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How Much Autonomy Do You Give Your Team?


We all have a psychological need for autonomy – a degree of independence and ability to exert control over our lives.

The amount of autonomy you have at work typically varies with:

  • your abilities
  • experience level
  • the nature of the work itself
  • the boss you have
  • the workplace culture, and
  • perhaps other factors.

I think at one point or another, we’ve all had the experience of being micromanaged. The dissatisfaction you feel when someone is breathing down your neck on every little detail stems from your need for autonomy.

And we’ve also all experienced being tossed in the deep end. Struggling because we feel completely unsupported.

The right level of autonomy matters at work.

How much autonomy is optimal?

Typically, the amount you’ve granted your team - within the context of what you have discretion over - is based on a combination of two things:

  • your personal philosophy on autonomy (often based on your own preference for it) and
  • the team member’s past performance.

It’s smart practice to have a check-in with each team member regarding their current preferences for autonomy.

  • Put your personal preference for degree of autonomy aside and solely focus on their preference for it, within the context of the nature of the work and their past performance, and see if any changes are feasible.

  • Be prepared that some people might like more frequent touch points or check-ins regarding assigned work and some might want to try less. Some might want the same amount as now but would like them to be structured differently.


Approach any change as an experiment.

As a manager you’ll need to reevaluate it within the context of the business to see if it can continue.

  • Put a 15-minute meeting on the calendar for 2 weeks later with the sole agenda item being to discuss your and their experience with what is working well and what isn’t with the new level of autonomy.
  • If you continue with the new level of autonomy, plan to check in on it specifically in a month (or shorter if you are making adjustments).
  • From there you may decide it is permanent and any issues would be brought up in regular performance check-ins.

And now that you’ve read this with your manager hat on, consider whether you have your desired degree of autonomy in your own job. Schedule a discussion with your boss if you’d like to make a change.

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