How To Stop Micromanaging Your Team
Theodore Roosevelt once observed: “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
Today, micromanagement is perhaps one of the biggest culprits when it comes to hindering productivity in organizations, whether it be a start-up or a large corporate. Too many managers are under the impression that managing a team effectively is the same as micromanaging them.
Research by workforce education and development experts shows that while there are certain short-term situations where micromanagement may be beneficial, such as while training new team members, providing guidance to an underperforming employee, or tackling high-risk situations, long-term micromanagement can have negative and expensive outcomes for organizations.
Pearl Zhu, a corporate global executive and author of over two dozen books on tech and business, encapsulates it as: “The result of ‘micromanagement’ is perhaps tangible in the short run, but more often causes damage for the long term. ”It can be easy to fall into a pattern of micromanaging one’s subordinates, and confusing to get out of it once you realize what you are doing. So how can you identify the problem and remedy it?
What micromanagement is, and why people do it
Simply put, a micromanager is someone who involves themselves excessively in their team members’ day-to-day activities, oversees them more than required, and limits others’ autonomy and creativity.
There are a variety of reasons why managers micromanage their teams:
A manager may feel unable to let go of their old job once they get promoted, and therefore turn into a micromanager. “Often, micromanagers feel the need to see everything and approve everything because they haven’t let go of their old role or worked out what they could be doing instead,” explains Della Judd, a former Director at Deloitte who now coaches business leaders on how to manage hybrid teams.
Judd points out that helping to build trust is crucial if one is to avoid micromanaging behavior. She goes on to explain how she helps her clients do this with their teams by asking them to put themselves in their team members’ shoes. “I ask them how they would feel if their boss did that to them right now. Often, they would reply that they would feel demotivated, untrusted. It helps for them to see how their own behavior could be perceived by others.”
They may also have issues relinquishing control. “Often, people who are controlling are worried about what will happen if they don’t get involved with everything,” says Judd.
Signs that a team is being micromanaged
There are several telltale signs that indicate when a team is being micromanaged, including:
Low levels of delegation
Micromanagers typically believe that if they want something done right, they either have to do it themselves, or ensure that the person assigned to do it handles the situation the same way they would. This results in lower levels of delegation.
The manager is focused on the small details rather than the big picture
Ideally, a manager should be focused on leading their team toward accomplishing larger goals, while team members focus on smaller day-to-day goals in order to make this happen. However, micromanagers tend to get so caught up in controlling the little, everyday details, that they often lose sight of the big picture.
High levels of criticism and discouraging alternate approaches
Very often, micromanagers tend to mete out higher levels of criticism to their team members. This is especially the case when workers tend to approach an assignment in a different manner than the manager would. Anupam Sabat, Deputy Regional Business Head (South) at Treebo Hotels, urges managers to remember that everyone has their own style of working, and that as long as there is clarity on the short- and long-term goals, the “how to achieve” part should be left up to the individual.
Lack of independent decision-making and lower quality of work
When a manager doesn’t trust their team to make their own decisions, this quickly leads to team members feeling discouraged. Judd explains that when this happens, team members start to realize that someone will always check and question their work, so the quality of work actually drops.
Quality of work is not the only metric that takes a dip under the charge of a micromanager. Constant control and feedback reduces the overall efficiency of the way a team works.
An atmosphere of negativity and apathy
Even the best of teams go through rough patches, but all in all, when a team is working well together and being managed well, there is an atmosphere of camaraderie, mutual support, and dedication in the team. However, being micromanaged fosters the opposite kind of atmosphere. As Judd puts it, “a sense of ‘why bother’” sets in when team members don’t feel trusted or empowered to do their jobs.
Hesitancy to take risks
When people sense that they are constantly being observed and corrected, they are less likely to try new and different approaches. Darren Bindert, Marketing Manager at the Hubken Group, an e-learning facilitator, describes the time he experienced this when working under a micromanager at a previous job. “Because I felt that I was constantly under a microscope, I was uncomfortable, didn’t want to ‘push the envelope’ and be seen as a ‘disruptor’ or not a team player, and fed back what I felt was expected, not necessarily what was best or right,” recounts Bindert. “[This] built up a lot of resentment, lack of trust, and generally not a particularly positive work environment.”
A high turnover rate
It may be a cliché to say that people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. However, this cliché is a cliché for a reason, and that reason is that it is resoundingly true. Being micromanaged is a morale drainer—so much so that it has been ranked among the top three reasons why employees quit their jobs. A 2014 survey indicated that 68% of workers who felt micromanaged noticed a dip in their morale, and 55% said they noticed the same for their productivity. It doesn’t take much to figure out that low levels of morale and productivity can drive even the most talented workers to quit in search of better.
The negative effects of micromanagement on an organization
Lower levels of productivity
Micromanagement reduces productivity in two main ways. Firstly, it makes the members of the micromanager’s team dependent on their control and feedback, since they become used to running everything past their manager and not making independent decisions. This reduces the efficiency of the team, and by extension, their productivity. Secondly, low morale and motivation impacts employees’ productivity negatively.
Reduced growth rates
The more a manager micromanages, the less they delegate. This has a direct impact on the growth of the organization. In a survey of 143 CEOs from the 500 fastest growing companies in the US conducted by Gallup, those with high delegator talent posted an average three-year growth rate of 1,751%—a whopping 112% higher than those CEOs with low delegator talent.
After all, it’s obvious, isn’t it—as long as managers insist on controlling every little task that should ideally be taken care of by their subordinates, growing and scaling a business beyond a certain point remains impossible.
Higher recruitment and training costs in the long run
Owing to the high turnover rate it causes, micromanagement can result in the organization spending much more on recruiting and training replacements in the long run. Simply put, micromanagement is a very expensive management style!
Increased rates of burnout
Due to its fundamentally stressful and unsustainable nature, micromanagement inevitably leads to burnout on both sides of the fence—the micromanager as well as those being micromanaged. This can have adverse effects on the health of employees, which naturally does not bode well for an organization.
Just realized you’ve been micromanaging your team? Here’s how to stop
If you’ve long been used to involving yourself extensively in the day-to-day tasks of your team members, changing the way you work can be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
Here are some ways to start the process of developing a more positive and sustainable (for you as well as your team) style of management.
Reflect on why you micromanage
Have you been recently promoted from a junior position to a managerial one and are struggling with the transition? Does it stem from an insecurity that your superiors might see you in a negative light if your team doesn’t perform up to scratch? Do you overcompensate for a fear of seeming out of touch by immersing yourself in the everyday functioning of your team? Do you find it difficult to trust your team members? Understanding the reason behind your micromanagement is crucial to controlling it.
Acknowledge what you’ve been doing, and hit reset
“The best leaders are open about their own fallibility,” reminds Judd, “There is nothing wrong in saying ‘I have realized that I have been over-checking work, and now want to step back and allow you more freedom to do the job.” Judd suggests using a team meeting or natural review point like the end of the year or the start of a new one to reset ways of working.
Seek feedback from your team
It is impossible to know exactly what your team thinks of you and your management style unless you ask them! To understand the extent of the problem, it can be helpful to invite feedback. In order to encourage people to be candid, set up a way for your team to share their feedback anonymously. “[Ask] the team ‘what’s working?’ and ‘what would you like to change?’” recommends Judd. “Explain that [you] feel that you are too involved in the details and that you are looking to step back a little. Show them what you’d like to be doing in support of the team.”
Step back gradually
Be practical—if you’ve been a micromanager for a while, you’re not going to be able to change overnight. Aim for small steps to begin with and ease yourself into a more laid-back style of management. A good start might be to do a test run on a relatively low-stakes project, where you give full accountability to your team and see how things shape up.
Work on building trust with your team
Your team members are used to you not trusting them, so they may seek your approval for everything as that is what they are accustomed to. Build trust by breaking this pattern. When someone comes to you for approval on something that they could handle on their own if given the chance, communicate to them that you trust their ability to make the decision.
Along with handing the reins over to your team members, start making small, everyday changes. When your team members slowly start seeing your actions reflecting your words, this will build trust within your team and create a positive team dynamic.
Remind yourself of all the positive outcomes you can achieve by no longer micromanaging
“Often, micromanagers are overworked because they are doing the jobs of others as they check work unnecessarily,” points out Judd. By making a conscious effort to not micromanage your team, you can significantly cut down on your workload and stress. In addition, your team is likely to get more efficient, productive, and happier. It’s a win-win situation!
How to set accountability in your team without micromanaging
If you’ve read this far, you may be asking yourself, “So how do I set accountability in my team without micromanaging them?”Great question.
Start by outlining a clear vision for the team. “It’s really important to have a vision for the team so they know what they are doing, for whom, and why,” explains Judd. “They [should] know the end goal—not just in terms of stats and data, but in terms of the meaning behind the job they are doing.”
Once the vision and direction of the company are clear, outline goals and expectations for the team and individual workers. “Set clear goals and objectives for the team, and for each individual team member. Ensure that there is clarity on roles and responsibilities,” suggests Bindert. “You need to give them a chance to prove their skills by properly outlining what’s expected and why—in short, telling them what you want them to achieve, not how you expect them to do it.”
Understand how members of your team prefer to be managed, and tailor your approach accordingly .“Be upfront with individuals on your team and ask how they’d prefer to be managed,” says Bindert. “Some might prefer a bit more hand-holding, while others will value the trust and autonomy that you give them.” Tailoring your approach based on the individual may sound laborious to you off the bat, but once you get to know your team members, it will become second nature.
Decide and communicate what checkpoints the team can expect to encounter. “A good way to do this is by getting the team involved,” explains Judd. “Creating an open and honest atmosphere which encourages reporting can mean the leader can trust that when something goes wrong or is outside of the norm, they know that the team will flag things up.”
Schedule regular check-ins with the team, and make it known that you’re available. “We [at Treebo] have a daily Zoom meeting at the beginning of the day, where the agenda of the day for everyone is discussed and established,” says Sabat. “Apart from that, there’s a regular flow of conversation happening in our Slack groups. Besides, my team members are also aware that they can always directly call me for my inputs whenever they feel they’re stuck at work.” Bindert recommends using these regularly scheduled meetings to discuss progress and obstacles with your team.
By setting up these regular forums, you can set accountability without having to constantly hover and check in with individual team members on their progress.
Remember to be as approachable as possible. When team members sense that their manager is approachable, this fosters trust, and they automatically tend to be more transparent and upfront, even when things go sideways. “Fear of failure shouldn’t hold them back, nor should the fear of disappointment [prevent] them from giving me honest updates on any unfavorable updates at work,” explains Sabat.
Micromanagers often tend to function on the assumption that their way is the best way. A good manager keeps in mind that a positive work environment is collaborative in nature. “Accept that you may not have all the right or best answers,” suggests Bindert. “Be open to suggestions and someone else’s creativity.”
A positive work environment holds room for innovation and new ideas, and mistakes come with the territory. When members of your team make mistakes, respond rather than react. Instead of losing your composure and taking a drastic step like revoking their responsibilities or taking charge of the project yourself, help them understand where they went wrong and how to do better next time. This will allow your team to learn from their mistakes and improve, which not only circumvents the need for you to micromanage them but also increases their job satisfaction as they get to grow within their roles.
Ultimately, it all comes down to balance. As a manager, it is key to stay in touch with the goings-on and needs of your team without meddling too much. As long as you keep a two-way flow of communication going and regularly check in with yourself on how you’re managing your team, you’ll be fine!