What Are Autonomous Work Groups? (With Pros And Cons)

Updated 30 September 2022

Organisations often experiment with different models of work and team settings to improve productivity and efficiency within the organisation. Autonomous work groups have become one such popular method of organising teams to accomplish specialised tasks or projects. Learning more about this type of group can help you understand how they differ from other methods of organising teams and how they function. In this article, we discuss the meaning of autonomous work groups, explore the characteristics of these groups and evaluate the pros and cons of having such work groups in the workplace.

What Is An Autonomous Work Group?

Autonomous work groups are segments of employees in organisations who have the autonomy and independence to make their own decisions. These groups function on their own without the direct supervision of the senior management. Even though they may be autonomous, they are responsible for contributing to the company's growth, like other employees and teams within the organisation.

While these groups are free from the direct control of senior management, they may have a team leader who evaluates the progress of the team, delegates tasks, creates schedules and supervises employees. Most autonomous groups have a flat hierarchy where everyone is responsible for contributing to the group's objectives. While some organisations may have permanent autonomous work groups, some organisations may create these work groups for certain projects only. Product focused companies most commonly implement this type of group setting.

Characteristics Of Autonomous Work Groups

Here are some characteristics that are unique to these work groups:

High motivation

Employee motivation is generally high in these work group types as there is minimal interference from the management. While some teams may have team leaders, there may often be autonomous teams where the team leader only checks the progress periodically. Employees are able to work in a relatively relaxed environment with lesser scrutiny. This can encourage them to express their ideas more openly.

Related: Why Employee Motivation Is Important: A Complete Guide

Cross-functional teams

These groups have the autonomy to choose their team members. Most often, they choose team members from different specialisations so that they can become self-sufficient in case of potential problems. They may sometimes hire additional team members based on the project's requirements but generally rely less on external help unless they require specialised knowledge. These work groups also reserve the right to let go of a team member if they do not meet the requirements of the team or do not contribute to the group's overall growth.


Autonomous groups are very outcome-driven as most organisations create them to achieve a purpose. These groups create a road map and periodically compare the actual results with the base plan. This can help them identify deviations quickly and implement corrective measures before a delay occurs. In these work groups, every team member is aware of the larger objective and they work in collaboration towards the common goal. In some organisations, the work group may go back to their normal jobs after they accomplish their intended outcome.

Open communication

Open communication between team members is crucial to the success of these types of groups. By communicating openly with each other, team members exchange ideas and offer feedback to improve their performance. Communicating openly can help team members minimise conflicts, reduce communication gaps and resolve disagreements peacefully if they occur.

Related: How To Overcome Communication Barriers: Benefits And Tips

High team spirit

Autonomous work groups understand the importance of teamwork and collaborate with each other on tasks, as they are accountable for the results as a team. All decisions within this work group happen after careful consideration and discussion among all team members. While the senior management may make some decisions like the project budget or the final delivery deadline, team members take care of the planning, budget allocation and execution internally. Instead of allocating tasks to team members, members of autonomous groups take responsibility for tasks that require their specialisation and ensure they deliver within the deadlines.

Pros And Cons Of Autonomous Work Groups

While thesw work groups have several advantages, there are also some disadvantages of having these groups in the workplace. Here are some pros and cons that can help you learn more about these groups:

Pros of an autonomous work group

Here are some of the advantages of having these work groups in the workplace:

Promotes teamwork

These types of work groups function in teams where the entire team operates on their own and conducts their operations within the team. This encourages members to create an environment that helps the team achieve the objectives together. It helps them create communication patterns, brainstorm ideas, offer feedback and help each other in accomplishing tasks. As the organisation leaves the scheduling and delegating up to the team, members find ways that work for each team member.

Related: 10 Powerful Tips For Successful Teamwork

Increases innovativeness

Lesser supervision from senior management allows team members to express their creative ideas more freely. Employees may feel less restricted and experiment with different ways of arriving at the final objective. While autonomous groups are a part of a larger organisation, these groups allow employees to identify less conventional ways of doing things. This can help teams identify innovative solutions to problems and help the company reduce their expenditure on excessive resources.

Boosts employee morale

Being able to express themselves freely and work in unrestricted environments can help boost employee morale. When employees feel that the senior management trusts their decisions, it encourages them to take ownership of the results and contribute to them sincerely. In autonomous groups, employees are also able to choose how they want to contribute to the outcome of the projects. This allows them to decide which tasks they can work on and perform well to complete them.

Improves quality of work

Autonomous groups promote a happy and constructive environment, which keeps employees more engaged in daily activities. With improved employee morale and the ability to express themselves without repercussions, employee productivity and group productivity increase. Such employees feel a sense of responsibility toward the objective of the group and may also be willing to learn new skills that can help the group succeed.

Cons of an autonomous work group

Here are some cons of having autonomous groups in the workplace:

Lacks central authority

In most cases, the senior management does not appoint a team leader in autonomous groups. While someone in the team may assume authority, often there is no team leader, which can cause a lack of central authority. Sometimes, there may be multiple team members trying to assume the leadership position, which can create friction within the group.

There may also be problems in the delegation of tasks, scheduling or maintaining accountability in the absence of a team leader. This can often hinder progress if the team members are working in an autonomous group for the first time. While the absence of a central authority may sometimes create problems in autonomous work groups, team members may function freely without the presence of an authoritative figure or hierarchy within the group.

Requires cooperation

Autonomous workgroups can function smoothly and achieve their objectives only when all members cooperate with each other and understand what the goals are. This ensures that they direct efforts to the same goal and jointly produce the expected results. The absence of this alignment can lead to conflicts within the team, which can hinder progress. For autonomous groups to be successful, it is important for teams to communicate with each other, acknowledge different perspectives and help each other complete the tasks. This may require team members to have good interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities, conflict resolution capabilities and cooperation skills.

Requires accountability

As this work group operates independently, accountability becomes a vital factor in achieving the objectives within the deadline. This also requires team members to be accountable for their tasks and responsibilities. Often, members may fail to complete their tasks on time due to the lack of supervision which can result in a delay in achieving the overall group objectives.

Excessive autonomy

As these work groups work independently of the rest of the organisation, it may create a perceived gap between the group and the rest of the organisation. In organisations where autonomous workgroups are permanent, the groups may give the impression of a separate entity. It may restrict new employees in the team to the operations of the group only and have few interdepartmental interactions.

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