The intervening manager

What’s your role as a manager? The cheeky (and fairly useless) one-word answer would be: to manage. But what does that mean? We can add some more verbs and say that your role is to…

…organise, motivate, analyse, clarify, prioritise, instruct, facilitate, feedback, encourage, reward, delegate, support, communicate, confront, problem-solve, coach, and lead.

That’s 17 more words – and no doubt you could add at least 17 more, given a few minutes – but what do they mean, what do they have in common?

They are all interventions. As a manager, you intervene.

Not in the negative sense of interfering, interrupting, intruding or just plain meddling.

In the sense that you act. That you interact with the team – sometimes all of it, sometimes some of it, sometimes with an individual team member.

The common theme is that when you manage, you participate in the team with a specific outcome in mind – be it setting objectives, delegating a project, giving feedback, imparting relevant information, challenging a situation, etc.

Let’s broaden the focus a little.

3 modes of management?

Drawing on the work of John Heron – specifically, his 1999 book The Complete Facilitator’s Handbook – we find three modes that can be applied to the manager’s role just as well as the facilitator’s (Besides, as a manager, aren’t you there to facilitate the team in achieving the team’s goals?):

  • Hierarchical

Acting hierarchically, you direct the team; you exercise your power as manager and do things for the team. You lead from the front, thinking and acting on behalf of the group. Managers in hierarchical mode decide on the objectives and the way to achieve them. They take full responsibility and are in charge of all major decisions.

  • Cooperative

Taking a more cooperative tack, the manager can share their power, guiding the team to become more self-directing. Acting cooperatively, you share your own view which may be influential but is not final. Outcomes are discussed, even negotiated. Your interventions are collaborative, and responsibility is shared.

  • Autonomous

In autonomous mode, the manager respects the team’s autonomy. The team has more freedom to find their own way, exercising their own judgement. Here, you encourage the team to self-direct.

Each mode can be appropriate, depending on the team, the circumstances, and the outcomes you collectively need to achieve.

How to ‘intervene’

The three modes are essentially three levels of authority taken by the manager. But what are the different types of action (or ‘intervention’) available to the manager? Again, John Heron’s work offers some useful categories:

  • Prescriptive – Telling the team (or individual) what’s required and how to do it. Potentially useful with inexperienced team members, or when you’re up against the clock.
  • Informative – Sharing information with others, including details of your own experience of the work. Giving people what they need to know to succeed, but not being overly-controlling about how they do so.
  • Confronting – Directly addressing a situation, often including clarity on the options available. Questioning the current approach in order to find a better way. Potentially challenging for the team or individual on the receiving end.
  • Cathartic – Encouraging the sharing of thoughts and feelings, with a degree of empathy, with the aim of clearing obstacles to progress. Good when the team is stuck and unsure how to proceed, or when seeing signs of underperformance.
  • Catalytic – Prompting consideration of new perspectives or options through self-reflection. Potentially, opening up a new route or way forward but without being dictatorial about it.
  • Supportive – Motivation and confidence-building, encouraging the team to take a next step by focusing on their strengths and achievements. Good for situations when a team or individual are feeling uncertain.


If you’re a new or aspiring manager (or more experienced but looking for a refresher), the Maximum Performance Management Development programme offers a highly practical approach to managing yourself and those around you. Places are available on the next open programme, beginning in March 2022; or you could just give us a call on 01582 463460, we’re here to help.

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