Top 10 Myths About Democratic Management

The new role of management

In the “old” hierarchical situation, all information and ultimate responsibility was with managers. Whether it was delegating work or chasing a project themselves, the manager was always “in charge”. In order to move away from that, you need to place more trust and vest teams with more decision-making power such that the responsibility lies wholly – or at least partly – within the teams.

In the article, “Confidence and Being in control”, we described the first steps towards placing more trust and responsibility within employees and teams. In this article, let’s take a closer look at how you can do this and how the role of management changes in order to create more impact with teams that act faster.

The first simple step is to involve employees in a discussion about the main challenges of the moment. Here are some questions to drive the discussion:

  • What are the main issues of the moment?
  • What issues have led to the COVID-19 situation now?
  • Do we actually have more or fewer customers to serve now?
  • Is our revenue model under pressure and should we find a new way to offer our service or product in the market?

It’s important to share these questions and dilemmas as soon as possible. While doing so, make sure you’re clear about the direction in which you’re looking for help. Do you want to check or test ideas with customers and are you looking for teams who want to try this strategy? Or, are you looking for solutions to specific problems? The more specific you can be the better the input from employees or the team will be. This step seems simple, but it can be difficult for managers who’re used to feeling responsible for coming up with all the solutions.

This is a pleasant way to begin “engaging” and involving employees, which would in turn increase the agility of teams in your organization. But as always, you could take it a step further.

A foundation for participation

There is a great connection between the degree of participation and the degree of motivation. In other words, employees are more motivated if they’re given the opportunity to actually participate in, at least a part of, the decisions made by the team and organization. If people are allowed to participate in the decision-making process, they also ensure those decisions are carried out. The additional advantage is that as a team, and company, you become more agile when your people can do their work in any situation that presents itself.

To organize this properly, you have to organize a platform on which employees can make as many decisions as possible. As a manager you offer, as it were, a helping hand within which the teams can make their decisions. Try to describe, along with the team, “what” the results should be. The “how” should be left as much as possible to the team to decide. This foundation will serve as a good indicator for when the team is doing well and what factors must be taken into account while making decisions or taking action. In other words, you will need to draw up frameworks.

The framework contains agreements about::

  • Result (turnover, maximum expenditure, customer satisfaction or other important result areas)
  • Quality (which minimum must the work meet?)
  • Regulations/ Legislation/ Procedures (only those laws and procedures that are critical to the primary process)
  • Behavioral values (simple preconditions, for example around cooperation)

Additionally, it helps to provide insight and transparency about:

  • The strategic direction of the company, and possibly the department, and in which direction decisions must be made
  • The most important financial information. Offer this in a simple format and as frequently as possible to ensure the information is current as well as easy to absorb

How do you come up with frameworks?

The answer to this question varies according to the organization. In one company, these agreements may be presented to the team by the management as an accomplished fact. In another company, there may be more room for coordination and deeper collaboration.

Small organizations automatically make their frameworks less large and explicit. Here, the management and employees seem to work more easily with each other because they know each other well enough to be mutually confident. In large organizations, trust is institutionalized more quickly – there are more departments and more stakeholders to take into account.

Additionally, large organizations usually have more teams. If agreements have to be drawn up separately, with every one of those teams, alignment may be lacking while the teams often have to work closely together – a fact that needs to be taken into account.

It’s important for a team to be able to say “yes” to managers voluntarily and with intrinsic motivation. That is why we prefer to co-create these agreements. Besides, it helps provide the team with the feeling that the goals are achievable.

A new role for management

None of this is to say that the role of the manager is done and dusted. On the contrary, managers are extremely important as connectors between departments who disseminate crucial information. The only difference is that they will now have to learn how to facilitate work rather than delegating or managing work. Because, managers are no longer in charge and have to unlearn their reaction to every problem.

In the initial phase, teams will often have practical questions and it can be quite tempting for a manager to answer them. Still, it’s smarter to work with the team to find out what it takes to solve those problems. This is a great way to make the team feel like it’s being heard and learn how to cooperate with each other as adults. But, it doesn’t mean the manager should only passively watch from the sidelines. A manager can always start the conversation and think alongside the team about challenges or problems. But, it’s important to remember to let people own their problems.

A manager may still try to resolve matters that are beyond the sphere of the team’s influence. When the team makes a clear request to the manager, it’s important that the manager takes it seriously and ensures there are enough resources and people to solve the problem. Some organizations choose to place managers in the role of a coach. But, someone who guides the process while simultaneously challenging and intervening when something goes wrong can be confusing for the team. In our experience, it’s better to separate the role of the coach from that of the manager.

What should managers do?

  • Help others solve problems: The manager should coach, facilitate and advise without actually making the decision. For instance, ask, “How would you solve this problem if it were your own company?”’
  • Foster confidence: Provide psychological safety and confidence by working clearly and step-by-step on the team’s development and autonomy. Help the team determine goals, roles and work arrangements.
  • Stay in conversation: Avoid misunderstandings by keeping the conversation with the team alive. Make their vision and interpretation as tangible as possible. Don’t refer to ISO manuals, but instead use anecdotes of others who made similar mistakes and talk about the measures they took to fix the problem. Remember, a good discussion can really push boundaries.

What should managers no longer do?

  • Don’t solve other people’s problems: Don’t put out fires or for example discuss things with another department on behalf of a team member. Before you know it, the team will go back to a “wait-and-watch” approach and all action will once again center around the manager.
  • Stop checking: Workflows such as invoicing, billing or quotations are often run by the manager in conventional set-ups. Try to reverse this as much as possible. For instance, work with a budget or a mandate so that you appeal to the responsibility and moral compass of your people.
  • Do not intervene: Even when difficult subjects or situations come up, resist the temptation to step-in and take over. These are the moments when managers have to place real trust in the team and believe they can resolve the issues themselves.

The above principles can create a fertile ground for self-organizing teams to grow. Of course, there will be regular adjustments that need to be made. But, with the suggestions we’ve provided and some clear communication you will notice that responsibility can be borne more widely in your organization.