ACE: European managers embracing autonomous teams

21 April 2015 4 min. read

Executives in Europe are increasingly looking at agile management and leadership models to ensure their organisation is up and ready to deal with the new, fast-paced reality of the marketplace. New research from Allied Consultants Europe unveils that almost 80% of business leaders believe autonomous teams are a step in the right direction.

In recent years, there has been a trend visible within companies towards granting more autonomy to their units and teams. The movement is generally driven by a changing economic landscape, with organisations nowadays facing multiple strategic, competitive, technological and regulatory pressures, external and internal, forcing them to adapt quickly. These pressures are challenging traditional management wisdom and business models, with the re-emergence of autonomous teams one of the notable resultants.

Survey Participants By Size Of Organisation & Organisational Position

A recent research from Allied Consultants Europe (ACE) – a strategic partnership of 10 management consulting firms in Europe* – reconfirms the growing trend of autonomous teams (ATs)*. The consultancies carried out a study held among 150+ CEOs and managers, as well as interviewed executives from 37 organisations across the continent. Their findings reveal that nowadays almost 80% of businesses believe ATs to be an important management issue. Only a 2% say the topic is irrelevant to their business. The large majority of organisation has over the last two years in fact put their money where their mouth is, taking the implementation of ATs to the next level,  with 70% of organisations indicating they have increased AT activity.

Changing Levels

Autonomous teams
The consultants also asked respondents to highlight the key benefits of autonomous teams. More than 63% businesses cite engaging and motivating employees as the top reason for implementing ATs. “Successful ATs tend to thrive more in a collaborative leadership style, as opposed to the traditional, command and control approach, which generally generates more motivation and engagement. This results in more fulfilled employees”, comments Gary Ashton, Partner at OE Cam and co-author of the report. The second most mentioned reason is cross-functional collaboration (48%), which in turn leads to cross-fertilisation of ideas and ultimately adds to innovation. “Executives believe greater autonomy allows teams and the overall organisation

to respond quicker when having to adapt to more agile and open innovation processes”, adds Ashton.

Top Reasons for Implementing Autonomous TeamsDeveloping closer customer relations was cited by 41% as the number three reason. With consumers’ expectations increasingly upped by new technologies, and the growing role of touch-points during the decision-making process, customer-centricity is becoming paramount. “Therefore in order to successfully reach out to the customer, the role of hierarchy, and the relevance of processes and decision-making mechanisms need to be carefully considered, so they support performance, and not hinder it”, says Ashton.

The popularity, and hence prevalence, of autonomous teams however differs across functions and units. Typically, autonomy is closely linked to practical (project) management tasks, such as planning of their work, setting priorities and execution. Companies also tend to provide more ‘freedom’ at less strategic levels. “This may be due to a lack of trust by the manager to allow the AT to take over more (important) responsibilities. Or it could be due to the fact that the team itself is not (yet) capable of dealing with more autonomy”, explains Ashton.

Tasks Where Teams Are Usually Granted Higher Autonomy* ACE members are: Abegglen Management Consultants (Germany), Algoe Consultants (France), Consultus (Sweden), DC Vision (Czech Republic), GEA (Italy), Impactive (Poland), Improven (Spain), Management Partner (Germany), Rijnconsult (Netherlands) and OE Cam (United Kingdom).

10 Firms

** An autonomous team is defined as a group of individuals working together within a defined framework and agreed goals, with minimal or no interference from management. They are usually given the freedom to decide for themselves how the work should be carried out and distributed amongst the team members. Management support is available, only if and when they need it.