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This chapter is from the book

Vertical Axis: Freedom

Freedom describes the degree of independence from the agile leader that the teams exhibit. With a low level of freedom, they need alignment and approval for many issues, and they are given many details upfront. With a high level of freedom, they can arrange things independently.

For example, teams with a high degree of freedom may

  • Make many decisions themselves and also bear the consequences

  • Manage their own stakeholders

  • Continuously improve the process and the cooperation with the other teams themselves

  • Solve their own impediments and challenges

  • Continue to operate within the boundaries of the rest of the organization

Freedom is accompanied by responsibility and consequences. When a leader—with the best intentions—removes the negative consequences of the team’s own choices, the team will exhibit less ownership because they no longer bear the responsibility of their own behavior. When they are not held accountable for their choices or do not bear the consequences of their actions, they will not feel the collective pain as a team, they will not improve as quickly, and their growth will lag behind. Their capacities will also not be fully exercised. If this continues for a long time, they will lose their capacity for ownership.

To illustrate the situation in which a team has a lot of freedom and they bear the consequences for their actions, consider the following example of a highly mature Customer Contact team who gave bad advice to a customer, resulting in an extremely dissatisfied customer. In the past, the manager would have handled this, apologizing and searching for a solution. Now, the team solved the mistake themselves: they decided that to compensate the customer they would provide a discount on a product that the customer needed, which satisfied the customer. In order to give this discount, they did not have to get permission. Because the team could remedy their mistake independently, their confidence and sense of ownership grew; they were proud of how they solved the problem and thought of solutions to prevent this in the future. Despite the fact that they had to work harder to correct the consequences, their energy and pride rose.

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