Creating Autonomy with Accountability

The Core Leaders in your organization are vital to the direction and culture of your organization. In our current times, with most of our employees working virtually or managing dispersed teams, the old ways of “walking past a desk to check on progress” no longer cut it. Desks may now be spread across cities, states, and time zones!

At Coaching Right Now, we have been 100% virtual for over a decade. One of the key factors in our success as a WFH company has been our recognition that when employees create their own work patterns and solutions (autonomy), while staying responsible for what we say we are going to do (accountability), we are all more productive, engaged, and motivated. So much so that it’s now one of our values!


Autonomy with Accountability.

What does autonomy with accountability mean? Why is it so important? And how do you start on the journey of creating autonomy with accountability within your team?

Let’s dig in.


One quick misconception to dispel right off the bat – autonomy is not anarchy, and it is not an organizational free-for-all in decision making.

Autonomy is the practice of allowing for the individual (employee in this case) to create their own path to the end goal.

As long as the “what” is defined and clear, autonomy allows for your team members to use their own strengths, problem-solving, and collaboration to get to that defined “what.”

Real talk: You probably hired the people in your organization for very specific reasons – their unique skill sets, technical knowledge, perspective, etc. Without an environment of autonomy to stretch these muscles, it can lead to unsatisfaction, boredom, or a lack of challenging work – all indicators of disengagement in the workplace.

The bottom line: Giving the space to your employees to leverage those talents you hired them for will allow them to feel trusted, responsible for the end goal, and more motivated to conquer the challenges you give them.

In thinking about autonomy, think about the culture of decision making and managing work in your organization, and consider how a greater focus on autonomy may shift those two areas.

However, we’ve also found that autonomy by itself isn’t the whole story.



Breathe for a moment, and throw out all your assumptions when you hear the word accountability, because we know accountability can sound like a painful word. And in an environment of autonomy, it is vital to pair this flexibility with accountability to get the job done!

We experience an accountable environment as one where each individual takes responsibility for their own work, does what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it, and takes ownership of it.

Expectation setting is crucial – ensuring expectations of performance have been set, communicated, and systems are in place to measure progress against those expectations

Ever get to a deliverable deadline and that deliverable didn’t show up? Or you received the deliverable, but it wasn’t what you were wanting?

How did that make you feel?

  • Frustrated
  • Disappointed
  • A lack of trust in the other person

Imagine how your team felt:

  • Frustrated
  • Disappointed
  • Lost
  • A lack of trust in you as their Leader

In an autonomous environment, setting the accountability structure of what the task looks like when it’s done, and setting when the job needs to be done, is extremely important.

As a Leader, your role is to set the “what” direction, and communicate the “why” behind what needs to get done.

Your role is not to dictate the steps it takes to get it done. That’s their job!

Being clear on expectations of the deliverable (or the “what”) is one piece of the puzzle. What is (sometimes) even more important in this autonomous environment is “how” that expectation gets done. This is where corporate and team values come into play.

Think about the accountability structures your organization has in place. Often, we find that to have really successful accountability, there needs to be very clear communication structures and channels.

Now that we’ve got clarify on what autonomy is and what accountability is, join us next week to talk through 4 key steps in creating autonomy with accountability in your organization.