September 6, 2012

10 Suggestions for how to combine autonomy and structure

This video, which was inspired by a book chapter by Reeve and Assor (2011), explains how both structure and individual autonomy are important in social systems. Structure can provide coherence, clarity and efficiency; autonomy is a universal human psychological need the fulfillment of which contributes to human wellness. Structure and individual autonomy can be viewed as competing demands but this does not have to be so. They can be combined. When this happens the benefits of both can be reaped. So, how can it be done?

Here is an attempt to formulate some suggestions (again, partly, inspired by Reeve and Assor) for how to do that:
  1. Involve individuals in the choice and formulation of goals and rule. When individuals in any organization can contribute to goals and rules they will be more inclined to feel ownership and commitment to these goals and rules and their commitment and loyalty to the  organization  is likely to increase. 
  2. Encourage individuals to examine their interests, preferences, values and goals. By doing this the individual will experience that their interest is found important. When this happens, the individual is likely to start finding the interest of the  organization  more important.
  3. Acknowledge the perspective and preferences of the individual. When individuals are taken seriously like this, not only will they feel more inclined to take the organization more seriously too, but also the organization can take advantage of any good ideas brought forward by the individuals. 
  4. Provide choice how the individual would like to contribute to achieving common goals. When individuals how a choice in how they would like to contribute they will be much more motivated to actually start contributing. 
  5. Encourage self-regulated learning and personal development. A focus on learning and development will benefit both the individual and the organization. Making it self-regulated will enhance the motivation of the individual to commit to it. 
  6. Teach communication skills which emphasize patience and clarity. Patience and clarity can go hand in hand. To be able to communicate in this way people need to know precisely what they expect of others, why this is important, and good self-control (so that defensive, impatient or angry reactions can be avoided).
  7. Value support: when communicating expectations explain specifically why they are important. By doing this people will feel taken more seriously and therefore will feel more inclined to take you seriously too) and they will be understand better why it is important what is asked of them (which will motivate them more). 
  8. Communicate the value of autonomy supportive practices and structures. This will help develop a positive attitude throughout the organization towards autonomy supportive practices which will make it more like that people will want to contribute to them. 
  9. Develop procedures which support autonomy supportive practices. Taking care that work procedures and HRM systems and procedures are congruent with autonomy support will enhance the credibility of and the motivation for them. 
  10. Correct behavior that thwartens autonomy supportive practices. Tolerance of exception of the autonomy supportive principles may seriously undermine their spread throughout the organization. Therefore it may be necessary to correct individuals who act in a too controlling way. 
What do you think?


  1. Yet another brilliant clients will be happy. Many organizations have very low consciousness of this as a strategic / operational issue. I'll be trying out soon with a client who recently adopted a strategic plan. While they are doing well they are finding delegation and accountability are at best fuzzy.
    In my solution focus workshops on leadership and delegation we talk about delegation being based (using the quadrant model) on first, the teams skill / motivation, then transferring ownership / accountability. Combining structure and autonomy will layer nicely over those two thoughts.
    I owe you a nice dinner (at the very least)!


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner