Business Magazine

Autonomy in a Sustainable Startup

Posted on the 17 January 2011 by Cameronchell

The second step of building a successful team for your startup is providing autonomy for the individual. People, in general, require a certain level of direction and self-governance in order for them to feel they are contributing in a worthwhile manner in the workplace. As a general rule of thumb, we put into practice that about 20% of an individual’s time should be of an autonomous nature.

Autonomous behaviours allow individuals to explore the freedom they are given in the workplace. Due to this freedom they are able to explore their own self-worth as measured by their contributions. In the autonomous time team members are given they are left to their own devices to manage the projects they are currently working on, which allows them to measure what they feel is the most important of their tasks, or the most worthy of their time.

As your team members begin to manage their time around projects they begin to take on greater amounts of responsibility for not only these projects but in the workplace as a whole. By providing a certain degree of autonomy to individual team members you are allowing their best work to rise to the top, as Daniel H. Pink outlines in an article ‘Experiements in workplace autonomy’. ( By attaching their names to projects or work that is purely created under their own time management, team members begin to prove not only their self-worth, but what they feel they are worth to the startup as a whole. This allows the strongest of employee personality traits to become visible within these projects, helping both the individual and the team to determine where their best work can be done.

Autonomy however can be a double edged sword. If the startup you’re building is going to have autonomous time allocated to team members then you must find employees who are comfortable and capable with this situation. Not all potential team members will thrive in an environment where they are left to their own devices with diminished direction. These types of employees may shirk away from the responsibility of their own management and reject the want to have their name solely attached to a project.

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