Dear client, our autonomy is your competitive advantage

May 23, 2016

Read time 3 min

When it comes to leadership and management, I’m not very idealistic or into theory. In my view, leadership is most importantly about providing a context and relevant information to the people I interact with.

Leadership is not about a title or status, nor is it about getting people to do what you want. To me, it means helping people make better and more educated decisions in their everyday. It’s something that everyone does, throughout an organization. And, a part of good leadership is to give up control and be okay with it, trusting people to do what’s right.

Sound like abstract mumbo jumbo? Actually, it’s very tangible. So are the results. Let me elaborate.

Making great software is great, but not simple

Ok, so here’s the context. We build software, right? We have business, design and tech people working together, and they sometimes (quite often) have skills overlapping all three areas.

We believe it’s very important for our teams to work closely with clients and as autonomously as possible, even in making really big decisions. Ones that have significant effects on the client’s business, as well as ours.

Typically, our tech people want to create a beautiful platform that’s technologically super-functional, uses microservice architecture, is deployed in the cloud, and scales automatically. Sounds great! Designers want to create the most functional, beautiful, intuitive user experience. Sounds even better!

Also, sounds like a lot of decisions to be made. So, who makes which call and how is it all communicated?

Top-down is not all around

Let’s say the team needs to select a technology to be used for a large platform. In a top-down hierarchy, a CTO or technical director would make the call, claiming responsibility based on acquired insight on how this technical decision will affect the business. That’s how it works in most companies. Unfortunately, this approach creates (at least) three significant problems:

1. The team that will actually implement the platform will have reduced autonomy and ownership, which result in lack of motivation, general apathy, and bad quality
2. The person making the decision won’t have to face any of the actual problems the decision creates, and no learning will happen in either direction
3. The team will not learn to understand the client’s business

Flat hierarchy cultivates understanding

In a flat hierarchy, the team is not only incorporated in decision-making, they actually make the decision. But, only after understanding the effects it has on the client’s business.

So, this is where team members with business understanding exercise leadership: they provide everyone with enough context and detailed information to understand the full consequences of whatever decision they make.

This leadership will result in the correct choices. Once the team has all the information needed, they will decide – and the decision will be one that they own. It will be founded on both practical knowledge and clarity of the big picture, making sure it benefits all the client’s functions and business as a whole.

Our lack of rules is worth your money

Our people need autonomy, purpose and sense of ownership in their day-to-day work. It makes a world of difference for the individual and the community.

But here’s another thought: our clients need us to have autonomy, too, because when we make the right decisions, they become better at what they do. The things we build have the tendency to exceed expectations. And that usually, directly or indirectly, is worth a lot of money.

That’s why we never force decisions on people, but make them together using our combined skillsets. It makes us unique, better at our jobs, and more useful for our clients. That’s how simple, and tangible, it is.

So please, people. Trust your (and our) people.

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