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Autonomy, Teams and Impact

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We come together in teams and organizations for many reasons. One over-arching reason is that we can accomplish more together than we can as individuals. We’re often left with the sense that teams are critically important towards greater accomplishments and we are reminded that even the examples of seemingly singular heroes, entrepreneurs and “lone wolf” warriors have supportive teammates behind them or back home, making their endeavors possible.

Then why do most of us crave some level of autonomy in our work?

Why do most of us need to have a say, have our voices heard, and be at least partially self-directed in our work? While some of us need more autonomy than others, does anyone show up to their work dreaming of being directed all day long for every task, goal and accomplishment?

I thrive in teams and I require autonomy, and often feel at odds within these two dynamics. I am not easily managed or directed, yet I appreciate clear expectations of outcomes. I can work and create independently very effectively, yet I want people to collaborate with. I do not have a need to direct my teammates, yet I am happy to lead where I add value. And I’m just as happy to follow when I have high respect and trust for my leaders and teammates.

As I have shared these personal work style preferences with others, I have found that a majority feel very similar – and yet we often think in binary terms when it comes to autonomy and teams. We focus on the collective, at times neglecting the individual. It’s made me curious about the relationship between impact and teams compared to impact and autonomy.

As I recently re-read Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind,” I am reminded that the more we are able to utilize multiple styles and preferences, the more effective and the greater impact we may make. Pink suggests autonomy is one of three elements of intrinsic motivation that business needs its people to adopt as a new approach.

Examples of intrinsic motives are:

  • Participating in a hobby or sport because you find it interesting.
  • Finding the solution to a complex problem because you value the resolution.
  • Pursuing a career at a specific company because you find that company attractive (for whatever reason).

Notice the common denominator: The behavior is driven by the individual and their interest.

The opposing motives, “extrinsic” motives, are from the outside of “you” and while they can be and often are just as powerful, they have little to do with autonomy. We can be motivated by outside forces and ideas, as we are when we work in teams and organizations, yet we still hold intrinsic motives in these relationships as well.

I agree with Lawrence Ripshaw’s article, “Autonomy vs. Impact,” and his observations of people who have been very successful in being autonomous and impactful. They are not “loose cannons” or “lonesome cowboys”; on the contrary, they are people who have invested in a network of relationships built on trust, not transactions.

Having worked with very talented people all my adult life, I have noticed that those who have been most impactful while maintaining great autonomy craft some very important abilities, attributes and skills along the way.

  1. They develop and hone a specific and specialized talent or ability that becomes known as their personal brand or reputation. This regularly includes high trust and integrity.
  2. They continually practice and improve their high emotional and social intelligence skills, sometimes referred to as “soft skills.”
  3. They build resiliency by taking care of their physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self, including good nutrition and hydration, as well as healthy levels of rest and rejuvenation through sleep and other activities that recharge them as a whole person – meditation, prayer, a connection to their purpose, and, of course, physical movement and exercise.

Consider experimenting or fine-tuning the above three attributes for yourself. Reflect on what you are known for or what people seek from you. There’s the seed of a specific skill or ability!

Take an Emotional Intelligence training course, read more about Emotional Intelligence and practice, practice, practice.

Consider your daily habits and routines affecting your overall wellbeing. Build more resiliency and stamina by starting small or increasing the efforts you’re already committed to!

We’d love to hear from you about this and all leadership and team topics that interest you!

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