You may be thinking that alignment and autonomy have nothing in common. By definition, they're polar opposites. An aligned workforce is an engaged workforce with alignment between employees and the organization. On the other hand, an autonomous workforce allows employees to define their own projects, pathways, and tasks. They have free will to do what they want and work towards their own goals.
Despite their nuances, I’d like to argue that one workforce style cannot exist without the other. Especially within a highly competitive and ever-evolving industry, you need to implement a model inclusive of both for continuous innovation and growth. This marriage of alignment and autonomy is what led today’s top media and internet companies to become so successful – and it can do the same for yours.
Workforce Challenges & the Benefits of Aligned Autonomy
It’s no secret that companies today face reduced productivity and high turnover. Micromanagement, unrealistic expectations, and inadequate company cultures are a few of many factors that inspire people to seek new job opportunities. A revolving door can do serious damage to your company - projects go on hold, information is lost, and misalignment between team members enhances inefficiency. To make things worse, professionals with the most sought-after skillsets have a clear vision of what they want to work on, the environment they want to work in, and who they want to work with. And they won’t settle for less.
To combat these challenges, leaders within media and internet companies built a workforce model focused on aligned autonomy. That's because aligned, autonomous workforces attract higher-caliber, higher-quality talent who stick around longer and produce higher quality work.
Industry trendsetters followed three unprecedented steps towards mastering the balance between alignment and autonomy. Although the entirety of this model may not be appropriate for every company and instance, the principles within these steps will undoubtedly come in handy for your organization.
Step 1: Commit to Growth & Innovation through Culture
Developing your culture is the first step towards aligned autonomy. After all, it provides a baseline for your employees' mindset and actions as representatives of your company. It also shapes how they feel about your brand and helps establish how they'll contribute to your company’s growth and ongoing success.
Culture is more than a set of core values – it’s a lifestyle. Media and internet companies today thrive on it, encouraging their employees to immerse themselves in it and portray it in their actions. Some of the most influential companies today have established culture codes focused on employee autonomy, high cultural alignment, and positive intent. This has paved the way for others to realize that a company’s culture will only be influential if the people who live in it, align with it.
Keep in mind, culture cannot be created nor defined. Instead, it is developed over time through the tensions that exist within your organization. As your employees bring these tensions to light, it’s up to you as a company or leader to create an environment where culture can adapt and thrive.
Step 2: Implement Community Structure & Cross-company Collaboration
Putting the right organizational structure into place is the second step towards aligned autonomy. Whether you’re an indie streaming service with a team of <50 employees or a large media company with offices worldwide, community and collaboration are driving forces for success.
The most successful companies today have adapted organizational models off of principles that allow for autonomy while still focusing on community structure and cross-company collaboration.
- One popular principle is based around the book, The End of Management and The Rise of Organizational Democracy. It encourages companies to steer away from the traditional hierarchal forms of management and, instead, create smaller groups of individual, associated webs with a flexible, autonomous model.
- Another book, Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team's Productive Power, describes the principle of an engineering culture. This enabled one of today's most prominent media and internet companies to establish one within their own development teams.
Shared assumptions, values, and beliefs allow teams to perform specific functions in alignment, such as developing software, solving problems, and handling customers. However, it's also important to remember that different roles and skillsets offer unique perspectives on common problems. Because of this, hiring versatile talent also plays a large role in enabling company growth and innovation.
Step 3: Let High Alignment Drive Autonomy
Autonomy without alignment creates a chaotic and directionless culture, while alignment without autonomy can create a culture of conformity and micromanagement. On their own, neither option will lead to innovation and growth.
Letting high alignment drive autonomy, is the third step in this model. A healthy balance of both is what makes the meshing of alignment and autonomy so successful. As a company, the more you align with your mission, values, and objectives, the more your employees can work together to find solutions autonomously. Employees should decide how to govern and complete required tasks while still maintaining alignment with each other and the company.
A focus on community, motivation, and trust is critical. You must trust them to identify projects and priorities independently that solve for and align with your product strategy, company priorities, and the work being done by other teams within the organization. An article by Harvard Business Review claims that to achieve the most success in this model, alignment must be balanced with accountability, control, and the freedom to innovate versus following proven routines.
The result of all this balance? Autonomy supports creativeness and innovation. By giving employees autonomy to define their own mission, you’ll see a rise in experimentation, collaboration, and innovation.
The Importance of a Good Fit
None of this can happen without the people! Remember - your company needs high-caliber, high-quality talent to produce high-quality, high-caliber work. Even with strategies mapped out for culture, cross-company collaboration, and aligned autonomy, a successful business's driving force is highly-skilled and specialized talent. This is especially true regarding the ever-evolving, competitive nature of media and internet companies.
You may find that it’s beneficial to hire people who have a work history in these types of environments. From the perspective of both your organization and the prospective employee, some of the benefits include better adaptability to the new company, easier transition of responsibilities and a better team dynamic. With the right talent supporting your organization and these steps in place, you can follow the lead of trendsetting media and internet companies who found the perfect balance of an aligned and autonomous workforce.
Want to know more? Check out the full whitepaper for a step-by-step guide to create an aligned, autonomous workforce!