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If you've ever read Dickens' Christmas story of Ebenezer Scrooge then you're familiar with the tale of the mean, terrible overlord-boss who demands constant effort from those in his employ.

Scrooge is the ultimate micro-managing, unforgiving, all-seeing, hard-taskmaster.

AUTONOMY is not a word uttered, nor dare enacted, in the money-lending business of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Whilst Employee Satisfaction Surveys were not de rigueur in 19th century London it's likely that Bob Cratchit (Scrooge's underpaid & overworked clerk) was not a highly engaged nor motivated employee.

In his hugely successful book "Drive", Daniel Pink sets out his "Three Elements" of motivation: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Cratchit, it might be argued, had Masterycovered. And his Purpose, as determined later in the Christmas Carol story, was (clearly) providing for his beloved family.

To my mind, Purpose & Mastery are elements (largely) under the control of the individual. Certainly a leader may support and coach a team member to fully develop their Purpose & Mastery but the "work" and "prize" are owned by the individual. Purpose & Mastery can't be taken away by anyone - these are personal & internal. This is less true of Autonomy.

Autonomy is an element bequeathed by, or negotiated with, "the boss". That is to say that obtaining, having and maintaining Autonomy is a process (whether formal & conscious, or not) between an Authority Figure and a subordinate.

There are FOUR key elements present in any relationship for Autonomy to work:

  1. A shared set of VALUES (or at the very least transparency & agreement - or agreement to disagree)

  2. Clarity about EXPECTATIONS (particularly in terms of behaviour/action)

  3. A deep understanding of the RESPONSIBILITIES of the individuals involved

  4. RESULTS - that is, the outcomes from the giving & taking of Autonomy must be clear & actually delivered upon

These are the elements of The 4 Walls of AUTONOMY © -

Within the 4 Walls lies The Autonomous Zone : the area within which the individual (or team) can operate with Autonomy. Provided an individual (or team) operate with this zone they do so with Autonomy.

The Autonomous Zone changes depending on the circumstances. As an individual is provided with larger RESPONSIBILITIES then their personal Autonomous Zone may reduce for a period of time.

As the individual demonstrates consistent balance within the 4 Walls then The Autonomous Zone is gradually enlarged and Autonomy increased once again.

Where any one of the 4 Walls is missing, not well articulate or understood then the individual will wander into The Confusion & Conflict Zone. It is here that an employee & boss will descend into confusion & ultimately conflict.

Scrooge did not need to give Bob Cratchit 'carte blanche' to do anything he wished to do, whenever he wished to do it: and nor should any boss! All that was necessary to improve Cratchit's satisfaction & motivation (noting he already possessed PURPOSE & MASTERY) was to provide a Zone of AUTONOMY by communicating & agreeing on the 4 WALLS: Values; Expectations; Responsibilities; Results.

If you would like to know how to implement The 4 Walls of Autonomy © in your team or business please feel free to contact me.

#teams #teamwork #culture #engagement #selfreflection #leadership

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