Can autonomy fix the motivation crisis? 

"Embracing the freedom of failure builds trust," Cloudfm's CEO reminds us

Disengagement in the UK workplace has staggeringly increased. Studies show that around 90% of employees feel unmotivated at work.

This lack of engagement not only affects how individuals feel about their work but also disrupts overall productivity and organisational success, creating a domino effect. However, one solution that enables all parties to succeed is autonomy.  

An autonomous team has the freedom to make its own decisions and manage its responsibilities and tasks with little to no control from managers. By creating autonomous teams, you allow your workforce to find that sweet spot between work and personal needs, which has been shown to boost productivity and increase energy levels. As leaders, we must let go of the need to micromanage and instead create a culture that allows individuals to feel empowered to make decisions and take ownership of their work.

Read more: Six ways to engage employees to help drive their development

When teams feel trusted and valued, they are more likely to bring energy and positivity to the organisation and push further to achieve shared goals. This positive cycle of engagement and productivity not only benefits individuals but also drives innovation and success for the organisation as a whole.  

Understand the meaning of autonomy 

Autonomy is so much more than simply allowing your team to work remotely. Although your working environment is a defining factor, autonomy focuses more on allowing your teams the freedom to work in a way that suits them and their needs. This can take multiple forms, such as allowing individuals to set their own schedules and deadlines, setting clear goals with team input, and offering remote and hybrid work arrangements.

Read more: Special report: Engagement

However, culture transformation takes time, and it’s important to properly equip managers to embrace a coaching role focused on team performance rather than just setting tasks. For autonomous teams to truly thrive, leaders must provide clarity and freedom. Having one without the other just won’t work. Leaders must ensure they are giving teams clear direction on the expected outcomes and the freedom to best deliver on those outcomes. A lack of clarity can make a team disjointed, and limit room for growth and success. 

Freedom of failure 

Allowing freedom of failure is crucial when it comes to building autonomous teams. When individuals feel empowered to take risks and make decisions without the fear of any immediate consequences of failure, they become more innovative and proactive in their approach to problem-solving. Encouraging team members to explore new ideas and initiatives, even if they may not succeed, allows leaders to create an environment where diverse perspectives are valued.

Read more: The employee engagement gap: From debate to action

The opportunity to learn from failures enables team members to develop their skills and expertise, ultimately leading to personal and collective growth. Embracing the freedom of failure not only builds trust and confidence within teams but also develops a mindset of adaptability and constant improvement, essential qualities for navigating a transforming workplace. 

The power of purpose 

When individuals are encouraged to experiment and work innovatively, they are more likely to feel a stronger sense of purpose as they can see how their perspectives and contributions align with the organisation’s overall purpose and mission. Everyone deserves to have their voice heard. By uplifting teams to share their own viewpoints, we enable them to feel that greater sense of purpose. Autonomy also grants the ability to align work on their personal goals and passions, furthering that sense of authenticity and fulfilment in their daily pursuits. 

Ultimately, leaders need to let go of their egos and nurture a culture that grants teams the freedom to work in the way that suits their needs, while delivering on the organisation’s goals. Once teams are granted that breathing room to flourish, striving towards autonomous work becomes motivating, boosting productivity and engagement, personally and throughout the workforce.  

By Jeff Dewing, CEO of facilities management company Cloudfm