When you think of autonomy in your workplace, you may think of your independent workers, those people who can take their own initiative, who are trusted to “just get on with it.” When it comes to achieving a Culture of Innovation, autonomy means having an entire workforce like this…and more. 

An organisation with a Culture of Innovation has a workforce who can actively work independently, however, their purpose and overarching method is commonly shared. Everyone has a shared vision and commitment to a common goal, and they are equally as able and willing to collaborate with their colleagues towards this vision, as they are able to work on their own. 

Those that imagine a Culture of Innovation as something that's free from structure, may find the concept of shared visions and processes hard to swallow. However, if you motivate your team with a clear strategy that is mapped out with goals and frameworks for them to work towards and within, then they’ll naturally (both independently and collectively) ensure their focus does not attenuate.

As with most things in business, it all comes down to communication.

Tell your team that you want the business to be the leading supplier of widgets to NASA and they may get excited, passionately begin working on projects to meet that goal, but then slowly find themselves drifting hopelessly as they lack any real understanding of why they’re doing it and how they’re going to achieve it. Suddenly, you have more team members concentrating on filling in their petty cash spreadsheet than selling widgets to astronauts.

However, engage your team in a discussion about how your business could be the leading supplier of widgets to NASA by 2017, why you would like the business to achieve this, what the estimated budget for achieving this would be and provide them with a distinct process for selecting, developing, testing, evaluating and launching their ideas, then the petty cash should remain low in their priorities. 

In doing this, you’ll have achieved two things. By not just telling them your goals, but providing your reasoning and some potentially classified information in the process, you’ll have shown you trust and respect your team.  When people are shown trust and respect they usually return it. 

Secondly, by providing some boundaries like a budget and process, they’ll not only know what they’re aiming towards, they’ll have a good idea what the path to achieving it looks like. This type of security is what feeds autonomy.

Many think that boundaries are a hindrance to a culture, but on the contrary, boundaries provide the shape for a team to fill. Freedom is enhanced, rather than constricted by a common understanding. Combine this with Innovation skills training and a 'run of the mill' culture will quickly progress to a Culture of Innovation. 

Encourage autonomy in your workforce, support it, and watch wonderful things happen.

Enjoy reading this? Take a look at some of our other Conversations on Innovation.


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