Two of the primary buzzwords in modern industry and commerce are “collaboration” and “empowerment”. Both have been supported – if not stimulated to new levels – by the advent of digital workplaces.
Put simply, business transformation does not simply hinge on having the right technology in place. It depends on having people engaged with the devices and software, working together effectively, constantly looking for ways to work faster, better, and more profitably.
Decision making in a digital age
Long gone are the days when companies based their very survival – as well as profitable growth – on a series of meetings, complex paper trails, and drawn-out decision-making processes.
Modern intranets that are configured to dovetail seamlessly with all business systems and controls ensure that data extrapolation, analysis, and management are now swift and seamless.
From this basis comes the ability to see a company from end to end, but also infinite possibilities for creating digital workgroups. Teams of people can study, update, and share information in real-time, simultaneously from any location in the world.
The agility this provides is immeasurably important to ambitious companies.
It relies on creating a culture of collaboration – opening up data access and sharing with as many people as possible.
However, it does depend on having tech that adequately supports project teams, particularly with regard to autonomous workgroups.
What is an autonomous workgroup?
This may sound like a retrograde step in a digital workplace, but creating autonomous workgroups has been shown to be evolutionary for companies reliant on innovation and business development.
Giving employees independence over a piece of research, a project, or some other decision-making initiative can make organisations even more agile. It streamlines tasks, taking out levels of management and evaluation that can slow things down, even in the technological age.
Giving staff autonomy of their project work can lead to great things
One of the other advantages of creating autonomous workgroups is that it meshes together a specific set of skills, and focuses attention, on major decisions which can affect the whole organisation. Having a mandate to ‘get the job done’, free of constant scrutiny, empowers teams with a sense of confidence and control that can lead to a robust commitment to finding positive outcomes quickly. This sense of importance and shared responsibility also ensures that employees are engaged and productive from day one.
Autonomous workgroups give leaders the chance to experiment with collaborative projects on any scale, drawing together complementary skills and insights, or pooling a highly diverse range of perspectives. All without geographical limits.
Creating autonomous workgroups also enables a digitally-supported project team to work together as insightfully and swiftly as a single decision-maker would, with the added benefit of having a concentration of abilities that can produce a more ‘rounded’ outcome.
When autonomous workgroups fail
That’s not to say autonomous workgroups are always successful.
There are times when an ill-fitting or demotivated project team find ample places to “hide” in the digital workplace, leading to sporadic to no contributions at all! Tasks can become as disjointed and drawn out as they did pre-technology.
“Hiding” in the digital workplace can cause autonomous workgroups to fail
These workgroups can also become resistant to outside influence, ideas, and evaluation, guarding intellectual property and their decisions with far too much vigour. This of course flies firmly in the face of the modern need for heightened collaboration, and global company control systems.
How to create successful independent work groups
One of the most important aspects of a productive autonomous workgroup is the perimeters of its initial remit.
Ensuring your project team has true responsibility for setting goals, timescales, and working practices can engage them more thoroughly, and retain their commitment longer.
There also needs to be tangible leeway in their KPIs and milestones. Giving an autonomous workgroup the power to shape their own evaluation opens up greater exploration of innovation and stimulates more enthusiasm to find and share relevant knowledge. A ticking clock has the opposite effect.
This involves a ‘leap of faith’ from senior management, but also tangible support.
According to one study amongst autonomous workgroups, successful teams were happy to acknowledge the contribution of the leaders who formed them, while those who hit brick walls generally attribute this to lack of authentic management support.
It’s clearly a balancing act. Independent teams need to operate with a culture of trust, with their true entrepreneurial role let loose; supported from above, without interference or unnecessary levels of command or control.
Perhaps the buzzword of the day should be “coaching”; a process by which business leaders draw out the best in their people, by creating a culture of trust and empowerment.
Leaders who coach rather than control will get the best out of their staff
This includes giving autonomous working groups the communications tools and online forums they need, that management invests in without involvement.
Correctly configured and developed intranet software makes it far easier to give independent project teams the combination of ‘space’ and support that they need to succeed. They can develop their purpose, curate information, ideas and avenues for research, and begin to collaborate on problem-solving and innovation in a masterful manner.