Autonomous teams (think 'Spotify model') are held up as a way to scale Agile, while improving team effectiveness and engagement. However, it's possible to really screw it up. Trust us, we know!

In mid-2016, Redgate Software was facing a crisis of disengaged developers, and it felt like a slog to get anything done. We drew on all the change-management tricks we knew to embrace a model of 'aligned autonomy' for teams. A critical part of that was building up leadership at all levels of the organization, making it possible to succeed and scale. Full disclosure: we screwed it up at first. However, by going back to the principles we were able to correct course for the teams, and later with the executive board.

Looking back, this change was trickier than we first realized, and we hope to save you some missteps on your own journey. Join us to learn some lessons (the easy way) about how to improve the engagement of your teams and grow leadership from top to bottom.


Outline/Structure of the Talk

The A-Word: how we broke and fixed team autonomy

0:00 Introduction and framing

What we were trying to do: improve engagement & decrease work handoffs
Why aligned autonomous teams were an answer
Summary overview: Teams set up for decoupling, Matching capability with authority, Leadership at all levels

0:05 The before situation.

Anatomy of why Redgate should have been an ideal test ground for this.
The model (cf Spotify & Marquet)
Preconditions for autonomous teams
- Distinct responsibilities (e.g. customer groups, markets, experiences, devices, products)
- Less project-based work, short-term teams

0:15 Story, part I
This change was implemented as part of a ‘restructure’
Learning 1: Detach positive change from painful experiences

Danger in the word ‘autonomy’ (!= do whatever you want)
First attempt to fix via The Autonomy Bargain
Learning 2: Avoid positioning of leadership in opposition to teams

Reframe: Shift decision-making from one place to another. What information/skills need to go with those decisions?

Identify a set off decisions you might want to shift into the team (we’ll seed)
What skills or information does the team also HAVE to have?>

0:30 Story, part II

What we tried: a capability self-assessment along the themes we identified
What happened: Tech Lead shouldered a huge amount of the extra burden, with the effect that we burned through them pretty fast.

But we needed >more< to be able to scale!

How were we going to support them and allow new leaders to emerge?
Got deliberate. Next step: Used this to clarify and agree ‘leadership.’

0:40 Exercise on leadership characteristics for situation

0:45 Story, part III

Our key leadership criteria.
Our experience of nurturing and celebrating these.

0:50 Wrap-up & questions

Where we are now: better! Purposeful teams, agreements in place via OKRs, allowing teams to get some space and get on with their jobs. Confidence from management that the teams are working towards business purpose and have the skills to do it.

Learning Outcome

  • Evaluate whether an aligned autonomy model is appropriate for you
  • Clarify what authority could move into your teams and what needs to change for this to be successful
  • Build leadership from wherever you sit in an organisation
  • Have memorable examples of good and bad practices

Target Audience

Agile leaders, coaches, and those seeking more responsibility


schedule Submitted 3 years ago