Advice from Spill's therapists
Encourage people to find their own solutionsDevelop an adaptable and understanding mindsetRelated resources
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Supporting staff without micro-managing

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

How do I give my staff the right amount of support and parameters without micro-managing them? At least once a day I'm stressed by someone not understanding what's expected of them, or asking me for a lot of hand-holding to do their job, and I don't know how to delegate more until I can trust them. Do you have any tips?

Our first therapist suggests...

Encourage people to find their own solutions

You need to give them more trust before you can expect them to live up to the trust you have given.

It sounds as if part of the issue is that your team have come to rely too heavily on you which can create a perpetuating cycle in which they doubt their ability and ask you for help, you offer your help, and they are never able to develop the skills and confidence required to start solving their own problems.

When someone comes to you for help stop short of offering suggestions and instead ask them what they think they should do to address the problem.

Encourage your people to find their own solutions and make it clear to them that you don’t expect perfection.

They will make mistakes on the way to their successes but if you can create an environment in which they recognise a mistake is an inevitable stage on route to completing something well they will begin to grow and thrive under your leadership.

People ask for step by step hand holding when they are fearful of getting something wrong so it might be worth asking them how they feel about making mistakes. If you find that they are trying to avoid them at all costs it isn’t surprising that they are asking you to do all their work for them.

Make it clear to your team what you want them to achieve and offer guidance where required but resist the temptation to get too involved in the “how” because that will always vary  between people.

Have regular reviews, especially where complex tasks are involved, and encourage them to create their own action plans. Step in only when you see something clearly moving in the wrong direction and even then try to get them to identify the potential problem without spelling it out.

If your people learn that you won’t keep giving them the answers they will start to work them out for themselves and they will be more effective and motivated as a result.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Develop an adaptable and understanding mindset

Delegation can be hard if the trust isn’t there; you don’t have faith in the person and believe it will go wrong or not be done as you’d like. Another reason can be our own need for control — an unconscious demand for things going exactly how you want them. So this could be more support needed for the staff, or less demand for control from yourself, or a combination?

With regards to lack of trust, could your team benefit from some more input? If you believe they are unable to complete a task effectively, what do they need to help them? I would suggest an open and safe conversation between you and the staff expressing your experience of the process and hearing theirs. Look at the process; where is it working well and where does it need a review? They may well be confused by the communication received and so the channels of communication may need adjusting (using manuals, visuals, etc). They may not be receiving information in the way you think, so adapting the styles of communication may help. They may not have the skills to do what’s expected so perhaps some training or mentoring could be helpful. Don’t assume that they are experiencing the process in the same way you are.

With regards to control, 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 the others 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 therapist) – what do you struggle with, are you able to delegate, can you manage uncertainty? Share how you work with your team. If you feel stressed by someone not doing “what’s expected”, I would explore this a little more (with a safe other such as a therapist/manager/partner); it may shed light on what expectations you have about others and how realistic these are. Create an open and safe foundation where staff can flag up when they’re struggling and ask for help.

Stress can 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 leader is understanding the give and take, and learning about what you don’t know in yourself as well as others. Increase your adaptability, trusting them to do a job in the way they may see fit or supporting colleagues to help them do it in the way you need. Don’t assume, keep checking. A healthy mindset is an adaptable and understanding one.

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Our third therapist suggests...


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