Autonomous workplace management is a style of work which aims to give employees full ownership over their workflow. In an autonomous environment a manager helps to outline a goal. After outlining the manager sits back as members of the team decide how best to achieve that goal. The ownership given to team members means they can determine how best to use their skills to reach an objective. Ownership is what sets autonomous management apart from traditional workplace hierarchies.
Historically corporate management structures have been based around paternalistic leadership styles which result in micro-managing. In a Global Survey conducted by McKinsey it was found that traditional workplace hierarchies are detrimental to employee well-being, while autonomous management fuels innovation. For Hadrian CEO, Rogier Fischer, although corporate hierarchies have their place, when it comes to start-ups, autonomy and participative leadership is vital. Autonomy within the Hadrian team has allowed for the creativity and agility that has put it on a path to success.
Hadrian’s organisational structure is based around only one layer of hierarchy, fueling an autonomous company culture. While the C-suite helps to define Hadrian’s objectives, there is no hierarchy among the rest of the team. Within individual sections of Hadrian, for example marketing or product development, teams do have managers. However the decision making processes take the opinions of group members seriously.
Fischer emphasises that team managers are not responsible for making executive decisions regarding what projects to pursue. Effective leadership also means not micro-managing approaches to solving a problem. Rather, team managers hold a coaching function. Team managers collect insights from the rest of the company and ensure that everyone has the tools they need to stay on track. Managers don’t hold authority over their teams in a traditional sense, and as such teams succeed and fail together.
Autonomous workplace management has been shown to create an environment conducive to creativity and innovation. For UI/UX designer Yujie Shan, the lack of hierarchy at Hadrian means feeling more comfortable proposing new ideas and trying new techniques.
Shan says, “In a hierarchical environment if you deliver what your job description promises you’re taken for granted. Furthermore, if you try a different approach and fail you blame yourself. But at Hadrian not only are you encouraged to try new approaches, when you take on a new project you are applauded and supported through any challenges.”
What Shan describes is a feeling of psychological safety, which has been linked to autonomous management. Psychological safety has been shown to fuel creativity by increasing employees' willingness to share suggestions, and challenge the status quo.
Autonomy also encourages creativity by allowing employees to follow their interests. Fischer emphasises that “autonomy encourages people to pursue what they find interesting, and feel pride over contributing their unique skills and findings to the team.” By increasing autonomy at work company culture increases employee engagement in the projects they pursue.
For Shan, the freedom to pursue her interests has allowed her to think uniquely about UX/UI design. “Autonomy allows for challenges to standard solutions,” says Shan. “Our UX/UI team is able to find our own way to solve a user flow problem, rather than being told by management to follow a specific design that is industrial standard but which might not improve user flow.”
Besides creativity, autonomous management allows for flexibility and agility within a team. Without long chains of command and bureaucracy, Fischer argues that autonomous workplaces create shorter lines for communication. Quick and efficient communication helps Hadrian make decisions fast, and pivot effectively.
Creativity aids this flexibility. Team members are proactive in proposing their own solutions, rather than waiting for the people at the top to dictate next steps. It is for these reasons that McKinsey’s survey found that autonomous-supportive management styles help to fuel an agile organisational culture.
For start-ups maintaining agility and creativity is especially important, as product-market fit solidifies and goals shift. In Fischer’s words, “we often talk about striving to reach a star on the horizon, but in reality there’s not one star but a whole range of stars. The goal you’re aiming for is constantly changing. You need to be able to adjust quickly to new developments in the market.”
For Fischer, having short-lines of communication and the ability to be flexible makes shifting focuses easier. As well, as the product grows, new insights brought forward by team members, help to expand the product’s value. While the founding team acts as a guiding force, providing employees with autonomy means Hadrian capitalises on its top talent.
Autonomy in the workplace is what allows Hadrian to truly embody the values that make it a successful start-up: boldness, openness, community and of course autonomy. By creating a space where employees feel comfortable challenging themselves Hadrian helps its team members grow into even stronger innovators. In the ever-changing landscape of digital security increased levels of autonomy and a willingness to take creative risks is necessary to finding solutions.