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Why Autocratic Management and Employee Teams Usually Don't Work Well Together

Autocratic management is typically a combination of a sometimes erroneous mindset and actions that reinforce this internal philosophy or belief.

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Autocratic Management and Employee Teams Are Not Ideal Companions
Autocratic management is typically a combination of a sometimes erroneous mindset and actions that reinforce this internal philosophy or belief. Its critics are many, but there are situations wherein better performance results from autocratic, rather than participatory, management.

This philosophy usually stems from a belief, whether correct or not, that employees are unable to make meaningful contributions to their performance and that, even if they could, they wouldn’t do so. Most contemporary, successful managers find this style to be in direct conflict with their participatory management philosophy.

Autocratic management, however, was the globally preferred style for many years.

You should remember that when the world economy morphed from an agricultural base to an industrial economy, many unskilled workers were employed to make companies function. The autocratic management style was simply a continuation of the former lord and serf agricultural structure.

As the Industrial Revolution grew, management needed large numbers of workers to perform rather simple tasks to create a finished product. Even as machinery improved, the production line (the brainchild of Henry Ford) became commonplace in many manufacturing facilities. Workers were taught one or two repetitive functions and performed them all day, every day.

Business owners and management served as lords, masters, “big brother”, protectors, providers of employment, and parents of their workforces. The organization pyramid was very sharp at the top and wide at the bottom. Historically, autocratic management used a “carrot and stick” operations style; monetary incentives such as piece-rate jobs served to reward high-performing workers, while docks in pay or termination were used to punish under-performing staff.

As jobs became more complex, however, and required more training, talent, and expertise, the autocratic style of total control over all workplace issues and people became more difficult. Talented and motivated employees were difficult to find and pay scales for this group escalated. With expertise and higher compensation came a strong challenge to the classic autocratic management style, as employees demanded a “voice” in the workplace.

Today, participatory management, with its heavy reliance on staff ideas, comments, and operations improvements, is the preferred style. The team approach to tasks and projects involves groups of talented employees banding together to get the job done. Often, management outlines the project, their expectations of performance, and operating suggestions. The team, led by a supervisor, then devises the best and most efficient way to accomplish the goal.

As you can see, the combination of autocratic management and the team approach to goal achievement can come into direct conflict with each other. Contrary to some popular belief, there are currently companies that utilize autocratic management. While they seldom boldly announce this fact, these companies continue to believe that the management team acts and reacts in more efficient ways than the workforce can. If teams even exist, they tend to have little input in operational or goal achievement decisions.

Teams are simply told what to do, how to do it, and when to have it done by, whatever “it” may be. These team-based and autocratic forms of organization simply don’t function well together, as the philosophy of each is in direct conflict with the other.

When Employee Teams Work Well and When They Don’t
Here are some issues to consider if you’re part of an autocratic management group and still wish to use the team concept to reach your company goals. Consider:

  • Communications issues. If high-level communication is necessary, a team will work well. Should there be few important communication requirements, a team becomes less efficient than an individual.
  • Simplicity or complexity of job tasks. The less complex the job tasks, the less need you have for a team approach. Actually, for simple task completion, a team might hinder goal achievement, as competent cooperation is usually unnecessary.
  • Related tasks and jobs. If the individual tasks are related and should be completed in tandem, a team will work well; however, should there be little relation between individual tasks, teams are not necessary and might even delay completion.
  • Sharing information. If all of the data needed to perform jobs or projects is held by one person, there is little need for a team, as it may be time consuming to share this information. Should individual people be responsible for their own parts of the “formula” to complete a job, a team approach is typically much more efficient.

While participatory management is the proven and preferred style in business, autocratic management can still function effectively. The workforce may dispute this fact, as they tend to be generally uninterested in their jobs and may be mistrustful of management. Yet, if you are part of an autocratic management group, you can still use teams profitably and improve the morale of your staff if you do it wisely.

Copyright 2009, Kelly Services, Inc.