top of page

How to Build autonomy into Your Teamwork

Rendering by sdecoret

This article was based on episode 057 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.

I love working from anywhere. Today I’m sitting on a balcony staring at a lake as I type this. Last week, I worked primarily in my office but spent one day working from home so I could avoid walking in a torrential downpour. This kind of flexibility and autonomy should not be reserved for entrepreneurs. And it doesn’t have to be.

Carissa Reiniger, founder and CEO of Silver Lining Limited, has built a stellar team with an unusual company culture. She started Silver Lining in 2005 and created the Silver Lining Action Plan - SLAP! - A methodology that has helped over 10,000 small business owners in 9 countries set - and hit their growth goals.

Along the way, she’s grown to dozens of staff in 14 countries (give-or-take). She needed a system that would enable the company to hire and manage people who would thrive in a highly autonomous culture.

What Carissa and her team have developed may be highly unusual, but there are lessons, approaches and systems that every team can benefit from applying.


When everyone works remotely, each person has the freedom and the responsibility to manage themselves. This can be highly desirable by candidates, but hard to swallow as a manager. Standard metrics of ‘face time in the office’ (which many managers rely on) just don’t work, nor are they truly good measures of productivity.

The skills to manage yourself and your work aren’t easy to come by. Most people need to ‘unlearn’ approaches they picked up in previous work settings and ‘relearn’ how to be self-motivated and self-directed.

At Silver Lining, instead of the usual cover letter, resume, phone screen, and face-to-face interviews, candidates pass through an aggressive hiring process where:

  1. They fill out an extensive application which includes internet speeds tests (Since you’ll be collaborating primarily through video conferencing and web-based apps, reliable high-speed internet is critical.), personality assessments and more.

  2. Their application gets reviewed by two staff and if they agree, the candidate moves to interviews.

  3. The candidate is interviewed via video conference by three people and if they agree, the candidate is hired.

But the interview process does not end upon hiring. Once the successful candidate is hired, they enter an onboarding process, which is both a training and trial period designed to get them quickly up to speed on the organization’s mission, products, and culture as well as test their self-management skills.

Every new hire, from the most junior to C-suite executives participate in this onboarding process that lasts a number of weeks. During that time, the new hire must complete a series of training videos, quizzes, role plays and other activities which are graded each step along the way. Individuals who don’t meet the minimum marks are let go.

By the end, only people who are a good fit for the role and the culture of Silver Lining remain, increasing likelihood of success for both the organization and the individual.


Empowering your team members is always difficult, but can be even more challenging when you can’t build relationships face-to-face. It’s hard to make people feel safe enough to think critically and share their opinions.

At Silver Lining, they use a number of approaches to encourage people to contribute.

  1. Give everyone a voice in meetings. Always have a round of opening and closing comments. Regardless of status or seniority, everyone is given a chance to speak.

  2. Have a suggestion box. Every time someone comes up with an idea, celebrate it and encourage them to add it to the suggestion box. Have a transparent process for what happens to ideas submitted.

  3. Give an Employee Award(s). Establish a formal recognition program in which team members can acknowledge one another every month. When someone takes the initiative or offers ideas that translate into a real change in the business, celebrate it and let them be recognized.

  4. Regularly Reflect on Roles and Goals. Every month, every single person in the business should reflect on their role and goals. First, over the course of one hour, they should ask themselves:

  • What are my goals?

  • What are the current results?

  • How many hours did I work last month?

  • How did I spend my time? Was it a good investment?

  • What do I need to do more of?

  • What do I need to do less of?

  • What do I need from my manager to succeed?

  • Do I have any ideas to improve how work happens or how the company can be more successful?

Then, each person talks through their reflections and insights with their manager. During that conversation, they generate a plan for the next month and elevate any ideas to the suggestion box.


Unfortunately, when someone on the team is underperforming, those who work hard often have to make up for it. In order to protect each member of the team, Silver Lining uses a process called Progressive Discipline.

As a business, it’s important to support your staff to grow, develop skills and change behavior, but you can’t invest in underperformers forever. Progressive discipline outlines a structure for knowing when and how to invest, and when to say goodbye. The steps involve:

  1. Identifying an underperformer. First, a manager must recognize when someone on their team isn’t achieving the expected results. This sparks the progressive discipline action.

  2. Provide appropriate coaching. Whether through an external coach or internal mentor, assign a resource who has a style, personality or skill set that can truly help the individual succeed. Provide structured coaching for 90 days to give the person a legitimate chance to learn and change.

  3. Document a written warning. In the event the coaching did not work or the person did not accept the coaching, a written warning is issued. In this warning, it is clearly articulated that if the behavior still does not change within the next 30 days, the individual will be terminated.

  4. Document a second written warning. If half way through the 30 days, the individual still has not made significant progress, issue a second written warning reiterating that termination will occur if behavior change is not visible within the next 15 days.

  5. Termination. If, after the 30 days the behavior still hasn’t changed, issue a third written warning and terminate their employment.

The whole process takes about four months and is transparent from the beginning. The beauty of progressive discipline is that you’ve provided clear warnings and appropriate support throughout the process. If over the course of four months nothing has changed, then you can let the individual go knowing you provided reasonable support and the fit just wasn’t right.

Hold Managers Accountable, Too

It is important that employees, whether they are remote workers or in a traditional office environment, are given a chance to say that their manager, supervisor or team leader is not providing the support they need to be successful. At Silver Lining, they have a simple and transparent process that empowers people to speak up when their manager isn’t fulfilling their duties.


Whether your team is fully remote or all co-located, developing your team members to be self-directed and motivated to achieve results, and providing the structures to support them along the way is essential to meeting the growing demands for flexibility and autonomy.

Join the Modern Manager community and get Silver Lining’s Team Cheat sheet which they use to set mutual expectations and basic understanding of how they operate AND their Verbal Warning / Coaching Template, which they use as part of the Progressive Discipline process, plus additional guest offers and materials to support your journey to rockstar manager.

This article was based on episode 057 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


Optimize your time. Cultivate your team. Achieve your goals.




When you subscribe to my email list, you'll be notified when new blog posts are released.

bottom of page