Building and managing a team of employees can be a complex task. At the top of the list is deciding on the management style used to run the team. 

One of the most traditional management styles is command and control: a single leader is in charge of a group of managers, who in turn run teams of employees or junior managers, and so on. Autonomy and responsibility are minor if an individual has a lower position in the chain. 

A popular and viable alternative is the self-managed or autonomous team. These are groups of employees that share responsibility and assign roles depending on the nature of a particular task. The team might elect a temporary manager for a project, but every member has the same level of authority. 

In this article, we’ll provide the benefits and drawbacks of both styles, allowing companies to draw their own conclusions and decide the best option for themselves. 

Command and control management: The pros

1. Gives employees a strong sense of direction and purpose

Having the actions of an entire customer service department based on the vision of a single individual means that the purpose of the team is significantly clearer than it would be with a democratic process. Employees under a single leader also have a much clearer idea of the “chain of command” (i.e who to escalate problems to, and who makes decisions in the case of disputes).

Finally, decision-making is more purposeful. If one individual is given the final say, decisions can be made more quickly and efficiently. There is less uncertainty in decision-making if there’s less need to weigh the pros and cons of different viewpoints.

2. Improves oversight

Having a manager to oversee projects is essential if a customer service team has specific targets to reach, such as a specific number of closed tickets or resolved complaints. A manager can track the team’s progress and take action if something is preventing the team from reaching its targets, without being distracted by additional responsibilities.

In an autonomous team, reaching these targets is a shared responsibility, but it means there’s no particular person in charge of tracking team progress. Consequently, the team may be distracted and spread thin, as everyone has both business-as-usual jobs and managerial tasks to complete.

Having a traditional manager also ensures there’s a single figure with the authority to resolve problems and adjust the team’s direction if targets are not being met.

Command and control management: The cons

1. Relies heavily on individual managers

A US survey of over a million workers found that half of them had quit a job solely due to a bad manager or supervisor. Unsuitable managers are a particular problem because all of the positive aspects of command and control management styles depend on the person in charge being good at their job. Unfortunately, good managers are difficult to come by: the survey company Gallup estimates that 82% of managers are not fully qualified for their position.

2. Low motivation

An overwhelming 79% of workers say that they feel more engaged working autonomously than in a traditional hierarchy. This preference is likely because, in a command and control management system, employees have little opportunity to demonstrate their creativity or act independently. A lack of autonomy can lead to bored, unsatisfied employees, which means low employee retention and higher recruiting costs for companies.

Self-managed teams: The pros

1. Improved engagement

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 46% of employees say autonomy in decision-making is very important to them.

Without some level of autonomy, employees are likely to feel undervalued and unmotivated at work. Self-managed teams not only provide the opportunity for autonomy, but the opportunity for employees to move into leadership roles too.

Providing more freedom and the potential for increased responsibility can improve job satisfaction and therefore employee retention, which saves the business money.

2. More creative solutions

Self-managed teams provide an environment conducive to new ideas. A self-managed team can encourage creativity because the lack of an authoritative figure in those teams means individuals may feel less limited, or feel less of a need to adhere to established practices.

Creativity is a huge benefit in customer service, as established procedures may not always provide the best solution for every customer. If a particularly effective new method scales appropriately, it might even be rolled out to the entire organisation as well as the autonomous team.

Self-managed teams: The cons

1. Requires a high investment in skill and training

As everyone in an autonomous team has an equal responsibility to contribute to the team, they must all also be equally competent so that tasks can be completed satisfactorily. Only problem is, upskilling the entire team requires a lot of time and money..

However, companies can mitigate this problem by transferring experienced staff into the self-managed team, or using outsourcing to access skilled staff.

2.Difficult to control

Although autonomous management styles don’t require constant supervision or micromanagement, too much autonomy can be a problem.

If a self-managed team does not receive consistent oversight (on a weekly or monthly basis) they might start to stray from the larger organisation in terms of their methods or the way they establish the company’s brand identity with customers.

The advantages of employee autonomy

Autonomous teams are particularly effective in a modern working environment, where remote working has become increasingly popular following the pandemic.

One particularly strong argument for autonomy is the need for employee-first ways of working. Many companies are currently struggling with employee retention. An eye-watering 2.7% of the US workforce quit their jobs in April 2021, the highest number of resignations ever recorded.

Self-managed teams have significant benefits for employee engagement and motivation, which in turn improve retention.

However, there are also significant drawbacks to employee autonomy, so it’s important that you make your own judgement call on how you manage your team.

Choose Sigma Connected as your management experts

Here at Sigma Connected, we’re invested in the success of our clients, regardless of the operational model they might use. If you’re interested in transforming your business by changing how you manage your teams, we can help.

Partnering with Sigma means being able to access highly-trained and motivated staff without struggling through in-house training and recruitment. Click here to contact us today, and learn more about how we can help your business grow.