Advice from Spill's therapists
Embrace failureUnderstand the give and take Make gradual changesRelated resources
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Avoiding micromanaging to build trust and confidence

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees looking for advice about managing others.

How can I avoid micromanaging my team? They feel a lack of trust and confidence from me, and I want that to change.

Our first therapist suggests...

Embrace failure

Start by reflecting on why it is that you feel the need to be in control of everything.

Is it that you don’t trust your team to do their work effectively? Do you feel anxious about your own position and feel a need to make sure nothing bad happens under your responsibility?

Recognise that micromanagement means that nobody wins.

Your team will feel demotivated and frustrated, you will not have the capacity to think more strategically, and your business will suffer because nobody in your area will be working to their potential.

The anxiety you feel at letting can only be reduced by letting go, as paradoxical as it sounds.

Instead of managing tasks, be crystal clear about expected outcomes and manage to those. If you are less concerned about the route to an output you will not have to spend so much time examining it.

Give your team more responsibility and deal with the discomfort that it will inevitably bring you. Once you realise that your people are more than capable of rising to the challenges you set (they will be determined to show you that you can trust them) you will start to wonder why you worried so much in the first place.

Start to shift your view of failure. I know this is easier to say than do, but if you can embrace failure as nothing more than a stop on the route to success you will help your people become more creative and innovative which will, in turn, make you into a much better and more respected leader.

Talk to your team about how they would like to be managed. It is clear that what you’re doing now is frustrating them so ask them for their ideal scenario.

Look at your own priorities and set yourself some strategic targets that will take your time and attention so that you have less bandwidth to get involved in the details of the team work.

Finally, think about doing some work with a therapist about your need to be in control. It might well be that you will learn some important things about yourself that help you first understand why you have a tendency to micromanage, and therefore give you a greater chance of controlling it.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Understand the give and take

It’s great you’re aware that you are micromanaging and understand why this needs to change. There is either a lack of trust or a need for control. Is there an unconscious demand for things going how you want them to as opposed to standing back and trusting others or the process?

Being involved is wonderful, but don’t get ‘supporting’ mixed up with ‘fixing’ (doing things for others instead of letting them do it). This disempowers them and means they won’t learn so the cycle will never change. It will also leave you feeling utterly helpless if you think you can control everything (and possibly everyone) around you. It’s not OK to ‘play god’ with other people; we can only control our own actions at the end of the day, not those of others. Control the controllable.

We ALL operate in different ways and from different user manuals. Expecting others to see the world and approach the world in the same way we do is a little naïve. Be curious – understand how a team member works in order to get the best out of them. Also explore your own ‘User Manual’ (with a friend, partner or Spill therapist) – what do you struggle with, are you able to delegate, can you manage uncertainty? Share how you work with your team.

You may be getting involved in areas you don’t need to (micro-management) due to the lack of confidence you feel you get from the team so you are overcompensating with over-involvement. Allow yourself to step back and, at the same time, get what you need to feel more confident and trusting (perhaps explore this with a Spill therapist or a line manager? It may just be some simple training or reassurance).

If Covid taught us anything, it’s that the world is unpredictable and the unexpected happens…but that we cope and the world keeps turning. Living with uncertainty is part of the human experience so we need to befriend it. Fear can take hold and tell us everything that is unknown is unsafe however this may not always be true. You won’t know all the risks and you can’t make everything certain but you can adapt.Frustration will occur when we feel helpless or uncertain. Not everything will play out the way you imagined it or you want it to. However, sometimes people DO need more training, information or support. Part of being a team member is understanding the give and take; the adaptability of attending to what’s important and leaving other areas, supporting colleagues and trusting them to do a job in the way they see fit. Control the controllable, be able to step back from the rest. A healthy mindset is an adaptable and understanding one.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Make gradual changes

Thanks for your question on micromanaging. You would like to trust your team more. Micro-managing often occurs due to anxiety and difficulties letting go.

It might help to:

  • Acknowledge the disadvantages of micromanaging for your team. I remember working in a team where the manager had some great qualities but was a micromanager. It negatively impacted my confidence and self-esteem. It also created a sense of competitiveness that was unpleasant because people felt opportunities for growth were scarce. When a manager doesn’t trust a team, mistrust can spread like wildfire and it can mean people feel limited and frustrated at work.
  • Acknowledge the negative impact to yourself which may be things like over-working, stress, and difficulties in relationships.
  • Behavioural change does not happen overnight. Expect setbacks and mistakes when it comes to avoiding micro-managing and don’t beat yourself up if you have a lapse. Just know this is not the end and you can start again tomorrow.
  • Make changes at a gradual pace so you can build trust in your team. If mistakes occur, focus on what can be learned rather than believing you were right that the team could not be trusted.
  • Become aware of your micro-managing behaviours. These may include things like asking to be copied into all emails, expecting things to always be done your way, spending excessive time on small details, hoarding information or opportunities, and expressing dissatisfaction regularly to team members.
  • Challenge thoughts related to the behaviours. As an example, you may tell yourself you need to be copied into all emails so you can deal with any problems that come up. Another way of thinking about this would be, ‘I don’t need to be accountable for everything. My team is responsible for their own work tasks and can ask for help if needed'.
  • Get confidential feedback from your team on how you are performing as a manager.
  • Get clear about what work you need to be involved in and what work you don’t. It may help to look at job specifications. Any tasks that you do that are outside your remit should be delegated to someone else who is trained to do them.
  • Understand your work environment, the skills of your team members and invest in the development of your team. This will help you make better decisions and feel more reassured about them. Have check-ins with team members and keep an open-door policy so you can communicate effectively with them.
  • Find ways to relax such as meditation, exercise, listening to music, massage, and getting out in nature.
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