Avoid Micromanaging Your Team With This Approach

A hands-off management style will allow you to build a more effective team with less overhead. These four principles will help you to get there.
Headshot of author Paul Rowe
Paul Rowe
Expert Columnist
November 18, 2021
Headshot of author Paul Rowe
Paul Rowe
Expert Columnist
November 18, 2021

As a manager, you need to keep a finger on the pulse of everything going on with your team so that you can step in to pick up slack or raise a red flag when things are going wrong.

Nobody likes a micromanager, though. This style communicates that the manager doesn’t trust the team, doesn’t believe that individuals are smart enough to make their own choices, and that they don’t produce enough even at their best. Micromanagement breeds contempt among your team, which fosters a higher likelihood of their delivering more slowly or reluctantly. Working this way also takes a ton of your time, which could be better spent on higher-level strategy.

So, how do you balance the requirement to monitor delivery with keeping your team happy? 

My personal management style, which takes a very hands-off approach, prizes trust and support. I don’t know if we’re the world’s greatest dev team, but I can tell you we’re always happy and excited to work, and our clients are always impressed with the speed and quality of our deliveries. We rapidly upskill new developers and elevate experienced ones. And I rarely have to step in to do any significant course correction.

To achieve this type of environment, I practice a management style composed of four fundamentals: trusting the individuals, creating simple principles to follow, protecting your team from outsiders, and always supporting them immediately.

Once it’s rolling, this approach allows the team to be largely autonomous, giving them the freedom to make implementation choices while the manager is able to focus on architecture and technical strategy.

4 Keys to Avoid Micromanagement

  1. Trust your team.
  2. Lead with simple principles.
  3. Protect your team from outsiders.
  4. Drop everything to help.

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1. Trust Your Team 

People enjoy their work when they’re left to do things their own way. Staying out of their way allows them comfort and freedom and generally results in faster, better delivery. It’s very easy to spot when people start abusing this trust — a sudden lack of transparency or drop in performance is an easy indicator to watch for — so don’t worry about micromanaging.

By letting your team members solve problems in their own ways, you expose them to higher-level concepts. They start asking, “How does my implementation affect the rest of the application, and is there a better way?” Let them quality-check each other, make and learn from their own mistakes, and improve organically. In my experience, teams learn best when they actually see a problem occur, not when they’re told about the potential problem. 

Keep in mind that solving problems is also personally rewarding and the heart of our work as developers. Shielding your team from mistakes isn’t going to do them any favors. In fact, it may actually make them afraid to take risks and explore new options and ultimately breed a harmful fear of failure.

 

2. Lead With Simple Principles

A manager shouldn’t hold power but rather empower. When you create simple guidelines and principles to follow, your team can use these to make most of their own decisions autonomously without your input. Encourage the team to pair up among themselves to resolve an issue. They’ll assist each other in decision-making based on these principles and develop a common understanding of how problems are resolved.  During code reviews, you’ll be able to clean up and highlight anything that they may have missed. 

Anything that falls outside of established principles can be escalated to you, but this practice greatly reduces bottlenecks reliant on your intervention. The book Extreme Ownership stresses this same principle. The author draws on his experience as a Navy SEAL to illustrate that soldiers need to be able to make fast decisions that align with the overall mission in the midst of extreme chaos. His doctrine is that simple and clear directives enable strong, autonomous decisions.

Giving your team this freedom may be a bit rocky at first. People are used to getting orders about what to do and how to do it.  For example, in a more rigid environment, you might say, “You will use X technology to solve Y problem, and you will use Z pattern.”  Although your directive may be a correct approach, you’ve removed all ability to make decisions from that developer. Worse, this management style requires a ton of involvement from the manager to ensure that everyone is following the orders closely. 

Conversely, when you allow your teams to make decisions based on their own findings (and maybe some of your light guidance), you train them to think at a higher level. Eventually, this level of empowerment becomes natural. One day something clicks, and you realize how effectively your team is able to support themselves without your intervention.

 

3. Protect Your Team From Outsiders

The idea that a manager trusts their team so deeply is a pretty foreign concept to most project managers and business-level stakeholders, and they’ll try to insert themselves into the culture you’re building to “speed things up” or “get their hands dirty.” This interference is bad because it violates the first principle, though. 

Keep outsiders out of your process, and keep your team’s culture as pure as possible. The easiest way to do this is to continually celebrate the wins of your team to illustrate how effective this culture is. On the other hand, be transparent when things don’t go as planned and highlight what the team has learned as a result of this culture of shared responsibility.

If you’re already running into an overly involved stakeholder, you can also mitigate their meddling by continually celebrating your team. Senior leadership is less likely to interrupt a successful process, and recognizing your team’s accomplishments loudly will ensure that they’re aware of your team’s culture. Make sure that you credit the individuals on the team as well — don’t pretend their work was your accomplishment.

 

4. Drop Everything to Help

Principle-driven autonomy isn’t going to do all the work, though. You don’t just get to sit back and do nothing now. Your role as a manager has just changed. You still need to have eyes on the details. You’ll occasionally need to drag something across the finish line. Technical problems will arise. Junior members and new teammates will need hand-holding. And you’ll always have the duty of mentoring those around you. 

So, when these problems come up, drop everything and be the go-to, reliable resource for your team. Get excited about fixing the problem with your teammate, celebrate that you resolved it together, and, most importantly, applaud that they sought out help when they hit a wall. Every shared challenge is also a shared learning experience and gives you insight into the problems your team is facing.

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Hands Off Is the Way to Go

In summary, the whole idea of this management style is that our role is not to retain power over our team, but to create more managers and experts. Back in my football days, we used to say, “A good captain trains their team to a performance level where the captain might not even make the team anymore.” If you can upskill your team like this and make it a fun experience, you’re proving that you’re the exact kind of manager that every team needs.

At Method, we design, strategize, and build all types of software for our clients. Beyond just delivering a quality product, our duty is to teach our clients practices to leave them stronger as an organization. This management strategy often has positive ripple effects throughout our client organizations, and helps them shape the future of their teams.

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