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Looking Over Your Team's Shoulders

There is nothing so demoralizing as reporting to a boss who makes every single discussion feel like a performance review, wants every trivial decision green-lighted and signed off on, and makes every comment a nitpick.

4 individuals dressed in dark suits with briefcases are approaching a taller individual in a suit with a red jacket and a magnifying glass for a head

Often, these types of managers are not intrinsically hostile or malicious. Their obsessive modus operandi is more likely rooted in insecurity and inexperience. In some cases, a micromanager may be suffering from their own isolation. Suppose they have been promoted from a hands-on, operational position to a more senior and strategic level. Uneasy in the transition, they may still cling to their former, accustomed role. They feel more comfortable supervising their teams in familiar territory.

Too much on your plate

If you have ever suspected you may be overly demanding, especially regarding minor matters, ask yourself these questions: Do you sense discomfort from your team? Is your mentorship unhealthy?

The symptoms of a micromanager are all too evident to subordinates:

  • Avoids delegating.

  • Edits and fixes mistakes themselves.

  • Demands frequent updates, status and progress reports, and revisions.

  • Obsesses over every detail and ignores the big picture.

  • Sets unrealistic deadlines.

  • Must be cc'd on everything.

  • Fixates on minor errors.

  • Rarely offers praise or recognition.

  • Likes to know employees' whereabouts at all times.

  • Watches every move and keeps tabs.

  • Monitors constantly.

Teams cringe when their manager brings ego into meetings or makes every decision personal. Their distress can increase if their boss wants all tasks executed their (boss's) own way yet fails to provide enough support or advice to direct them. It becomes a guessing game to perform when context is withheld.

While no one likes to be hounded, there are, nevertheless, times when a high-touch approach can be productive. Attention and expert guidance may be appropriate for situations like training or onboarding. Micromanagement may even be the optimal style for directing crunch projects where a steep learning curve comes into play.

When the perfect becomes the enemy of the good

Micromanagement takes a destructive toll on both managers and team members. It damages workflow, suppresses initiative, stifles motivation and impedes productivity. The constant check-ins lead to bottlenecks and the pace of the entire department slows down. Managers find themselves working longer hours and accomplishing less in the time frame — a recipe for burnout. Trust is compromised and employees' turnover rates are likely to increase.

Overinvolvement with the minutiae of teams' tasks is rarely scalable in the long run. Consider what happens as teams scale up and take on new and more complicated duties. As activities become more complex, they require a whole new level of information or even skill sets. As the business and team functions grow, at a tipping point the manager's techniques will not be able to keep pace with the pressure of the new dynamic. Trouble adapting is often palpable in startup companies that begin to expand. The founders, who might be typical micromanagers, find the developing scale overwhelming.

Micromanagement also undermines morale when every job requires specific approval. If employees have no autonomy or participation in decision making, personal development and creativity are stymied. They may resent restrictions, especially if they believe an assignment is well within their capabilities. Team members become reluctant to share opinions for fear of being shot down. Why should they risk originality?

Letting go

If you suspect you might be micromanaging, you can still take steps to rebuild trust and communication. And you'll probably need to relinquish some control, allowing your team more space to work independently.

The first move is to ask them for honest feedback. Listen carefully and be willing to implement suggestions they may offer.

Restoring trust is a long process, but it can be based on good communication. In fact, overcommunicate. Make it clear you are willing to learn alongside them, even if that means making some mistakes. Be more open to letting them explore alternatives. Tell them your expectations, give them room to work it out and only check in when they are ready to unveil the result.

FIC Human Resource Partners' Nuance Culture Academy and Nuance Workforce Solutions can help ensure that the managers working with your organization are cultivating a collaborative culture with the employees that work under them based around trust and open communication.


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