How can you encourage autonomy within teams?

The best thing as a manager is having autonomous teams, it's a wonderful thing.

When I transitioned from individual contributor to management I had a difficult time letting go of the reigns.

After all, engineering success was largely dependent on pure control: making tech do exactly what i wanted!

Heading up an incredible team requires taking that same precision and employing something called delegation instead - where you help your crew find their own paths to victory. It's about self-organization so there is no doubt which tasks are most critical for success.

Finding YOUR People

As a leader, you need to find out who is who within your team. Who is the most technical, most experienced, hardest worker, most green, etc.

Make a gut decision on who you go to for certain request and items.

If you want an autonomous team, you need to empower your reports. One of the easiest ways to do that is talk to each individual, perfect for a 1 on 1. Determine what motivates them then find opportunities for them to shine. Let key players know what you are expecting from them.

If you don't like how something is being done, call it out as soon as possible, but don't make any rush decisions. Talk things through with your "go tos", get their input and come up with a plan together.

Autonomy starts with empowering individuals to make decisions on their own.

Determining a cycle

The most asked question I get from my colleagues working at other companies is:

Do you use scrum, kanban or something different?

My take on this topic is for engineering leaders to come together and agree on some cadence and standards.

The worst situation IMO is having teams on different sprints cycles, using different methodologies and even worse using different tools.

Reason why I think that it is not ideal because it's hard to cross collaborate, track metrics and plan for future work.

If everyone operates differently how can we grow together?

In regards to autmony, make those things standard where you team doesn't even need to worry about it. If most teams are following the similar cadence then it's easier to jump into another team world and understand where things currently stand.

Now I can see someone explain why they do things differently, but I prefer to stay uniform when it make sense.

Project manager trying to run a sprint
Encouraging autonomy within engineering teams can have numerous benefits, including increased productivity, innovation, and job satisfaction.

Focus on Impact

If you want to build an autonomous team, then you need to do the following:

  1. Set clear goals and expectations: Provide team members with a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved and how it fits into the bigger picture. This helps team members feel more in control of their work and empowered to make decisions.
  2. Provide the necessary resources and support: Make sure team members have the tools and support they need to complete their tasks. This may include access to training, knowledge resources, or mentorship.
  3. Encourage collaboration and peer review: Encourage team members to work together and share ideas. This helps build trust and a sense of community within the team, and helps team members feel more invested in the success of the project.
  4. Empower team members to make decisions: Trust team members to make decisions and solve problems on their own. This not only helps build their confidence, but also allows them to bring their own unique perspectives and approaches to the table.
  5. Encourage continuous learning and professional development: Encourage team members to seek out new learning opportunities and stay up-to-date on industry trends. This helps team members feel more confident in their abilities and can also lead to increased innovation within the team.
  6. Foster open communication: Encourage team members to speak up and share their ideas and concerns. This helps create an open and transparent culture, which can foster a sense of autonomy within the team.

What does success look like?

We want to put our energy into projects that make a real difference, not just ones with shiny new infrastructure.

I remember one time working with a team and my boss asked what do the devs want to work on. The response was, "we want better exception handling". It wasn't a bad idea but it reminded me that devs don't think about the big picture at times.

It's great fun creating something from nothing and working on exciting features - but at the end of the day, these activities take time away from optimizing for impact which is what we should really be striving towards.

Sure there are infinite possibilities out there BUT if you're serious about making sure your work means something then it needs to have an actual positive effect on merchants otherwise why bother? No project happens without success metrics so let’s use them wisely!

Projects can often be divided into two distinct categories:

  • Impressing us (new features)
  • Improving our lives (improvements on existing things)

The first option provides a chance to create something revolutionary, while the second offers an opportunity to make existing services even swifter and more user-friendly.

Whether you're introducing new merchant offerings or accelerating page loading time - success metrics are particularly pertinent when it comes to achieving ambitious projects with remarkable results!

Final Thoughts

Overall, fostering a culture of autonomy within an engineering team requires a combination of clear communication, trust, and support from leadership, as well as a willingness from team members to take initiative and be accountable for their work.

By creating an environment where team members feel empowered and supported, you can encourage them to take ownership of their work and drive greater success for the team and the organization.

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