Participative management and managerial agility

A participative manager defines objectives and makes decisions with his or her colleagues. They enjoy simple, pleasant and even warm relationships.

Participative management also comes in for some criticism: manipulation, lack of framework…

What exactly is the situation?
What have we learned about the advantages and limitations of this management style?

General description of the participative manager

  • Their communication is both top-down and bottom-up. He believes that results are achieved by ensuring that teams fully support the company’s decisions and direction.
  • They like simple, pleasant and even warm relationships. Some participative managers sometimes transform the work relationship into a relationship that goes beyond the professional sphere: going out for a drink, making a friend of a customer, etc
  • At meetings, participative managers are happy to change the agenda, if one had been planned, when certain participants suggest topics of interest. Their openness to others and the search for consensus may distract them from respecting deadlines or priorities.

His colleagues may expect a more global vision of the tasks than those presented by the paternalistic manager.

A comprehensive study on management (comparative results from over 8,000 people) and the profiles of managers and executives will also give you a better idea of who uses participative management styles and which skills are the most developed, depending on the level of responsibility held.

To assess yourself and identify how much participative management you potentially use with your teams, you can take the Assess Manager management test, which also assesses other management styles and measures your degree of maturity in a range of management skills.

Extract from the book “Le management à porter demain” on the participative manager

“After the era of Fordism and Taylorism came a number of events: May 68 in France in particular. These were echoed in other parts of the world: in Eastern Europe, in the United States, particularly in Chicago and South Carolina, in Canada..

It was students who initiated these social movements and ushered in a new era: a call for freedom of thought and action. They gradually gave rise to participative management.
It is the gradual abolition of the dictatorship of the boss or the reign of the father (associated with paternalistic management), and the gradual birth of the child king, which gives rise to the key question: What do you think?

Participative management puts the employee at the heart of decision-making (…)

Technological progress is gradually replacing people with machines, requiring a more skilled, more thinking, more creative workforce to counter the increased competition. This is an era of major transition in the relationship to work, accelerated by countervailing powers such as trade unions and staff representative bodies. Workers must be respected, listened to, pampered and considered. This impetus was reinforced in Japan with the birth of agile management.

The virtues of participative management are, of course, the commitment of the employee, who develops by being listened to and valued. Their creativity is the source of new ideas, which are vital if we are to maintain our competitive edge.

But alongside this movement, which is positive in many respects, like other management methods, a number of inherent limitations have arisen: slowness of decision-making (decisions are taken more slowly by 50 than by 1), opposition to decisions and the emergence of sabotage strategies, the impression that the manager ‘doesn’t know’ (the historical culture of the ‘knowing manager’) and has no direction, and so on

How does the participative manager behave today?

They are sometimes criticised, and are increasingly asked to speed things up and position themselves in decision-making. Constantly asking employees for their opinion sometimes gives the impression that they are protecting themselves and don’t want to take responsibility for decisions. Obtaining 100% consensus is rarely possible, and he sometimes abandons decisions for lack of consensus, sometimes delaying projects. His teams ask him for a framework that is sometimes perceived as lacking.

While this is reassuring for qualified staff who are given responsibilities, it is sometimes controversial when qualified employees take over and give the impression that the manager is no more than a meeting leader. The participative manager needs to complement his posture with other management styles, such as the delegative style and the directive style, in order to set a slightly clearer course.

Employees gain self-confidence through the empowering effects of participative management. Sometimes to such an extent that they come to question the skills of the manager who seems to rely exclusively on his or her team. Management is not always seen as a real job, so the corporate culture will have a major impact on the team’s feeling of usefulness towards their manager, and the respect they show him/her.

Effective participative management develops employees’ positive spirit of initiative and the feeling of being part of a team, valuing the usefulness of each individual within this collective. It encourages a spirit of mutual support. It can also develop pride in belonging.

Where can you find participative managers?

Participative management is practised in all sectors of activity, rarely in emergency sectors where life is at stake and quick decisions are required.
Participative management is extremely positive if it is not the only form of management used. Public sector organisations have become enthusiastic about this type of management, as have start-ups. Service companies are the biggest fans of this management style.

How can we avoid the pitfalls of participative management?

Participative management needs to set a framework if it is not to become a form of management that is perceived as lax, weak or the opportunity for the person who speaks loudest.
If, as a manager, I ask employees for their opinion on a subject, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opinion. Nor does it mean that consensus is the only way forward.

The Assess Manager management test shows that managers who predominantly use participative management (score above 50%) very rarely use directive management (score below 8%).

The other pitfall of participative management is that it is sometimes used as a manipulative method. Sometimes managers know where they want to go, where they want to take their employees, and they use participative management to make people believe that it’s a participative method and that the choice made will be the choice of the employees, whereas in fact they are influencing the discussions.
Employees are not fooled, and when the underlying intention is present, these tactics are detected and then become counter-productive as trust disintegrates.

Management theories: Participative management needs a framework

  • Is consultation the right method?
  • What are the reasons for consultation? Its scope? What influence will it have on a future decision?
  • What is the decision deadline?
  • How will the final decision be made?
  • What are the potential conflicts of interest in relation to this consultation? What could go beyond the subject itself?
  • Are there any impossibilities or constraints that need to be taken into account to avoid inappropriate options?

Participative or delegative management?

Participative management is particularly appropriate for developing new ideas and stimulating team creativity.
It is also well-suited to problem-solving, where options are sought collectively.
It can also be adapted when a difficult decision has to be taken, to elicit empathy and understanding from employees, as long as the constraints are set out clearly and logically beforehand.

Management theories: What do you think of the management situation below?

The manager says: “I’ve called this meeting to get your opinion. We have to build a new prototype in record time, the buyers are pressing us harder than ever and the stakes are high. I’d like us to think together about the options open to us so that we can deliver this new prototype on time, in exactly 3 months’ time. I’ve got some ideas, but I’m not entirely happy with them, and I’m sure that together we can find an option that will allow us to succeed without killing ourselves in the process.
I hope that we don’t end up exhausted. Here’s how I suggest you go about thinking about the various options:
We’ll set up 2 working groups, each of which will have to come up with 3 options, one of which may seem absurd. We’ll take ¾ of an hour to do this, after reviewing all the questions for 15 minutes.
What are your questions?

  • What do you think of this exercise?
  • What could be missing?
  • What do you see as positive?
  • Is the framework sufficient?



If you liked this page, you can find the author and many other subjects of reflection on management in the book “Le management à porter demain” published by EMS Coach.

Management theories: You are a manager. Do you sometimes use participative management? Often? Too often?

With a score of over 50% for participative management and under 8% for directive management, you may need to develop your managerial agility. Check your scores with the management test.

Key points about participative management

Participative management (or collaborative management) is a managerial posture. It often underpins skills, advantages and shortcomings that are specific to it: Involvement, empowerment, balance of power, valuing employees, taking initiatives on the one hand. On the other hand, decisions are sometimes slow or even postponed, and there is a feeling of a lack of reference points and of a ship’s captain, and sometimes a feeling of manipulation.

Other possible positions:

To go further with Assess Manager