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Office Designs for 3 Popular Leadership Styles

Strong leadership is vital to any successful office, but not one style of leadership works for every company, or even every department within a company.  One of the biggest challenges managers face is finding and developing the best leadership style to motivate their employees to complete work on time and to company standards.

Just as leadership style needs to be adjusted for the unique needs of a department, office design should be adjusted to accommodate these leadership styles.  Here are just a few ways you can adjust your department’s office design to match your leadership style.

Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

 Laissez-Faire Leadership Style

The laissez-faire leadership style is one of the most laid-back styles a manager can implement.  This style delegates most of the responsibility for completing quality work to individual employees, with little supervision and interference from the manager.  It is one of the most difficult management styles to perform successfully, and requires the greatest amount of trust of any leadership style. In the right environment, however, the laissez-faire leadership style can be very effective.

When your department or company is made up of highly trained individuals whose job functions don’t require a lot of teamwork or supervision, the laissez-faire leadership style could be the ideal management style.  This style of leadership also works well in creative departments where the primary goal is to develop concepts and designs to be used by other departments.

An office that embraces the laissez-faire leadership style should have options for employees to work in the ways that best suit them.  Cubicles give employees a sense of privacy and independence, which are important features of a laissez-faire work environment.  You might want to consider arranging cubicles to create nooks where you can place work tables and comfortable chairs for those who might feel more comfortable working in the company of others.  Laptops will allow employees to move easily between their cubicle and the public work spaces, whether they need quiet and concentration or inspiration and support from teammates.

A laissez-faire manager’s office should be accessible, but not central, to the offices of their employees.  This placement will communicate that employees can approach the manager for guidance if needed, but that the manager is not there to monitor their every move.  A glass-walled cubicle can help give the impression that the manager is accessible, but hands-off rather than distant.

Authoritarian Leadership Style

Autocratic Leadership Style

On the other end of the spectrum from laissez-faire leadership, you’ll find the authoritarian leadership style.  Authoritarian managers have full control over the decisions in their department and are solely responsible for guiding and encouraging their employees to work toward business goals.  While this management style is sometimes seen as in a negative light, it has survived in many organizations for the simple reason that it is highly effective in the right setting.

Because only one person has clear control of the reins of the organization, the authoritarian leadership style is efficient and well suited to deadline-driven environments that require quick turnaround more than innovative thinking.  It is best suited to departments that have already developed a tried and true system of performance.

The authoritarian style does have some drawbacks that need to be addressed.  It can be difficult to keep morale high when employees feel as though they have little agency in decisions, and it can damage transparent communication in the workplace if the manager seems unwilling to receive input or uses their position to intimidate.

A good office design can address some of the weaknesses of the authoritarian leadership style while playing to its strengths.  While employees operating under this style may not need the quiet privacy of a full cubicle to complete assigned tasks, it’s a good idea to offer them some semblance of personal space in your office design.  The Steelcase Elective Element open space office system reflects the efficiency of the authoritarian leadership style while still giving employees some privacy and control over their work space.  The fabric panels are easy to personalize with decorations and are tall enough to avoid distraction or the sensation of being constantly watched by management.  Giving employees even a small amount of choice in their work space will help give them the feeling of control that is often missing under this leadership style.

The manager of an authoritarian department should have an office in a central location on the department floor.  Glass walls can be useful to this style of manager, too.  By remaining visible and accessible to employees, the manager can communicate openness and accountability to their employees.  Transparent walls can also help managers avoid the impression of being totalitarian rulers.  It’s also important to create a place that makes it easy for employees to offer suggestions and input, with the option of anonymity.  It’s more important under the authoritarian style than under any other style to create an environment that communicates trust and transparency in order to help employees feel valued in the department.

Democratic Leadership Style

Democratic Leadership Style

The democratic leadership style encourages a much stronger connection between employees and their manager than either the laissez-faire or authoritarian styles.  Sometimes called the “participative style,” this approach to management is highly inclusive of employee input.  Like the laissez-faire style, democratic leadership requires highly trained and skilled employees, as they will have more responsibility and independence than those in an authoritarian system.

The departments that work best under democratic leadership are those that hire experts who work independently, but whose responsibilities directly affect each other’s work.  IT departments and software developing teams are good examples of departments that are suited to the democratic style.

The democratic style of leadership requires a strong and personable manager to be successful. Great communication is a key factor of the democratic style, and meetings are very common.  The best democratic managers will create trust-based relationships that make employees feel valued and more committed to their work.

The office design for a democratic style department should make it very easy to communicate and collaborate.  This is a good opportunity to use open-plan systems that let teams have small meetings throughout the week.  It’s also a good idea to include comfortable conference rooms for longer or larger meetings.

There are a few ways of handling a democratic office design.  The WorkWall Team Open Plan System is a great solution if the department is divided into small teams of two or four people.  The panels offer some privacy and make it easier to concentrate on work, but the team can easily spin around to talk to each other.  You can also give them the option to meet at a central table for informal meetings and problem solving sessions.  This will keep your conference rooms from getting booked too often.

Larger teams can benefit from modular pods, which can be arranged in several shapes to fit both the teams and available office space.  The panels offer some privacy, but are low enough that team members can stand up to ask quick questions and talk to each other.

To encourage communication, it might be a good idea to avoid a closed manager’s office unless their responsibilities include client calls and meetings that need quiet and privacy.  A U-shaped desk in an central location can keep a democratic style manager connected to the employees.

Conference rooms will also be important to the success of a democratic style workplace.  Privacy wall systems can create conference rooms in any size you need to handle big meetings and brainstorming sessions.

What leadership style have you found to be most effective in your department?  Let us know in the comments or on our Facebook page!
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