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Ruling with no ruler: how to implement a bottom-up approach in your team?

Managing a team or organisation is no exact science and even if there are several ways of doing it, there is not only one right or wrong way of doing it. If you think the bottom-up approach is the best fitting one for your situation, we bring you some general guidelines that we hope can help you write your own rule book for your team to experiment and collaborate.

Image by © Elimende Inagella via Unsplash

 min read
Ruling with no ruler: how to implement a bottom-up approach in your team?

All companies, businesses, and teams need to follow a structured organisation system and each of them should choose the one that fits their situation best. Two of the most common models are the bottom-up and the top-down approaches, which revolve around the origin of strategic decisions and the direction and amount of communication.

Those two models have been widely discussed, nevertheless, the way to successfully deploy them in your company/team is not usually as thoroughly discussed. Would you like how to implement a bottom-up approach in your team or your company? You are in the right place.

Don’t let talent slip through your fingers: the bottom-up approach

We just mentioned that the definition of these models has been widely discussed, but let’s refresh what the bottom-up approach is. Mainly, this approach starts its planning and decision-making process at the operational level, before translating into the executive.

This perspective puts the spotlight on each of the employee’s knowledge and potential value, giving them the chance to share and be an active actor in the company’s strategies’ development. Contrary to the top-down model in which orders and strategies come from the management and leading layer, in the bottom-up approach employees from all layers of the organization are encouraged to share their insights.

Teams and individuals are the ones who are usually in touch either with the client or the most hands-on part of the process, an experience that will provide them with a deeper knowledge. Management positions are at a different level and are sometimes more detached from that direct experience or are simply not aware of some of the steps that could be enhanced. Giving voice to those employees and making them feel part of the decision-making process can not only be an invaluable contribution to develop the strategy, but a way to make them included and empowered.

In short, and as its name suggests, this type of management values each of its employees’ insights and uses them to shape executive decisions, rather than them coming directly from managers without having that direct perspective.



Before deploying a bottom-up approach in your team or your business, you should consider that management styles do not correspond with the one-size-fits-all philosophy, but rather with a tailored one that intends to fit your situation as perfectly as possible.

Bottom-up schemes work better on teams or organizations that can benefit from creativity and a variety of perspectives. In a model in which feedback and insights are so important, the amount of people collaborating will necessarily be smaller for optimal performance. Due to these limitations, startups and smaller companies are the perfect environment for this type of model as independence and control can dance around one another in a perfect combination which will prove beneficial. Technological or marketing environments tend to adopt this model, embracing the experimentation aspect and the freedom that can end up in innovative ideas that would not have been reached otherwise.

You will be the only one deciding if the model will help your team company, although it would be advisable to take into consideration the following limitations. A bottom-up approach can take longer than the top-down one, so if your projects are time-sensitive, you might prefer to think twice. Letting people make their own decisions can also lead to more mistakes or misalignments with the direction you wanted the activity to follow, which might create less-than-ideal situations. If you work in a field in which mistakes cannot happen, this is not the approach for you. Of course, no one would choose the chance of mistakes occurring, but they can be avoided with a good communication system and, if you want to gain all that comes with autonomous work, you will also have to accept the possibility of mistakes being part of the process.

Having a bottom-up organization does not mean that it is disorganized, but there is indeed more space for sharing and trying, something that some tasks or people will not find reassuring. Remember that deploying this model should be done carefully, so employees do not feel frustrated due to a lack of guidance. Ultimately, the manager/leader will make the choice and decide the direction taken, and it is they who will make sure that the team’s goals are aligned with the overall view of the company.

All in all, this method might be perfect for some tasks or parts of your organization, but it might not be for others. You can avoid adopting a drastic position, and you can combine these two methods, choosing one for some teams or tasks and the top-down approach for others.


What is in it to win?

Even if you need to think it through before implementing a bottom-up approach, it is a change that can support your development. One of the most obvious advantages of such a model is how your employees will perceive the team or the company and their role in it. Once they are included in the strategy and feel their opinions are heard, you will have an engaged employee, which will translate into higher productivity and a deeper feeling of belonging.

A management style focused on collaboration like this one will benefit from the employee's diversity (the more diverse the better) to solve problems or improve processes: the more perspectives the better to find the best one for each situation. Because of this, creativity is also encouraged as a way to diversify in the usual way of doing things. In the bottom-up approach, you work to create more autonomous groups that require less guidance or direct supervision. With this autonomy gain, teams will feel empowered, will have the chance to make decisions and will help you grow. Just like with a well-taken-care-of garden, they just need the right setting and care, and they will do the rest.

Not having a predesigned template of what they should do or how to do it gives people the chance to address a problem without being conditioned, tackle a task their way or demand what they need from management. You must not forget that team members are experts who know what they are doing, hence the confidence placed in them.

The bottom-up approach provides your strategy and organization with flexibility and adaptability difficult to reach from a top-down model. In an organization that allows diversions from the original plan in an organic way, testing is more accessible, and modification can be implemented smoothly. Some businesses like software providing services or other tech related can benefit from this approach.


The bottom-up approach rule book

If you are thinking about transitioning to this model or implementing it in your new team or company, you need to analyse the situation first. You cannot just flip the management pyramid and call it a day! This change is a cultural switch that will deeply affect processes and structures.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve, and then you will have a good baseline. If you are transitioning, analyse your current organizational structures and identify the weak links and improvable areas. This will help you fill the blueprint of your new model. Remember that this is a collaborative approach, so you should have a wide perspective when building it so as not to leave anyone who can potentially affect the outcome out.

The following considerations are the four pillars that will help you deploy a bottom-up approach and do it efficiently. They will help you reduce the mistake rate and avoid the most common obstacles.


Establish where the limits are

Democracy is not anarchy, so there are some rules to follow, even with a collaborative approach. Define which points are up for discussion and which ones need to be respected in order to safeguard the general path that you want to follow. There are a thousand ways to reach your goal, but in the end, you need to arrive!


Communication is key

Create an environment in which speaking your mind is welcomed and encouraged. This model nourishes people’s will to share individual insights, so if there are barriers to sharing, it will never work. Rejecting ideas is also a sensitive topic, which makes mutual respect and objectivity essential. Some practices that can secure communication flow are:

  • Be available for discussions,
  • Allocate places (digitally or in person) for pooling ideas, perspectives, initiatives…
  • Set regular checkpoints to keep everyone informed and with a wide perspective of activity.
  • Create surveys to have in-depth knowledge of your team’s feedback.


Engage employees

Make employees/team members aware of their value and the role they play in the company. Show them the importance they have within the group and the real impact they have, as well as the value as an expert and a person they have. Someone who feels seen and whose job is appreciated will be inclined to commit to the team and perform even better. A healthy work environment paired with personal fulfilment can have an outstanding effect on someone’s performance.

To do so you can create recognition programmes however you see fit to highlight your employees’ work, it can translate from material benefits to a regular recognition of their contributions.


Train your teams for decision-making and autonomy

You cannot expect people to run when they do not know how to walk. Making decisions and thinking according to a bigger strategy can be rained and is not necessarily a skill everyone has. If you want your team to act as useful collaborators that will boost your performance, you need to teach them about the strategic and managerial perspective of the activity. Once they gain it, their feedback will be better and more targeted towards your goal.

This training is especially relevant for managers, to find the right balance between freedom and leading. More than a firm hand that leads the way, you might want to be the gentle touch guiding others, so they do not go astray. You can create training courses given by internal or external agents to teach people the required skills, like critical thinking to evaluate problems and analyse choices, how to discuss a topic objectively and constructively for the best collaborative experience while minimizing mistakes and other technical skills that might be needed.


The last step, just like with the previous analysis, is the close following after the implementation. After changing and starting to work in a completely different way, you should check that everything is working well. This model can help you, but it can also create problems if it derails because of poor implementation. While you are in the early stages of deployment, you should keep track of the problems, the successes, and the improvement points. Readjustment will most likely be necessary, and it will continue to be so, as with any other system. The longer you work with this model, the less monitoring you will have to do, however, it will never be zero.



The bottom-up approach can help you and your team reach a new level and benefit from each and every individual’s experience. Make sure that this model is a fit for your business, your employees, or your team members before deploying it and, if it is, follow our advice and readjust until it works as you envisioned. You will need some preparation, a welcoming environment, plenty of communication and a close following to make sure it is well implemented, but it will enrich your processes immensely.

Each company has their way of conducting business and managing teams, one they found through experience. If you want to know how we do it at Ekkiden and what motivates us, we invite you to check our career page.