Alison Young, journalist

It’s 360 feedback time and the results are in. As always, you gain a five-star rating for your technical work, but there’s an emerging theme about your tendency to micro-manage. Your manager is clear that this needs to change. But what do you change and how?

Micro-management can show up whether you’re an individual contributor or a team leader. You may find yourself obsessively checking a team member or colleague’s work; or giving highly specific instructions about the way a task needs to be carried out; or you may catch yourself releasing only small parts of a project rather than the bigger responsibility right up front.

Often seen as overly controlling, micro-management can leave colleagues with no freedom to experiment or suggest different, potentially better, solutions. Colleagues can feel disempowered, which may lead them to be over-dependent on you. That in turn inhibits you from attending to more strategic topics where you can add more value.

You may have been promoted based on what you did before, but now you need to step back and empower others to do what you used to do

Team members may even leave because there is no opportunity to grow and develop. And over the longer term, innovation and agility will be compromised and, as a result, your promotion prospects may be severely dented, whether you’re a team leader or an individual contributor.

If you’re a team leader, check that the team structure is not a cause of your micro-management. A ‘hub and spoke’ model where you are at the hub and each team member is at the end of their respective spoke forces you to manage each person individually and risks pulling you in to their individual tasks.

Opportunity to grow

Moving to a model which resembles a jigsaw puzzle of interconnected and interdependent roles gives you the opportunity to work on cross-team themes that team members own together, and the opportunity to flex, grow and innovate. You are able to empower the team individually and collectively by stepping back, but not away.

In this set-up, you can set the tone and direction of travel, and ensure that each member knows what they need to achieve, with clear hand-offs between roles. Team members will be able to pivot and respond to changing needs without you having to sign off their every move. In turn, you’ll be able to look to the bigger picture.

As a team leader, this can feel uncomfortable. You may have the expertise to do all or most of the roles in your team – and perhaps do them better – but you have been appointed to lead the team.

Empowerment rules

Remembering the phrase: ‘What got you here is not what will get you there.’ In other words, you may have been promoted based on what you did before, but now you need to step back and empower others to do what you used to do.

Another reason why micro-management creeps in is the feeling of being out of control and a fear that the work may not be done to the right quality or deadline. You may conclude that a little micro-management is a price worth paying to mitigate potential risk to a project or client.

If these are your concerns, evaluate whether the colleague has both the skill and will to complete the task in question. Skill is simply the knowledge, experience and technical know-how, whereas will is the motivation and confidence to do this task.

Even if the colleague or team member has both skill and will for the task, it’s still crucial to agree what the end goal look will like, and when it is due for completion. Build in key milestones and points for revision or stakeholder consultation.

Timely support

To satisfy yourself that they will deliver what you need, ask the all-important question: ‘As your manager or colleague, how can I help you?’ This opens a channel for more frequent check-ins to bolster confidence on both sides.

If your colleague requires some additional help with skill or will, talk together about what they need. Where they lack skill, they may welcome some direction until they can fly solo. And where they lack will, explore together what elements of the task concern them or where they may need additional support.

Set them free

Be sure to set clear accountabilities and check-in points, but then let them own the task. Hardest of all, resist the temptation to keep looking over their shoulder. This will only serve to dent their confidence.

Finally, praise a job well done.

How to counter controlling tendencies

  • Create conditions that counteract your propensity to micro-manage.
  • Optimise your team structure to empower team members, then resist the temptation to look over their shoulders.
  • Ensure team members have both the skill and the will for their allocated tasks, and only intervene if support is needed.
  • Set clear accountabilities and check-in points.
  • Give them space to pivot – they don’t need you to sign off their every move.