Questions about how much autonomy a team should have in implementing its ideas come up with every team you form. This is one of the toughest questions to answer which is why it always comes up. Knowing the limits and boundaries is key for successful teams. The answer? It depends.
Image Copyright Phil Date
In my popular Twelve Tips for Team Building article, I emphasize the need for the team to understand its limitations and areas of control. This direction generally comes from the team's manager or management sponsor/participant. But, here's the problem.
Often, a manager is monitoring or participating in multiple teams so is unavailable to regularly participate in every team meeting. Teams vary in their experience, their expertise, their understanding of the goals of the organization, and their knowledge of other key organization initiatives.
Consequently, the team may become significantly invested in the solutions it creates that may not match the direction of the organization...
In other cases, the solution may require resources that are committed to other projects or cross over into the mission and action plans of another team. There are hundreds of reasons a team's solution may not be viable - that team members may not know.
So, what's the solution? Part of it lies in giving the team clear direction and defining carefully the critical path at which the team's sponsors need feedback and participation. This keeps the team from heading too far in a direction that won't be supported. But, part of the solution is that the team needs to recognize that their management sponsor or manager does not like surprises or being blind-sided.
The team needs to communicate at all of the critical decision points. The team is responsible to bring their manager along and to make their manager aware of their thought progression as it is happening. A perennial complaint I hear in organizations is that employees' jobs are changed without their input. The same is true for managers. They want to be involved in decisions that affect their jobs or about which they will need to communicate or justify decisions with their executive leadership. No surprises.
The manager also needs the opportunity to influence the project's direction and the team's decisions. It is far more effective to involve the manager or team sponsor from the beginning. Secretive teams are doomed to failure or worst of all, they persistently feel their decisions are shot down. It doesn't have to be this way. Communicate often and with full details - managers and teams.
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