9-11 May 2018

thestudio, Manchester

The 'a' word: how we broke and fixed team autonomy

Session type:
Case Study

Session duration:
45 minutes

Presented by:

Chris Smith


Elizabeth Ayer


About this Case Study

Aligned autonomy is an organisational principle to improve team effectiveness and engagement, while increasing scalability. However, it's possible to really screw it up (trust us).

Chris and Elizabeth are the development and product leaders respectively at Redgate software. In mid-2016 we were facing the dual problems of a disengaged development function and (perceived) low productivity. To make matters worse, the business wanted to increase the number of developers and grow grow grow!

We were inspired by companies like Spotify and books like L. David Marquet’s Turn the Ship Around. We wanted to change the structure and remit of development teams so that they were empowered to take most of the decisions they faced.

We screwed it up at first, but by going back to the principles we were able to correct course - first of the teams, and later of the executive board.

Looking back, we made some obviously dumb mistakes, but some were more subtle. We want to present a detailed case study to help our audience be wiser sooner.

By the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • evaluate whether an ‘aligned autonomy’ model is appropriate for you
  • build leadership from wherever you sit in an organisation
  • have memorable examples of good and bad practices

Some topics we’ll cover in the course of our story:

  • a quick history of the Aligned Autonomy movement and recent changes to the theory of leadership
  • the ‘a’-word – why the word ‘autonomy’ itself can be poisonous
  • the paradox of imposing autonomy
  • bringing accountability in to an organisation used to having none
  • how autonomy affects and is constrained by other business functions
  • the difficult task of shaping top-level management, especially when this wasn’t their idea

About the Speakers

Chris Smith

Chris is a divisional development lead at Redgate. His job is to lead the software development teams that work on Redgate's ingeniously simple database tools; building teams with clarity of purpose, autonomy within their remit and encouraging continuous improvement.


Elizabeth Ayer

Elizabeth Ayer is the portfolio manager at Redgate, a company with 15 years' experience in database lifecycle management. In her time there, she has investigated dozens of teams' software delivery processes. Above all, she is ridiculously passionate about shipping high-quality software fast.


Tickets are available now

buy tickets

See the full programme

full programme

Mailing List

We respect your email privacy

Agile Manchester was organised by Software Acumen, based in Cambridge, England. We build communities to help technology professionals grow.

© 2015-2022 Software Acumen. Agile Manchester and the Agile Manchester logos are trademarks of Software Acumen LTD.

Software Acumen Limited | Registered in Cardiff | Registration No. 05210967 | VAT No. 896 7958 26

Software Acumen