire many leaders to manage their teams in such a way that they, as a leader, are not really needed anymore. The team can run itself and the leader can happily go on holidays without a care that the team will be in great shape when they return.
However, I recently spoke with a manager who does not believe in empowering his staff at all. And I was quite surprised to find out that he had come back from a holiday and found that the team had functioned terrifically. That’s when I learned of the shortcut he had taken.
There are two ways to make sure that your team can run by itself. You can help them achieve Autonomy or you can force them to be Automatic. There is an enormous difference.
The Automatic team is so well drilled that they don’t put a foot wrong. They are like a well-oiled machine and will do the same thing over and over again without so much as a mistake. These teams can work well without a leader – all they need is for someone to wind them up and go. But what is the expense?
The Automatic team is great for tasks that require auto-pilots. However, if they have to solve an out-of-the-ordinary problem or give a client special attention, or if something out of left field goes wrong, they are toast. These teams don’t really have the ability to do anything outside of the norm. They wince at the need for abstract thinking and cannot make decisions by themselves. In short, they have been so well drilled that they become fearful of doing something different. ‘Correct’ is so well defined that they are paralysed at the thought of doing something ‘incorrect’.
On the other hand the Autonomous team will thrive in this kind of environment. They are empowered to make decisions that will greatly benefit the team and have no hesitation in problem solving and choosing the correct path, even when thrown a curve-ball. Even if they are in an auto-pilot task, they will look for ways to improve and try new approaches to get things done.
Autonomy and Automatic are mutually exclusive. If you have shown your team that there is only one right way, then you miss out on the potential benefits that your team members can bring. However, there are probably also times to be Automatic – especially when under enormous pressure or following a strict protocol. Be sure to understand which one your team will benefit from the most and then strive to make it happen.