Freedom and Authority in a Democratic Team

All over the world, companies have been challenged by the pandemic to adapt and find new ways of working. Flexible structures and “flatarchies” have emerged to support rapid response and decision-making. Remote work has kept businesses operational and many will stay with at least a partial work-from-home structure even after the pandemic has passed. Overall, these are positive changes to come out of the crisis. But leaders still need a clear strategy for managing the delicate balance between freedom and authority in the post-pandemic era.  

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, thinkers have pondered the relationship between freedom and authority. Authority is an invasion of freedom and freedom is an erosion of authority. In modern business, we often see the pendulum swing back and forth between the two. But neither is a solution on its own. We need to maximize the upside and minimize the downside of each. 

When employees have the freedom to do their work without someone looking over their shoulder, it increases trust and fosters autonomy. 

When leaders use their authority to define outcomes and boundaries, the team can align around a clear direction and move quickly into action.  

When employees have the freedom to provide input on projects and utilize their strengths, it increases motivation and productivity. 

When leaders use their authority to resolve conflicts and solve problems, it ensures quick resolutions and continued progress for the team.  

But when there’s too much freedom, everyone does what they want, no one is in charge, and energy is undirected. When there’s too much authority, creativity is stifled, people become demotivated, and business growth can stall.  

Freedom and authority can co-exist in a democratic team just as they do in a political system. It’s up to you to decide how you’ll manage them in your vision of a perfect union.