Autonomy in Team Management

Nakamura Hiroki
6 min readMar 2


In a previous post, I wrote about my concern that I am not getting negative feedback anymore. Although I have tried this and that, I still do not receive much negative feedback. Am I creating an atmosphere of reluctance to say it (very possible?), or maybe I’m insensitive and don’t realize it even though I have been told so (also a big possibility?), anyway I am not sure of the truth, but as a person who is easily conceited, I can only feel a sense of crisis, so I am going to set a theme and reflect on it on my own.

The topic of this post is autonomy.

Autonomy is a very important and deep topic, both in terms of AI ethics and in terms of management. As it is too broad to consider both at once, we will consider it here from a management perspective.

Wikipedia defines autonomy as the capacity to make an informed, uncoerced decision and states that, from an HR perspective, autonomy improves employee satisfaction.

If you are in a management position within an organisation, it is natural to expect team members to operate with a high autonomy. On the other hand, in reality, you may experience challenges with team members’ autonomy. When you think about where the cause of this comes from and consider the root of the problem, it seems to eventually come back to the person managing the team.

Management actions are not always positive if something is done, and often work in a negative way. Rather, they only work positively when what is done and when the timing of doing it is optimal, and can easily work in a negative direction if done even slightly wrong.

The same applies to autonomy, and there seem to be far more factors that lower autonomy than increase it. To begin with, most people have a high degree of autonomy when they join the company, team or project. If that autonomy is reduced at some point, I think it may be the result of managers continuing to do things that reduce autonomy.

So, with reflection and self-discipline, I would like to write an anti-pattern on how to reduce autonomy in order to prevent future unwanted actions.

Limiting roles

This is the most obvious anti-pattern. Autonomy is easily reduced when you limit the discretion given to a person in relation to the abilities he or she possesses. Even if you do not intentionally limit it, if you misjudge the person’s apparent and latent abilities, and if the role is too narrow for those abilities, autonomy will decrease just as much as if you intentionally limit it.

It is an easy pattern to understand as an issue, but it is not at all easy to match abilities with roles and expectations. It is very difficult. You need to understand the person’s strengths and motivations correctly, but often the person himself or herself is not aware of them. Therefore, you have to imagine and probe even the strengths and weaknesses that are not verbalized, so that not only obvious limitations, but also unconscious limitations do not occur.

Overstretching roles

The opposite pattern. Just because it is bad to limit roles, there is a greater likelihood of bad results if they are expanded too far in the opposite direction. If they are too far apart from their current capabilities and competencies, they are less likely to produce good results, and if they do not produce results, their confidence will be reduced, and as a result, their autonomy will decrease.

Of course, people with high gallantry can overcome a large gap between their role (expectations) and their current abilities and grow by leaps and bounds. Tolerance for gaps varies greatly from individual to individual.

There is no single answer to the question of how much is too broad, and it is not easy to say that it is okay because it has been agreed upon through dialogue, such as 1-on-1, and it is often not verbalized. Therefore, it is necessary to detect the appropriate range by daily observation, including the atmosphere that is not expressed in words.

Changing expectations of autonomy without agreement in different situations

Inconsistency also reduces autonomy. For example, a person may be asked to follow the rules in general, but only in certain situations, such as when brainstorming for a new business venture, is autonomy required. This may be a common situation that occurs in reality, although it may no longer be called autonomy when one is trying to control autonomy.

Of course, there may be situations where autonomy is not expected in an emergency situation . In such cases, a clear explanation should be given that autonomy is not expected. You should not have the expectation that they will naturally perceive a change in expectations.

Fixing roles without capturing environmental and temporal changes

This is rarely intentional, but it is the pattern that is the hardest to notice, and when it is noticed, it reduces autonomy.

A person’s tolerance for autonomy changes all the time, as he or she grows and his or her personal private life changes. And without noticing the change, before long the role feels restricted or over-extended. In many cases, the individual is unaware of the change, but if this situation continues, the role gradually becomes less appropriate and autonomy decreases.

It is really hard to notice this change. This pattern is rarely said directly in words. It is not that they do not say it on purpose, but often the person themselves do not even notice it. Therefore, it seems to you that the only way to detect the change is through daily observation. In my case, I don’t have much trust in my own sense of perception, so I try to multiplex my network so that I can notice changes through multiple paths. However, it is really difficult because I often overlook things.

Those who expect a high degree of autonomy are not autonomous

It’s obvious that if the person who manages does not have a high degree of autonomy, the autonomy of the members will drop dramatically. If you yourself are not willing to keep learning new things and expanding your horizons, you cannot expect the people around you to have autonomy.

Of course, in an environment with many talented people, it would be very difficult to exceed each member person’s ability in everything with absolute ability. What is important, I think, is not absolute ability, but rather a way of approaching things that takes a higher degree of autonomy than anyone else.

It is a matter of course, and it is not so obvious that your own autonomy alone will increase the autonomy of those around you, but I think it is at least an indispensable prerequisite. If you do not have a high level of autonomy, even if you try to increase the autonomy of those around you through various techniques, it is unlikely to go in the right direction.

At the end

I wrote an anti-pattern about autonomy from a management perspective.

  1. Limiting roles
  2. Overstretching roles
  3. Changing expectations of autonomy without agreement in different situations
  4. Fixing roles without capturing environmental and temporal changes
  5. Those who expect a high degree of autonomy are not autonomous

Writing this reminds me of my experience of actually doing anti-patterns. Once autonomy goes down, it is really hard to improve it. This is because the low autonomy of the people around you is often caused by the person managing you, and unless that manager changes, it is difficult to solve the problem.

Therefore, it is a prerequisite to introspect by oneself to see if one is doing any of the anti-patterns described here, but it is also necessary to carefully monitor yourself to see if you are creating a bad loop by asking the members of the group directly.

I myself would like to be more careful not to do anti-patterns.