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Management focus: When to use a participative style of management


Participative management is often described as a style focused on creating an open forum where employees are actively engaged in contributing to the decision-making process. It aims to utilise an entire workforce’s ideas and creativity, and targets higher engagement through an effort to ensure employees feel their opinion and role has a real effect on the wider company.


A manager applying a participative approach is likely to delegate responsibility and accountability for tasks to individual team members, empowering suitable employees to get work done. They will also approach team meetings from a position of being open to innovation and suggestions, and will avoid simply doing things because “that’s the way it is”.


A key benefit of this approach, then, is the evident openness to new ideas (obviously accepting that being open to new ideas doesn’t mean ideas simply happen). It can mean that productivity issues – for example, problems with processes or the minutiae of organisational structure – that would usually fall beyond the sight of a manager can be tackled and improved upon, thereby raising efficiency and improving the working practices of whole teams. It can also mean taking advantage of the diversity of cross-border and international teams – allowing a relatively democratic forum for teams to discuss and debate new approaches.


Managers using a participative style of management will also probably involve their reports far more in setting the tone and direction of their career development. This could include having conversations where the employee identifies for themselves where they need to focus their future training and development, or providing time for employees to feedback on their needs to be fully effective in their current role.




All of this sounds very appealing, of course, which raises the question of why, if it has so many advantages, more managers don’t use it. One downside to the approach is in the natural limitations of the level at which employees operate. For example, a highly-specialised group of employees working in one very specific part of an organisation might be very capable of participating in matters related exactly to this work, but will be far less able to contributing to wider business matters.


There could also be resistance to the style from the employees themselves – either through a largely unconscious mind-set that, as employees, they look to management for direction, or because they choose to consciously opt out of the process because they don’t believe it has any real value. In both instances, the organisation misses out on their insights as a result. In addition, it is arguable that their non-participation dramatically reduces the overall effectiveness of the approach. 
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