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How does participatory management work?

Within the theories of leadership, several styles and points of view intermingle, sometimes emphasizing the leader's authority, his expertise, his sense of adaptation or his ability to unite his team. Another way is to consider the management of a team on a democratic principle, giving everyone a voice: this is participative leadership.

In the face of certain studies which show that employees feel less committed to their company than managers do, and that they contribute less to their success, the implementation of this management style could still gain ground. Indeed, what could be more effective than the participation and involvement of all in defining and achieving objectives?

The principles of "democratic" leadership

While participatory leadership is not always simple to implement within a group, the broad outlines of his theory are nevertheless fairly easy to understand.

Briefly, one could define this management style as taking into account the opinions of all employees in the decision-making process. In this way, each employee not only has the opportunity to express his or her opinion, but above all, is really listened to.

Participatory leadership is therefore very clearly different from the authoritarian style, in which the leader has all the power. But it is also quite different from the "laissez-faire" theory, which is a way of managing where the leader lets the employees manage themselves, simply by setting a guideline.

In a participative process, collaboration between the different team members is indeed paramount and decisions are collegial, although the leader remains the person who should have the last word.

The qualities of a leader for successful participatory management

For constructive communication to take place in a group of employees, the leader must have human qualities, but also skills specific to the professional world.

A major quality of a participative leader is the ability to listen. Indeed, it is impossible to take into consideration the opinions and remarks of one's team if one is not first inclined to listen sincerely to what the members of the group have to say. This goes hand in hand with a high level of open-mindedness and questioning: a leader who succeeds in implementing participatory management does not always have to hold fast to his positions.

In order for this to work, mutual trust relationships are imperative. Employees need to understand that their opinions matter, and the leader needs to believe in their skills and ability to solve problems and move a project forward. Sometimes participatory management even involves making minor decisions without the leader's agreement. This leaves the leader with no choice but to delegate certain tasks and to let go of certain issues.

While this can be a complicated thing to do when the team does not have the necessary skills or confidence, the participatory leader is also there to encourage the people he or she works with. Setting up professional training or personal development coaching for his employees can thus be a way to facilitate this management style.

However, a leader must not let all decisions (objectives, means to achieve them, etc.) rest on the employees with whom he or she works in a participatory organization. If he is above all a coordinator, he must keep his role as a leader, able to deploy the overall vision of the company. The whole team has its role to play in the decision-making process and decisions can be taken by majority vote for example, but the leader must keep in mind that he himself responds to the objectives set by his own leaders, to consumer demand, to the market situation, etc. And when a conflict situation arises, it is up to the leader to show authority and sometimes to cut short a discussion that does not succeed.

Good communication is also key to becoming a successful participatory leader. In addition to listening, and in order to get the best out of his employees, the manager must express himself clearly on what he expects, how he wishes to achieve his objectives, within what timeframe, etc. When things are clearly stated, it is easier for the rest of the team to form its own opinion and to be able to propose solutions or raise problems.

The benefits of this type of leadership... and its risks

On paper, the idea of constant collaboration between team members seems quite conducive to the development of employees and the company. And it is true that a form of participative management/management has many advantages:

1- employees feel more involved in the tasks they have to perform and in the success of the company, and this commitment gives them a boost of motivation in their work ;

2- the employees' sense of importance and recognition helps them to create a bond of belonging with their company and, overall, to improve the quality of their working environment;

4- it is easier to gain acceptance for decisions that have been made after consultation, rather than when they come from management without employees understanding the value of the decisions or having been able to express their ideas and vision;

5- collective intelligence (sharing of ideas, synergies between employees, improved social relations, etc.) helps to make better decisions. A leader who thinks alone may miss out on important elements or fail to pursue issues that would be raised in a participatory debate with his entire team.

However, participatory leadership can suffer from some difficulties, which can still be overcome. For example, meetings can be time-consuming and the decision-making process takes longer when more people are involved. It is therefore up to the leader to succeed in setting up a suitable organization and to put an end to fruitless discussions that encroach on other important tasks. This is all the more true when leaders have to deal with urgent problems and make a decision that they know will not be unanimous.

Furthermore, it is important to know that this style of leadership can only be appropriate for teams made up of employees with a recognized level of competence, or even with many years of experience. Otherwise, it means taking the risk of wasting time and ultimately leading to bad decisions, especially when the leader is not able to impose his vision and way of working.

Likewise, each person must adhere to this participative management and wish to enter into a collaborative process. Despite his charisma, a leader may indeed face employees who do not have the motivation to participate, do not feel confident or do not feel a strong enough commitment to the company to feel that they have a say. So be careful of this vicious circle, which must be broken by implementing the right methods and a type of communication adapted to the team as a whole, but also to each individual in the group.

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