Why Successful teams are Ditching Top Down Management

drawing of four people sitting around a table having a meeting

Post created by Sara Slone
Applied IMC (Winter 2023)

What is Top Down Management?

Top down management is characterized by the top leadership making company wide decisions for the whole firm. In this structure, the highest level of management will make decisions and then inform the rest of the teams down the hierarchy. This management style can be applied to anything such as a whole corporation, a small team, or anything in between.

Top down essentially is the classic leadership style that many people associate with management in general. The way it works is that big picture issues are considered and turned into actionable plans at the highest level. This approach is the most rigid and structured, so only a few organizations use it today. Many of them use a hybrid approach that allows for slightly more flexibility.

Pros & Cons of Top Down

People choose this style primarily because it eliminates confusion, reduces risks, and creates clear communication among larger groups. Here are the main benefits of the top down approach:

  • Widespread familiarity
  • Clearer communication
  • Problems are simple to find
  • Quick implementation

Although this has historically been a very popular approach, there are a host of issues with it. In general, it has negative effects on team morale and leads to very slow ridged problem solving. So unless your industry is very stable and predictable, it will not work very well. Here are the biggest draw backs:

  • Strained/poor leadership impact
  • Little room for creativity
  • Team disengagement
  • Large gap between decision makers and decisions

What Is Bottom Up Management?

Bottom up management is different because the individual teams will collaborate across all management levels to turn broad goals into actionable steps. This is a very common method to use in industries that are fast paced, innovative, and constantly changing. Aspects of bottom up management include but are not limited to democratic management and the scrum methodology.

Pros & Cons of Bottom Up

This type of management solves most of the problems that top down management poses. It is a really great fit for creative teams and environments where collaboration is essential. Here are some of the advantages of bottom up management:

  • Lots of room for creativity
  • Great team morale
  • Informed decisions

There are a few issues with this approach that make it difficult for certain industries to adopt:

  • Shifts in leadership dynamics
  • Low momentum
  • Lack of high level insight

Ultimately, Management is About Balance

So, why are a lot of teams ditching top down? Because many industries are fast paced and ever evolving, there is a greater desire for flexibility and productive teamwork today. One of the biggest keys to success in management is to invest in people as much as you do your process. Make sure to create opportunities for communication between different teams and levels of management, this will allow people to build better relationships. For every team, remember that management styles are a spectrum, and not black and white. There will be a certain level of both styles that will work best for your team, so remember that maintaining balance is the most important thing about management.