Participative leadership could be just what you need to encourage greater input from your team

When it comes to business, there's no one-size-fits-all blueprint for success. Still, there are some hard and fast truths that no company can escape – like the important role that leadership styles play in any organization's ability to meet its goals. Of course, there are many different styles of leadership, ranging from top-down autocratic approaches to more laissez-faire styles of leading.

In this post, we'll explore a leadership style known as participative leadership and examine its effectiveness in the workplace. In addition, we'll consider some of the pros and cons of this leadership style and offer some tips that you can use to implement a more participative leadership approach in your workplace.

What is participative leadership?

Participative leadership is a style of leadership that emphasizes empowering all team members to take part in decision-making. To be effective, this leadership approach requires managers and leaders to regularly provide their teams with information so that they can offer informed input about key decisions. In addition, leaders need to be able to listen to their employees, motivate them to share ideas and opinions, and delegate responsibility to ensure maximum buy-in from everyone on the team.

At its core, participative leadership is designed to encourage team members to collaborate, take responsibility for their own roles within the organization, and work together to solve common challenges. By focusing as a united team, groups of employees are able to find more creative solutions, which can foster greater innovation to drive company success.

Examples of participative leadership types

If you're familiar with the different styles of leadership, your first impression might be that participative leadership is simply another way of describing democratic leadership. In reality, though, the democratic leadership style is one of several different forms that participative leadership can take. Some examples of participative leadership styles include:

Autocratic participative leadership

The autocratic style of participative leadership is the most top-down form of this approach to leading a team. The leader or manager will still work to encourage team members to offer their input and should be willing to share information to help them make informed suggestions. However, the autocratic leader still retains the ultimate say in every decision that's made. As a result, they rarely need to explain the rationale for their decisions.

Consensus participative leadership

Leaders who rely on consensus participation tend to serve in a facilitator capacity, encouraging employees to come to a decision that the entire group can accept. This type of participative leadership gives each employee a vote in the decision-making process and requires the entire team to reach a consensus about those decisions. This often results in compromises between team members, as the group needs to get every team member to agree to one course of action.

Collective participative leadership

The collective participative leadership model is similar to the consensus approach but requires only a majority vote to reach a decision. Again, the leader acts as a facilitator for the process, as each team member is encouraged to offer input about potential decisions. This type of participative leadership also ensures that every member of the group shares in responsibility for not only the decision-making process but the outcome as well.

Democratic participative leadership

A leader who uses the democratic participative approach works to ensure that all team members have a say in the decision-making process but always retains the power to make the final determination. The notable difference between this form of participative leadership and the autocratic approach is that democratic leaders who overrule their teams are usually expected to explain their rationale for doing so.

Participative leadership: pros and cons

Naturally, there are both advantages and disadvantages to this particular leadership style. Below are some of the most important pros and cons of participative leadership.

Participative leadership advantages and benefits

  • Greater employee engagement. Employee engagement is critical for long-term success, increasing everything from morale to overall retention. By involving employees in the decision-making process, participative leadership can help to ensure that every member of the team feels as though they have a stake in the company's success. This helps them to feel they are valued, appreciated, and needed.

  • Improved teamwork and collaboration. There's nothing like a group effort to enhance teamwork and collaboration. When employees are tasked with working together to solve problems and reach decisions, their commitment to being part of a team grows over time. They learn how to brainstorm and work as a collective to achieve common goals - something that's critical to any company's long-term success.

  • Increased employee empowerment. Employees who are given more opportunity to participate in the decision-making process enjoy the kind of empowerment that can help them to become even more valuable members of their team. They will feel more invested in the company's processes and mission, which can make them more motivated to ensure that the group's decisions lead to positive results for the company.

Participative leadership disadvantages and potential pitfalls

  • Potential social pressure can skew input. If employees fear that their input may put them at odds with coworkers, they may shy away from offering honest opinions. Leaders need to be aware of this potential problem and work to encourage everyone's input. Unless group dynamics are designed to encourage honest input, the group may not have the information or ideas it needs to make the best possible decision.

  • Group decisions can be time-consuming. Perhaps the most notable problem with participative leadership is the time involved in reaching a decision. It takes time to survey a team of employees and obtain their input. It takes even more time to discuss those suggestions and attempt to reach a consensus. Any leader who wants to adopt this approach to making decisions will need to have a tremendous amount of patience and be ready to adapt when decisions need to be made quickly.

  • Divisions can prevent consensus. Sometimes, the participative leadership style can lend itself to indecision. After all, it's often difficult for two people to agree on the same course of action. A group of ten or twenty people will be even more susceptible to that type of division. There may even be times when a group is evenly divided, and no consensus can be reached. Leaders need to be prepared to help their team to move past that type of impasse or retain the option to make the final decision when consensus cannot be reached.

Does participative leadership work?

Because participative leadership encourages leaders to empower their employees, it can be a very effective way to lead a team. Of course, this style of leadership is most advantageous in certain types of work environments and ill-suited for others. For example, in companies where innovation is key to success, a participatory leader can use this leadership style to great effect. An empowered team can be more creative, driven to innovate, and engaged in the company's success.

On the other hand, companies that rely on employees' ability to complete repetitive tasks are less likely to benefit from this type of leadership. For example, warehouses and factories that have established workflows and automation are not the best match for this leadership style.  

Tips you can use to encourage participative leadership

If your team could benefit from greater employee participation in the decision-making process, the following tips can help you to learn to incorporate this approach into your leadership style:

  • Learn to listen to every member of your team and use their input to inform any decisions that you make. Practice active listening to ensure that you're open and receptive to their ideas, concerns, and suggestions.

  • Make sure that you establish a culture that encourages open expression of ideas. If employees don't feel safe offering their honest opinions, you won't get the valuable participation you need to make great group decisions.

  • Formalize the process by conducting regular group meetings to encourage the sharing of ideas and suggestions. You can also conduct informal surveys to ensure that you're consistently receiving everyone's input.

  • Develop systems that allow employees to share their ideas and suggestions with you and the rest of the team. Encourage your team to interact with those ideas, offering improvements or alternative suggestions. This can be something as simple as an idea board in a common room or a digital platform that everyone can access.

  • Start small. Your team will need to walk before it can fly, so make sure that group decisions can work on a small scale before you implement these processes for major decisions. Take time to build everyone's confidence and trust before you share major decision-making authority with your team.

Participative leadership techniques could change the way you lead

Whether you're responsible for leading a small team or a large company, knowing how to get beneficial input from your team can be critical to long-term success. Incorporating some type of participative leadership into your leadership style can be a great way to facilitate that input, empower your employees, and motivate your entire team to reach your company goals.

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