Harnessing the Power of Networks Part II: Our 3As – Alignment, Autonomy and Anxiety

The network wave has surged, and many organisations today are following a similar network-centric approach. A popular example is Spotify’s world-famous culture - driven by its organisational structure. 

Why work like spotify?

Many corporates have aspired to ‘work the Spotify way’. This progressive company has known for decades that rigid hierarchical pyramids are outdated; instead, they opted for agile structures based on networks of autonomous teams.  These networks may be ‘served’ by a small, but very efficient, headquarters whilst most of Spotify’s employees work remotely.

It is based on the realisation, that top-down problem-solving no longer works in dynamic environments (or to use another buzzword: the VUCA world). Instead, organisations need to create a common sense of purpose – alignment about their reason to exist – and vast amounts of autonomy to solve key problems. In this way, they stay nimble enough to quickly react to new developments in the market or sector that they are working in. 

Working the Spotify Way

There is a video here which goes into detail about how the Spotify model works and how drive successful autonomy through ‘squads’, ‘tribes’, ‘alliances’ and ‘guilds’.

The scary thing about autonomy

At Yunus Social Business, we believe that alignment enables autonomy. True autonomy does not just allow for more innovation, but it also allows our staff members to thrive and grow personally. The stronger our alignment is, the more autonomy we can afford to grant. And this, in turn, increases motivation and quality of work.

We are far from perfect in this regard. And we constantly struggle with creating clear expectations for staff members in projects that are highly unpredictable. But when in doubt, we fall back onto our company purpose – which is putting poverty into a museum. 

As much as we praise this construct, it is important to consider some of the problems with such a ‘trendy’ corporate management framework. It is causing turbulence in Zappos for example. 

It turns out that humans actually respond positively to the feeling of being supported by leaders. Without clear processes or expectations, without a topic leader or senior expert to guide us, we start feeling lost and stress levels rise to a level that can cause paralysis. If that happens, the system ends up failing at its core purpose – to make us feel appreciated in the workplace.

When implementing network-like, autonomous structures, we have to appreciate that people are risk-averse in their decision-making. As humans, we generally appreciate autonomy. But we also shy away from too much decision making power as it bears an incredible amount of responsibility – especially when our decisions affect others. There is a sweet-spot between one’s own perceived level of competence for certain topics and their willingness to accept autonomy. 

The 3As: Creating enough Alignment to allow for Autonomy and minimize Anxiety

Or more clearly: when we don’t feel that we are qualified to make good decisions in a certain area, autonomy will lead to anxiety. So for our projects we ask ourselves: Do we have enough alignment, do we have a solid level of autonomy and is there any anxiety for any of our team members?

When we start a new project, we put a lot of effort into the team kickoff. This includes background, objectives and deliverables for the project and each individual person, input on how the project plays into our larger vision and details about administrative topics, including platforms and tools for collaboration. Last but not least, it includes metrics for success. There is lots to be said about choosing the right metrics – and it may be a good topic for a later blog post. In general, we have KPIs for each project along the lines of impact created, health of the relationships with our partners and financial sustainability for each project. 

The kickoffs help our teams orient towards and manage for success. We are now also implementing regular check-ins with each individual team member. During these short sessions, we check how we are doing on the 3As and whether or not we live up to our team values. That way, we stay the course towards achieving impact and balancing autonomy, anxiety and alignment.

We’d love to hear from you!

How do you solve these issues? What are you doing to allow your team members to grow? We’d love to hear from you! Leave us a comment or reach out to us!

Ever wondered how to have a coffee break with colleagues when they are sitting halfway around the globe? Next time, we will talk about our approach to it and the art of creating communities in a network organisation.