What Is an Autonomous Work Group? (With Definition and Tips)

Similar to an individual with autonomy at work, an autonomous work group is a team of employees granted autonomy or independence over the work they do within an organization. This autonomy includes independent decision-making related to a specific work function, project or job and independent freedom to assign individual members specific tasks within the group.

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.


Characteristics of an autonomous work group

Here are some of the main characteristics of an autonomous work group:

Open communication

Its vital that autonomous work groups stay aligned regarding deadlines, priorities and assignments. Electronic communication tools like email, work management systems and collaborative documents can help teams stay in contact. These tools can also ensure the team has access to the same information about their projects.

Open communication can also enhance collaboration. The autonomous work environment usually encourages team members to offer each other feedback and share their honest perspectives. When teams use this method effectively, this style of open communication can facilitate better teamwork.

Collaborative decisions

Democratic decisions are a primary feature of autonomous work groups. These teams work together to gather data, evaluate options and choose a course of action. While upper management might make some high-level decisions, especially at the beginning of a project, the autonomous work group typically makes their decisions without any involvement from leadership. These decisions might be related to product, like what font to use for a clients logo, or process, like how to enforce deadlines.

Responsible for hiring

Autonomous work groups typically select new team members and train them internally. They can also choose to terminate members based on the groups needs. A successful autonomous work group features personalities and work styles that complement one another, so its important that these teams make personnel decisions carefully and with input from the entire group.

High motivation

Because theres no central authority figure enforcing schedules and deadlines, its important that an autonomous work group be self-motivated. Team members proactively take initiative to complete tasks and ensure the work meets company standards. Typically, these teams become adept at working quickly and using their intuition to decide what to do next. They may create their own managements systems or choose to use software to streamline their workflow.

What is an autonomous work group?

An autonomous work group is a team within a business that manages its work independently and without the direct supervision of middle management. This team is still accountable for meeting company goals and completing assigned projects, but they govern their own daily work, supervise each other, delegate responsibilities and define their own schedules.

Leaders sometimes establish these teams for a particular project and disband them after the team completes the project, but some businesses use autonomous work groups as a permanent way of structuring their teams. Some global organizations use autonomous work groups as a way to align team members who work on different continents or in different time zones.

Pros and cons of an autonomous work group

Autonomous work groups can be highly effective, improving both process and product, but they also come with some drawbacks. Understanding the benefits and challenges of an autonomous work group can help you determine if its right for your project or workplace. Below is a list of some of the pros and cons of an autonomous work group.

Pros of an autonomous work group

Here are some pros of an autonomous work group:

Sharing tasks with teammates can lead to a more manageable workload for each individual employee. Autonomous work groups typically encourage members to freely offer and accept support from one another. Frequent assistance from teammates might help lower stress levels and keep employees engaged with their work.

The lack of immediate supervision can sometimes help groups feel more empowered to make unexpected decisions. While an autonomous work group is still responsible for meeting company goals and standards, they may be able to divert from usual company methods and experiment with new resources. Taking risks at work may strengthen creativity, lead to more innovative results and offer group members a greater sense of ownership over their work processes.

Empowering employees to make their own decisions and trusting them to work independently might result in a more confident and satisfied team. When teams can distribute work amongst themselves, theyre able to choose tasks they enjoy and excel at, which may make some people happier at work. Working together to solve problems and achieve goals can also facilitate team bonding, and the sense of belonging that often comes with teamwork could have a positive impact on overall job satisfaction.

While the outcome varies depending on the group and project, most autonomous work groups aim to create a stronger final product. By combining all members perspectives, autonomous work groups can approach their projects with more knowledge than an individual could, potentially resulting in more creative ideas. Teammates may also help each other notice and resolve problems earlier in the process and combine efforts to complete tasks more quickly.

Cons of an autonomous work group

Here are some drawbacks to autonomous work groups that may be helpful to know about when considering this work strategy:

Autonomous work groups typically function best when team members are in agreement about goals, priorities and strategies, so this work method can be challenging when there are disagreements amongst the group. Internal conflict might briefly create tension, but hearing different perspectives may ultimately strengthen the decisions that the team makes. Resolving disputes also enhances the groups interpersonal skills, and these disagreements may become less frequent as the team becomes more skilled in conflict management.

Without a designated leader, challenges like multiple members wanting to assume a leadership role or a split vote amongst the team may complicate an autonomous groups work processes. However, the absence of a consistent team leader can also promote teamwork and allow all group members to practice their leadership skills on different assignments and tasks. Some people also work more productively without direct oversight, so removing the pressures of a hierarchy might promote a better work environment for these individuals.

Because autonomous work groups set their own pace and work independently, theres usually no one to enforce strict rules. Without straightforward guidelines and a sense of accountability, some groups might begin to underperform.

To remain productive, groups might consider communicating with upper management about their results. It may also help to establish internal systems that encourage teammates to adhere to deadlines. For example, an autonomous work group might schedule peer review sessions in advance of a major project so that everyone receives actionable feedback to implement during that project. The team could also establish a rewards system like outings or catered meals in exchange for projects that they complete early and to all of the clients desired specifications.

Tips for implementing an autonomous work group

Heres a list of tips that can help you implement a successful autonomous work group:

Encourage strong relationships

Autonomous work groups typically function best when they trust each other and have a positive work environment. When you combine different personalities and work styles, you can establish practices that promote cooperation among the group. Some strategies for promoting peaceful group relations include:

Focus on taking action

While collaborative decision-making is crucial to the autonomous work process, its important that discussions are efficient. When the team is making a decision, consider limiting the time people spend debating possible options. This might allow the team to dedicate the majority of their time to action and offer more flexibility if the plan needs to change later in the process.

Define expectations

When launching an autonomous work group, its helpful to set straightforward guidelines and objectives. Expectations from upper management can provide structure for the group. The work of an autonomous team typically supports the organizations overall goals, values and policies. For example, if a nonprofit focusing on childrens literacy creates an autonomous work group to plan and execute fundraisers, upper management might meet with them early in their process to brainstorm events that address the organizations mission, like book drives or magazine subscription sales.

Train groups

Adapting to an autonomous work group can take time, and offering sufficient training can help your team be successful. If autonomous work groups are new to your organization, you could host a company training about how they work so employees can decide if theyd like to participate in one. You might also create a test group that works on a smaller project so employees can become comfortable with the principles of an autonomous work group. Training might focus on skills like:


What do you mean by autonomous work team?

An autonomous work group is a team within a business that manages its work independently and without the direct supervision of middle management.

What does autonomous work mean?

Autonomy at work refers to how much freedom employees have to do their jobs. Specifically, it relates to the pace at which work is completed, its order of completion, and a person’s freedom to work without micromanagement.

What are the characteristics of an autonomous team?

With autonomy, you have the self-directing freedom of execution and can do some of your best work. As part of a team, you and your colleagues unify around a specific goal, supporting each other so that you either succeed or fail together.

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