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Are you micromanaging your team? Here’s why and how to stop it

By micromanaging, you’re trading your short-term anxiety for long-term trouble. Here’s how to get back on track.

Are you micromanaging your team? Here’s why and how to stop it
[Source photo: MdubluV/iStock]
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When you have people reporting to you, you have to rely on the completing their tasks accurately and on-time. Your success now depends on the ability of your team to complete its goals—and that means that your career is now in the hands of others. That can create anxiety, which can lead you to become one of the most dreaded sorts of bosses: the micromanager.

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To be clear, you’re micromanaging your team when you check in with your direct reports once a day or more to find out what they’re working on, how they’re progressing, and to make specific suggestions about exactly how to do what they’re doing. This behavior saps morale, creates frustration, and makes your team even more reliant on your input—all of which makes it harder for them to accomplish their goals.

If you find yourself micromanaging, you probably lack confidence in their ability to complete their work. You need to dig into where that lack of confidence has come from and then work to overcome it. Only then can you be a more effective manager.

Your team’s training and ability

Your lack of confidence may not be misplaced. If you inherited a team when you moved into your role, it is possible that you don’t have the right people doing the right jobs. It is important that you give people on your team an opportunity to try the tasks they are supposed to complete before you step in.

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To make sure that an error by a team member doesn’t create a huge problem, assign key tasks early enough that you can catch and fix a significant problem before it derails a key goal. That extra time will allow you to assess whether a team member is capable of performing the task they were given and assign it to someone else if they fail.

When you find that one of your reports consistently has trouble completing tasks, you need to set up a development plan with them. Lay out your expectations for what they should be able to do, and discuss frankly where they feel their performance fell off.

Often, team members need more training than they admit to at first. We value self-sufficiency in the workplace, and so many of the people working for you will hide some of their weaknesses and limitations. You’ll need to work with them to determine the kind of training they will need to improve.

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As you train your team, two things will happen. First, you’ll identify those employees who continue to struggle despite the work you’re putting in to teach them. These individuals are the ones you need to help find a position better-suited to their abilities. Second, you’ll gain confidence in those employees who do improve with training, and that will help you to trust that they will get their assigned work done.

Your team’s capacity

Even if your team has the right people doing the right jobs, you may have more work to complete than the team can reasonably be expected to finish. Many organizations try to keep their staffing as lean as possible to reduce expenses. In addition, a number of people have left their jobs as part of the Great Resignation.

With this reduced staffing, you may not have enough team members to be able to complete all the jobs that need to get done. There are two big things you need to do in this situation.

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First, work with your team to establish reasonable priorities. Get your reports to focus on the most important tasks and to leave others for when they have more time. That way, you don’t have one member of your team waiting for tasks to be completed by someone else.

Second, you’ll have to manage upward. Make sure that you keep your own supervisor apprised of the status of your staffing. Try to get permission to hire some new people. Worst-case, work with your supervisor to establish key priorities so that tasks your team will not be able to complete can be taken on by someone else.

Your team’s habits

If you have been a micromanager for a while, then you have influenced the habits of your team members. For one thing, they may now be reluctant to start anything without checking with you for fear that you will want things done a different way. For another, the team has probably gotten used to asking you for guidance and waiting for your response before getting to work.

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You need to be explicit that you are working on micromanaging less. You should actually call yourself out for it. (It isn’t like your reports will be unaware of your tendencies, so at least now they’ll know you are aware of it, too.) Tell them that they need to take responsibility to move forward with key tasks and that if you question the way they’re doing things, they should remind you that you asked them to take initiative.

Your own anxiety

One reason why you micromanage is that you are anxious about how you’re going to be evaluated. When you give a task to your team members to do, you have lost control over how the work gets carried out. It is natural to want to reassert your control in order to feel better about how tasks are progressing.

By micromanaging, you’re trading your short-term anxiety for long-term trouble. A team that is micromanaged will not perform as well as a well-trained and well-staffed team that can use its expertise to get things done.

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To reduce your anxiety, you need to start thinking about your team as an extension of yourself. That is, you need to become as well acquainted with the skills and personalities of your team members as you are of your own. Just as you have learned to trust your own skills to help you achieve your goals, you have to work to ensure that you can trust the work of your team.

Supervise. Check over the work of the team. But let them complete tasks, rather than intervening. Teach rather than doing things for yourself. Bring members of your team with you to key meetings to observe so that they learn not just how jobs are done, but why.

Over time, your anxiety about your team should subside. If it doesn’t look for people in your organization who are good managers. Ask for help. Learn from them how to engage with your team more effectively. The sooner you can learn to stop micromanaging, the more likely you will be to advance to a more significant leadership post.