The Institute of Leadership and Management (2013) defines participative management as a democratic approach to decision making where the team work to decide their goals and objectives with their manager.
Participative management is at the opposite end of the management spectrum to more traditional authoritative or autocratic management styles where the manager instructs and directs staff to perform tasks. McGregors X/Y theory of management was amongst the first to identify this new style of management suggesting that organisations should move away from autocratic (theory X) management towards participative (theory Y) management (Kopelman, Prottas & Davis, 2008)
I have experienced this style of management in several of my jobs and I find it has helped me to achieve many of my career aspirations. It is a method I try to use when I manage my team and encourage them to participate with the development of work plans and projects. However, it is important to recognise that not everyone likes this style of management and some individuals prefer to be lead.
In reality there are varying degrees of participative management. In some situations, it is suitable to draw on the experiences of a team and allow them to participate in the overall vision for a project or solution. However, there are always occasions where time pressures prevent this from occurring and a more directive approach to management is appropriate.
Indeed, McGregors X/Y model takes account of this and explores the level to which a manager is autocratic and the level to which they are democratic to provide a balanced score.
In a commercial software development company which works with customers to develop bespoke software, there is certainly an element of participative management as the company can make recommendations but ultimately the customer’s specification needs to be produced, so the management style needs to be less participative and more authoritative.
Compare that approach with a software development company such as Google. Although Google still have customers to satisfy, the development is far more flexible and employees have the opportunity to contribute to the product roadmap (Hernandez, 2008)
In my organisation – an emergency ambulance service – a participative management style can work in certain areas of the organisation such as in non-operational teams who deal largely with project work rather than ‘business as usual’ activities. Project work lends itself to a much more participative style as the team can be involved with making important decisions and contributing to the project plan from the outset.
In these situations, a hands-off management style can be more appropriate as it enables the team to be much more involved in the success of the project. The ultimate form of participative management is often referred to as ‘laissez faire’ management and this technique delegates all decision making to the team and the leader/manager acts solely as coach (Goodnight, 2004).
However, other areas of the organisation do not lend themselves as readily to this kind of management and are better suited to a more autocratic style. As an emergency service with lives to save and the time pressures associated with attending a patient, there is little negotiation about duties and targets (most of which are centrally imposed by the Government) so a participative management style would not work in this instance. Indeed, many organisations like the Police and Army operate using this autocratic approach to leadership as the hierarchical management structure mandates individuals to obey orders.
The major benefits of the participative approach are the reported improvements to job satisfaction of employees (Marchant, 1982). The approach empowers individuals to shape their destiny and that of their team resulting in improved motivation and improved quality of output with the individuals becoming stakeholders rather than just participants. These are powerful motives to implement this management technique.
Udo and Ehie (1996) also reported reduced costs in the manufacturing process as the time required by a manager to supervise employees is theoretically reduced.
However, Kim (1986) reports that many managers can feel frustrated at the implementation of participative management styles as they do not necessarily understand the management method and can be intimidated by it as it is so different from traditional management methods.
From experience of trying to implement participative management, it can be very time consuming to involve all members of the team as it requires the leader to facilitate participative sessions and discussions, taking time away from the developers and time away from the manager to perform their other duties. When trying to involve everyone, the response from team members is not always positive as they feel under time pressure to deliver their objectives, which is not always conducive to effective contribution and there is a tendency to deviate from the main goals.
There appear to be more advantages than disadvantages to the participative management approach but when implementing it, organisations need to carefully consider if it is appropriate for their business and whether the expected advantages of this method will be realised.
Goodnight, R. (2004) ‘Laissez-faire leadership’, Encyclopedia of Leadership, Sage Publications [Online]. Available from: https://secure.sagepub.com/northouseintro2e/study/chapter/encyclopedia/encyclopedia3.2.pdf (Accessed: 27 January 2013).
Halal, W., Brown, B. (1981) ‘Participative Management: Myth and Reality’, California Management Review, 23(4), pp. 20-32, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=4761137&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 27 January 2013).
Hernandez, C. (2008) The Organizational Culture that Exists Within Google. [Online]. Available from: http://voices.yahoo.com/the-organizational-culture-exists-within-google-1657615.html (Accessed: 29 January 2013).
Institute of Leadership and Management (2013) Management Styles [Online]. Available from: http://www.i-l-m.com/about-ilm/management-styles.aspx (Accessed: 26 January 2013).
Kim, F. (1986) ‘Human Resource Management in Action: Management Roles in the Implementation of Participative Management Systems’, Human Resource Management, 25(3), pp. 459-480, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=7175005&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 26 January 2013).
Kopelman, R., Prottas, D., Davis, A. (2008) ‘Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y: Toward a Construct-valid Measure’, Journal of Managerial Issues, 20(2), pp. 255-271, ProQuest [Online]. Available from: http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/docview/194165861 (Accessed: 26 January 2013).
Marchant, M. (1982) ‘Participative Management, Job Satisfaction, & Service’, Library Journal, 107(8), pp.782-785, Ebscohost [Online]. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=7549893&site=eds-live&scope=site (Accessed: 29 January 2013).
Udo, G. & Ehie, I. (1996) ‘Advanced manufacturing technologies. Determinants of implementation success’, International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 16(12), pp.6-26, Emerald. [Online]. Available from: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liv.ac.uk/10.1108/01443579610151733 (Accessed: 29 January 2013).