Consider the following two teams:
Team X operates with a traditional top-down structure that includes defined standards to which employees must adhere, consistency and quality of work performance, control, clear chains of command, and decision making, thus providing a sense of stability and security.
Team Y takes a participative approach to management. The importance of collaboration, individuality, and personal responsibility is emphasized. The workplace is characterised by a high level of trust, with little need for regular supervision or control. The structure is decentralised and decision-making is collaborative, while employees can share ideas, ask questions and provide feedback.
Now consider the following three questions:
- Which organisation would you like to work for?
- Which approach would you choose for your team?
- When and why would you choose one of the two approaches and where would you start?
Depending on personal preference, the answers to questions 1 and 2 seem a) obvious and b) consistent for the majority of people. Regardless of personal biases, there is ample evidence that the success of a team is related to the fit of the task to the organisation, people, and context, not to the superiority of approach X over approach Y (or vice versa).
Let’s start with my favourite abbreviation:
which means: “The purpose of a system is what it does”. To begin, you need to analyse and understand the way the team or organisation actually works.
Carefully examine formal and informal structures. (The first is found in the organizational chart, the second in the decision-making processes and in the resulting patterns of relationships and communication.)
Consider the nature of the task: is it predictable and systematic or does it require complex problem solving? Is it a time-sensitive task that requires quick decisions, or does it require strict adherence to rules? Is specialized knowledge and multiple perspectives required, and is employee buy-in and collaboration necessary for success?
Research shows[ that people are naturally attracted to organizations that fit their personalities. Consider employees’ thinking patterns, attitudes, behaviors, openness to feedback, self-management, motivation, and level of independence. Assess their interpersonal skills, teamwork, flexibility, and adaptability.
Assess the size, complexity, goals, and available resources of the organization or team. Determine whether a top-down or collaborative approach is best. Analyze expectations, support, and potential conflicts.
Adopting participative or traditional management approaches can be fraught with challenges, such as cultural resistance, lack of creativity, and difficulty adapting to change. Both approaches carry risks such as unmotivated employees, low job satisfaction, high turnover, poor communication, and lack of adaptability in X, and lack of focus, indecision, difficult implementation in traditional hierarchies, and difficulty measuring performance in Y.
Strategies to overcome these resistances include training managers, engaging employees, and emphasizing the benefits of collaboration. Communication and evaluation of effectiveness are always critical.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and evaluating the criteria can help you make an informed decision. To quote Mary Parker Follett, “Our problem is not how to get control of people, but how all together we can get control of a situation.”
1 The two contrasting views of human motivation in the workplace were proposed by Douglas McGregor in The Human Side of Enterprise
2 John J. Morse and Jay W. Lorsch, Beyond Theory Y
3 coined by Stafford Beer
4 Cable and Judge, Person–Organization Fit, Job Choice Decisions, and Organizational Entry