Autonomy As a Motivator – Does Giving People More Control Keep Them Motivated?

Autonomy As a Motivator – Does Giving People More Control Keep Them Motivated?

Most managers aspire to lead a highly motivated, high performing team. The challenge is that many things influence the motivation of a team. In addition, the team is made up of people having individual personalities. Each team member may respond differently to various motivational approaches. One thing that works consistently with many people is autonomy – giving people control over their work. Lets see why this approach works and how it might be applied in the workplace.

Generally speaking we have two types of motivation. We have extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation describes being motivated by external rewards of some kind, bonuses, promotions, etc. Extrinsic motivation tends to be short lived and not easily sustained.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is generated from the inside. Intrinsically motivated people work because their work is enjoyable. The reward comes from within. Intrinsic motivation tends to be longer lasting and sustainable.

Providing autonomy works to develop intrinsic motivation in individuals. In his book “Drive”, Daniel Pink examines research supporting modern theories on motivation. Pink argues that people are motivated by a combination of autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Surprisingly, money acts less as a motivator and can actually act as a de-motivator in some cases.

The above is good news for project managers. PM’s typically don’t control salary or bonuses. We do however, control autonomy, purpose, and mastery. Consider the following when trying to motivate your team:

  • Autonomy – In this context autonomy implies control over one’s work. As a PM you are free to provide as much autonomy as individual team members are comfortable with and can handle. Generally, the more in control people feel regarding their work, the more motivated they are likely to be in the performance of that work.
  • Purpose – People like to feel that their work has some great purpose and will be more motivated if they believe this is true. As a PM, you can put on your “leader” hat and enthusiastically promote the purpose of the project and how it benefits the organization, the customer, and maybe even society in general.
  • Mastery – People like to get better at things. If you take the time to get to know your people you can learn where their professional interests lie. You can use that knowledge to provide training opportunities or work that is in alignment with their interests. This also helps to build intrinsic motivation for the work.

Consider the above when managing your team. High performing teams consist of intrinsically motivated people.

If you found this material interesting please check out my resources page for links to a variety of hard and soft skills related sites and videos. In addition, feel free to explore Enlightened Project Management speaking and coaching possibilities. In the mean time please consider and share your thoughts on the following:

  • Would you say your people have a fair amount of autonomy regarding their work?
  • Would your people agree with you?
  • Have you had positive or negative experiences with autonomy in the workplace?


©2016 Joseph T Drammissi

2017-06-21T18:49:49+00:00 November 16th, 2016|Categories: Leadership, Management, Project Management|Tags: |0 Comments

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