How to Support Your Team's Autonomy

In order to be engaged and fulfilled by our work, we must understand the purpose of what we do and feel that we can fully get behind it.

Said differently, having a deep sense of why we’re doing our job can help us fully bring ourselves to succeed in our tasks. In Self-Determination Theory, we call this sense of willing engagement autonomy.

The good news is that supporting autonomy on your team isn’t a herculean task, but it does require you to have a clear sense of that purpose and a willingness to help your team see it as well.

Take Employees' Perspectives

Effectively supporting your team requires first understanding their perspective. Taking their perspective will help you better understand their feelings and the challenges they’re facing, and it’ll also help you most effectively support them.

Remember that it’s not about how they ought to feel or how you see things, but rather about meeting them where they are currently at. Doing this will help employees feel that you’re truly in their corner and allow them to problem solve more effectively and take self-initiated action.

Provide Meaningful Rationales

When you’re making a request of your team, providing a meaningful rationale helps your team understand the value of the task, and helps them to feel more invested in their work. This is especially important in situations where the task is difficult, unenjoyable, or there’s a tight deadline, as it helps offset the pressures they might otherwise experience.

While you likely understand the larger importance of a task and the goal it serves, your employees need to build that sense of purpose as well. And if you can’t explain the purpose of a task, it’ll help you to have that understanding as well.

Acknowledge Negative Feelings

When your team has negative feelings about a task or situation, ignoring it will only add to that negativity—and trying to ‘solve’ those feelings by offering solutions or another perspective before you’ve taken the time to understand can be even worse.

Instead, it’s important to acknowledge the negative feelings your team is having as valid. This helps them feel heard and understood, and that support alone will boost their ability to handle the situation. Then, find out what one or two things could realistically be done in the future to make that situation better.

By taking these small steps over time, you’ll help your employees come to a greater sense of purpose in their work. These are just a few of the ways you can build purpose, engagement, and fulfillment on your team. If you want to learn more about how to support your employees’ purpose and fulfillment in their work, check out our online manager training course. The course covers everything from how to facilitate your employees’ intrinsic motivation and performance, to learning best practices for important topics such as goal setting, effective meetings, and managing burnout.

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