Giving Developers Autonomy While Still Maintaining Order in a Distributed Team

By Frank Garcia, CEO and Founder of Cycligent and Improvement Interactive

As an entrepreneur, Founder and CEO, I have learned that managing a 100% distributed team over a 20 year period has its own distinct benefits, challenges, and nuances. A unique aspect of managing a remote team is how we manage productivity, instill a sense of teamwork that adheres to the norms of our culture and generally manage the humanness that creates business success. As a manager, I’ve found that it’s not about maintaining control or forcing order — it’s about finding balance, trusting people and taking control of work, not people.

How we give developers autonomy while still maintaining order in a 100% distributed team. #remotework #leadership

Shortly after it came out, I read Drive by Dan Pink. Now, every person in the company receives a copy upon joining. One of my takeaways fromDrive is the realization of what motivates us as human beings. After researching numerous business psychology studies, Pink discovers that intrinsic motivation (purpose, passion) is a much stronger influence than extrinsic motivation (monetary rewards/bonuses, benefits). Instead of using “sweeter carrots” (rewards based system) or using “sharper sticks” (fear based methods) in order to motivate employees, it is more effective to fuel intrinsic motivations. The intrinsic motivation I tend to practice the most is giving presence to autonomy in the work place.

When addressing autonomy, I’m not talking about allowing people to have flexible schedules and work from wherever they want, although we do that here; I’m talking about latitude in how work gets done. A culture of autonomy creates an environment that promotes creativity, happiness and even greater commitment and productivity — all of which are important to us culturally here at Cycligent.

To be happy creating enterprise applications that produce business improvements while providing customers with a great experience.

Let People Succeed

Letting people accomplish is the first step to managing a distributed team effectively. To do that, I hire people I believe in and trust — then, I let go and get out of the way. I don’t stress about the number of hours a person is sitting in a desk, but I do notice when an employee is producing good work and meeting expectations.

Given some space and their own free will on how to accomplish, people enjoy what they’re doing more, work more creatively and persist in the face of difficulty. People find joy in accomplishment they’ve created for themselves. Sometimes, they will fail. And I don’t celebrate failure. I believe people know when they’ve made mistakes and that false celebrations are a bad thing. I do however, believe in celebrating resilience. We celebrate people picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and using their failure as inspiration to perform in the future.

Autonomy and Accountability

At Cycligent, there’s a lot to be accomplished to succeed as a business. We require a high amount of software development production; we mostly get quality, timely and effective work.

As managers, we see the big picture and aim to deliver what our clients expect, and giving employees autonomy also comes with typical business practices that need to be communicated.


Goals should be set so that the team sees the value in the goal. When employees feel connected to the big picture and how fulfilling their objectives influence their team, the culture, their manager and the company, they’re more likely to work toward that goal with vigor and succeed.


We build software. Like many other software development firms, our customers dictate the urgency in which we deliver software. In order to track, organize, plan and deliver projects and their underlying tasks, we’ve built a comprehensive forecasting tool that manages our projects and provides highly accurate estimations for our projects. Our clients and our team-leads work together to prioritize project releases and the progress of each of these releases is tracked daily. These estimations provide clear cut boundaries for our team to work within, and tracks the speed of progress. Although each team is working in its own way, the team’s progress is visible.

Quality Processes

If our teams our autonomous how do we adhere to standards and maintain consistency? These things are added to the goals that must be met. In addition, the company becomes a support vehicle providing training, certification and auditing of results as needed. While the company provides these things it does not prescribe these things. Teams have the latitude they need to implement appropriately for their client and project. Because our developers are successful at working autonomously, I trust that they’re passionate about following trends in the development sphere and they intrinsically know the value of following best practices.

Autonomous Challenges

Providing an autonomous workplace doesn’t come without its challenges. Communication of goals and associated support and reviews must be frequent and consistent. Some people find autonomy hard, especially if they have come from more controlling or prescriptive environments. This sometimes call for some hard conversations (I’ll write a blog on this topic soon — stay tuned!). In my experience, however, supporting and trusting your employees to be autonomous in fulfilling their jobs will lead them to be successful, and in turn, bring success to the business.

Whether your team is distributed or centrally located, I welcome your feedback! What have you experienced as a CEO or Manager? PM me if you have any great stories to share on creating a more autonomous workplace. I’d love to hear them!