Different business decisions require different management styles
Team management can take two distinct approaches – a hierarchy with rigid, top-down structure, or a more collaborative meritocracy where ideas and concepts tend to spread throughout the group.
What are the pros and cons of either approach? Can they be blended to get the best of both?
As a leader of a marketing organization, I spend a lot of time optimising my management style to enable my team to thrive. Each day, I am faced with a myriad of business decisions that require me to interact and manage people differently.
Sometimes I manage top-down to ensure alignment and productivity. Other times I manage merit-based to strive for the best collaborative outcome. In either case, my experience has taught me a lot about meritocracy verses hierarchy management styles. Below is some food for thought from my leadership journey.
For a small team, a hierarchy with delegation and a clear plan can work efficiently – but in larger teams or organizations, hierarchies tend to form isolated sub-groups that can create silos.
Meritocracies can fail because of meandering plans and no obvious accountability. If everybody’s in charge, then nobody’s in charge. The group must agree on methods, milestones, and timetables, or nothing will get accomplished – and the larger the group is, the harder it is to agree on coordinated efforts.
Regardless of the system, team members have to all work off the same plan, check frequently for changes, and balance meetings with execution. Either system fails without effective communication.
Innovation vs. Groupthink
Meritocracies generally provide a better environment for innovation, and hierarchies must plan carefully to avoid stifling it. A meritocracy encourages sharing of ideas and novel thought processes, while the leader chooses the path in hierarchies.
However, both are susceptible to limiting ideas. In hierarchies, the leader may not be open to novel ideas. Meritocracies can suffer from groupthink, where teams may be made up of similar thinkers or the novel thinker doesn’t want to be the lone dissenting voice.
In either case, you need an environment where someone who can challenge ideas in a respectful way is valued – and their opinion is accepted if they are right.
Empowerment and job satisfaction
Empowerment is important not just for results, but also for employee job satisfaction. Again, meritocracies should be better for empowerment, but it depends on the group dynamics of your team.
Most people prefer a meritocracy, but it depends on success of the team, and how much each member feels a part of the success. Hierarchies tend to blunt job satisfaction when leaders get all the credit without acknowledging (and compensating) their direct reports.
Which style works for you?
Theoretically, the best method for most leaders is a meritocracy with just enough elements of hierarchy to get things done. A relatively flat hierarchy allows for coordination with a “loose leash” – as the leader you outline the goals and the timeline clearly, then get out of the way and avoid micromanaging others.
To succeed, you need the best blend of system and people. Good people can’t overcome a bad system, and good systems fail if people don’t believe in them or fit in. Successful hierarchies have a bit of meritocracy embedded in them. Successful meritocracies have enough hierarchical elements to get things done and meet deadlines. The secret is that neither style works well without elements of the other.
Follow Mei Lee at @himeilee on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.
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