Chasing Good Examples
Individual Change Key To Org.
John Runyan Responds
Your question probes to a deeper level
of the movement toward more participative management.
This initiative, like many others related to quality and
work-life improvement, can sometimes be described, tried
and evaluated in superficial ways. Your concern gets at
the real practical challenges of carrying through with a
meaningful and consistent participative approach.
For example, good participative management DOES NOT MEAN:
o Focusing more on processes than
Effective participative management DOES MEAN:
o Focusing primarily on results using
strong processes that are robust enough to be adapted to
new and challenging situations.
Authoritarian - One person decides on
actions to be taken.
o Working intently to develop and draw
on the leadership potential and talents of all team
members over time, but in moments of crisis choosing to
go with the leadership of those who have the most to
offer to the
Having said all this, I believe that
the key factor in the situation that you describe is
whether or not all of the members of your teams have the
same opportunity as your coaches to exercise a directive
style in situations where they may have the superior
information, experience, perspective and skills. If all
members (including the coaches) can step up to leading at
different moments, then you have the best of
participative management. If only coaches have this
prerogative and only when they unilaterally choose to
exercise it, then you have the worst hybrid of old and
The team needs to establish early in its life together the way in which this "triage" process for establishing the decision-making mode will go. For the coach or other member(s) to guide this consideration process and then to be sanctioned and supported to lead (sometimes in a directive fashion) is just one way to proceed. However, this way of progressing toward decisions can be totally consistent with good participative management.
Once the crisis is past, the imperative is for the team to regather and debrief the choices made by the group and the coach with the goal of learning from that experience. Virtually the only mistake that can be made here is not to do this review and learning, leaving everyone to only guess at the ongoing implications of what has happened.
I also hear you asking for advice about what to do when leaders or coaches, despite all previous intentions or protocols, instinctively react using old authoritarian behaviors and styles. Human nature being what it is, this situation inevitably will come up. If for some reason a coach does unilaterally seize the authority for decision making in the group, the debrief and learning session that I've described becomes even more crucial. I think that the coach needs to own the action, openly describe the motivations and then invite feedback from all team members on the impact of those actions. From this initial exploration, the team needs to learn whatever lessons can be derived from the situation - and then consciously and explicitly decide on their intentions and guidelines for what to do in the future in similar situations.
I empathize with your struggle to live out the ideals and potential of participative management in a world peopled with all-too-human former leaders and supervisors. They, as well as your workers/team members, deserve clarity about these best principles and constructive steps of participative management - and grace for the times when they slip from their chosen path.