How New Leaders Use Pods to Promote Autonomy and Collaboration

Published: Jan 04, 2018
Modified: May 29, 2020


Millennials might have leadership titles in the workplace, but these managers are facing challenges, especially when it comes to leading Baby Boomers and Gen Xers.

With fewer than one-fifth of workers feeling rewarded for strong performances, younger managers are quickly learning that they can’t rely on traditional methods of evaluation to bolster satisfaction and induce productivity. In fact, old-school systems like performance reviews lowered worker performance about one-third of the time.

And yet, younger talent is consistently rated highly by peers and subordinates, meaning that it’s not the people who are the problem—it’s the system. While spearheading new cultural norms can be tough for any leader, new leaders hoping to create tight-knit and trusted teams that perform to a high standard are doing just that by initiating a structure of autonomous groups called pods.

Podulism: Combining autonomous productivity and effective collaboration

Pods are revolutionizing the corporate world, ripping down decades-old vertical silos. Not familiar with pods? Think of it this way: Each pod is like a microcosm of the business, with a handful of employees working as a team on everything from account management to marketing to IT. While they operate with the scope of your company, they function with the agility of a small-scale startup.

Here are four ways to use pods effectively:

Simplify your processes. Feel like an area of your business is mired in chaos? Break up tasks and delegate roles or tasks among the pods. Your job as the leader is to focus more conceptually, ensuring that all operations are effective and efficient. And because podular culture is based on autonomy, pods tend to manage themselves, meeting set deadlines for deliverables and achieving quarterly or annual goals that help the business match both its mission and daily goals.

Create unique goals. Beyond accomplishing the day-to-day or month-to-month, pods can actually help your company evolve and innovate. When you assign goals that home in on specific aspects of the business, those teams can find more efficient ways to do what’s been done before. Moreover, this process enables people to showcase their unique abilities and gives them voices within their teams and your organization.

Assign “champions.” Still, accountability and organizational growth—even in a pod system—aren’t a guarantee. You can help pods achieve what they’re capable of by conducting regular check-ins through tools like 15Five or by establishing a pod “champion.” The champion ensures that the projects are completed and up to par. Not only does designating a champion remove “to-do” responsibilities from your plate, but it also allows certain employees to take charge and nurture their own leadership skills.

Rearrange pods when needed. Sometimes, pods stop working at full capacity. Be it from a lack of trust or limits to collaboration, this situation requires your intervention. By shifting people or assignments around, you can reinvigorate projects and instill greater functionality. If you want to go a step further in ensuring team member compatibility, you can offer employees a DISC profiling test and share the results so that everyone understands how best to communicate.

Autonomous productivity and effective collaboration don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals. When leaders disrupt the status quo to simplify processes, match goals, and foster individual and team growth, employees and the business will become more successful at both. Ultimately, everyone (and everything) needs to move together in one direction: forward.

About The Author

Shawn Freeman is an entrepreneur and founder of TWT Group Inc., an IT services company in Calgary, Canada. He founded the company to make IT simple instead of infuriating, believing it should be the easiest part of anyone’s day. TWT has seen significant growth since its inception and is now serving more than 100 clients. You can follow Freeman on LinkedIn.