It’s one of those words that come back over and over again in context of modern delivery approaches and organizational structures. The word seems common enough to mean approximately the same in people’s minds, however I have found that it is often confused for something else. According to Merriamm-Webster, autonomy is the quality or state of being self-governing. This distinguishes it from the term empowerment, which is the state of being empowered to do something. In other words, autonomy is an internal property - it comes from within -, while empowerment comes from someone’s approval.
Autonomous teams make their own decisions, they do it based on their objectives and all the relevant information they have available about the world around them. Empowered teams also are told to do exactly that. However, the scope of their decision making power - sometimes explicit, more often implicit - limits their autonomy significantly and can even shrink should a decision be made that does not align...
Last year I was invited to help the Queen’s Hyperloop Design Team improve their chances in the SpaceX competition. They had just been informed that they did not make it into the last round of the competition, so we focused on setting up the team for success going forward.
As soon as the sun first rises above the horizon in Springtime and melts the accumulated snow and ice, high in the Canadian arctic on Baffin Island, the arctic poppy hangs on to every ray of light it can grab and livening up the rocks it grows in between and on top of. When the sun no longer disappears during midsummer nights, its stem rotates the full 360° so that the flower maximizes the benefits from the scarce warmth and light it needs to grow. The circumstances in the high arctic are harsh such that very few plants or animals can survive. Yet, the delicate arctic poppy has found a way to thrive there.