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Sophia Lee, author

Sophia Lee

Writer, Culture Amp

Not too long ago, management was a strictly top-down role to oversee employees' work. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. We can now observe a diverse array of management styles across organizations. While each company's culture differs, certain management styles may be more effective.

In a previous article, Culture Amp identified the "11 essential traits of great managers" based on conversations with our customers and academic and practitioner research reviews. Those traits include:

  • Caring
  • Coaching
  • Communicating
  • Development
  • Emotionally resilient
  • Fair treatment
  • Fostering innovation
  • Overall manager effectiveness
  • Results-oriented
  • Technical capability
  • Vision and goal setting

Based on these factors, we picked three management styles that we believe will best surfacing these desired traits in managers:

  1. Democratic management style
  2. Affiliative management style
  3. Laissez-Faire Management Style

Below, we share an overview of three effective management styles and the pros and cons of each one.

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Style #1: Democratic management style

As the name suggests, a democratic management style is one where managers collect the input of their employees to make decisions. While the purpose is to build consensus among stakeholders, the manager ultimately makes the final call. This management style fulfills the essential traits of communicating well, giving fair treatment, and being results-oriented.


  • Secures team buy-in. With strictly top-down management styles, decisions are made in silos by an individual or the leadership team, which can be frustrating for employees who don't get enough context. The democratic management style is more transparent because it ensures that employees have a role throughout the process, which will ultimately help the whole team get aligned with or – at the very least – understand how a decision was reached.
  • Provides valuable insight to the manager. This style is highly beneficial for the manager, too. Collecting feedback gives leaders insight into employee sentiment, common pain points, and more. A democratic management style also welcomes a diversity of opinions so that everyone at the company has a voice.


  • Slows down the decision-making process. One of the downsides to the democratic management style is that it can significantly slow down any decision-making process since collecting, reviewing, and consolidating the feedback of multiple employees takes time. This can be a limiting factor for fast-paced companies.
  • Introduces potential conflict with minority opinions. While there are benefits to making majority-based decisions, that also means there will always be a group of employees who are in the minority and don’t agree with the outcome. These employees may feel disgruntled or less valued because their opinions were heard but not acted on.

Style #2: Affiliative management style

The affiliative management style is people-focused and all about creating harmonious workplace relationships – whether between the manager and the employees or amongst team members. This management style fulfills the essential traits of caring, coaching, communicating, and development.


  • Creates strong bonds. This management style is all about putting people first. The manager’s role is to nurture strong relationships, ultimately leading to smoother conflict resolution, high employee self-esteem, and improved teamwork. An important aspect of the affiliative management style is the focus on the employee's personal development – this style is great for managers who want to mentor their teams. A great tool for managers to build this rapport with their employees is to ask meaningful questions during one-on-one meetings.
  • Boosts morale. As mentioned above, the affiliative management style is great for raising employee confidence and happiness levels. It can also boost morale, especially when companies go through tough transitions such as layoffs, office moves, or acquisitions. It’s an effective way to let employees know they’re still cared for, and their needs are heard during tumultuous changes.


  • Decreased performance. While not always the case, there tends to be less emphasis on high performance and output with the affiliative management style, given its focus on relationship building. This can sometimes lead to complacency among employees, which can go unchecked out of fear that criticism will bring down morale or taint existing relationships.
  • Isolates top performers. There may be high performers who excel under an affiliative management style. However, it can be demotivating for these high achievers not to receive special recognition for their hard work since the emphasis is mainly relationship-oriented instead of results-oriented.

Style #3: Laissez-Faire Management Style

The laissez-faire management style is hands-off and involves minimal interference from leadership. Instead, employees are trusted to handle most of the decision-making, problem-solving, and work with very minimal oversight from managers. This management style fulfills the essential traits of fostering innovation, effectiveness, and technical capability.


  • Gives employees a high level of autonomy. This style tends to be adopted by teams who have highly skilled employees who are experts at what they do. Such employees appreciate being given the space to create processes, communicate, and make decisions in ways that will maximize their output. It also helps employees also feel like they’re trusted by their managers. Providing this freedom can lead to spectacular results, such as increased innovation, creativity, and productivity.
  • Effective for organizations with flat structures. More companies are adopting decentralized structures. The laissez-faire management style is a great fit for organizations heading in this direction since it also advocates a less hierarchical and rigid format for work.


  • Introduces high risk. The success of this management style relies on having a group of self-motivated and competent individuals. This means that one bad apple can shatter the autonomy that’s granted to employees, which can be fairly risky – especially for teams that are hiring and growing rapidly.
  • Loss of direction and clarity. Due to the lack of structured oversight, teams may easily lose their way and not move forward with their goals in a unified manner. Since many employees work in silos with the laissez-faire management style, there may also be a breakdown in cross-team communication, which can confuse roles and responsibilities.

It’s important to note that most managers don’t stick to a single style throughout their careers – the best managers are flexible and adapt to whatever will bring out the best in their employees.

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