A simple autonomy test

| 2 min read


A middle manager at a company I was discussing with was explaining their intentions regarding their team. Among other objectives was to increase coaching done by senior people in the team and to get the team on some kind of task tracking tool.

They went with those proposals to their boss, that approved the coaching part but wanted to wait for the task tracking part, to the middle manager desmise - the two proposals were complementary and it's not like one was going to prevent the other to happen.

I asked "Why didn't you do it anywway - it's your team, and it looks like it makes sense". I generally try to get my management support, but some decisions can just be taken with the team, even without top management official approval.

Their answer was simple: "I can't buy the tracking tool, I need approval for the expense".

To give the full context - we're talking about a team of 10+ people and a software costing less than 100€ per month.

The problem

Someone responsible for 10 people, so for expenses probably around at least 50 000€ per month could not put 100€ in expenses without an explicit approval. They did not have access to a company credit card, so they could not move forward without the approval.

The situation above is one I've seen a lot of time - it's far from being unusual. What I realise is that it makes for a very simple autonomy test.

The test

"What's the amount that you can spend without having to ask anyone for anything?"

Someone around me noted that this could also be asked for team members, not only middle managers - if you decide to spend 5000€ or more on someone, surely they could be trusted with using let's say 100€ per month without having to do paperwork?

I'm not advocating for people to have this to buy lunch (even if for a team that could again make sense), and I assume that the expense will need to be justified (with the receipt put in the system, etc).

If someone abuse it, they won't have a second opportunity to do so - and we're talking super small amounts anyway.

This is something I intend to ask in interviews from now on. As any question with a simple answer (a number) it does not cover the whole range of what team autonomy is - but it looks like a good place to start to measure autonomy and trust.

If you read this, can you answer the question on Twitter about your team? I'd be intersted in the answers.

Opinions? Let me know on LinkedIn!