Freedom comes with responsibilities. Freedom of press comes with the journalists’ responsibility for what they publish and how it could affect people, organisations, and society. Freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to think about what is said, to whom and why. And freedom at work is no different: it comes with responsibility as well. Responsibility for results, performance, and added value.
In the last few decades, the freedom in the workplace increased a lot and many people, especially working in tech or startups, have much more freedom at work than their parents in the industrial age could ever dream of.
Tech, innovative and specialised roles come with high levels of autonomy, and different organisational contexts such as startup environments require people that are highly adaptive and take initiatives as they go.
But also in more traditional companies the level of freedom and flexibility has increased; many workers are no longer tied to their office or office times to do their work and responsibilities are often placed lower in the organisation. Many organisations have put self-managing teams in place; teams without a manager to tell employees what to do. In any form, there is more freedom and flexibility in the workplace, and that means we have to look at other aspects of the organisation as well.
More freedom, more responsibility
That increased freedom is, of course, great, but it also means that there should be an increased responsibility. If you would put the correlation in a model; it would look something like this:
They are, and should, be correlated. It is not possible to give a lot of freedom and not increase the responsibility. If you would do that, it won’t bring you the results you need.
People will be drifting, taking advantage, underperform and you will be left with chaos. And even if your innovative team ends up doing great projects, they are unlikely to be tied to your organisational goals.
It is also the other way around: increasing responsibility and not giving people freedom also doesn’t work: it will cause a lot of stress because people feel responsible for something they can’t influence. It will be a culture where people feel disconnected and develop a negative attitude.
There should be the right balance between freedom and responsibility. The combination of the two is autonomy.
And autonomy is essential for your innovative, or tech worker to become a high performing team member.
Just like employees in the 21st-century organisation have more freedom than their parents had in their time, they also need to have a higher sense of responsibility.
Employees need to take responsibility for their added value and how they attribute to the companies long-term goals within the context of the freedom they have. There should be a high level of accountability and employees should be highly committed and motivated and taking ownership of their individual results.
Therefore it is important in both organisational design, company culture and in management to think about the balance between freedom and responsibility to come to your best results and create a high performing team.
Giving a lot of freedom is easy; making sure your team is highly motivated, committed and taking responsibility for their results is another thing.