No one likes being micromanaged. On top of stressing your employees out and making them feel incompetent, micromanagement destroys your team’s productivity and company culture.

If you’ve ever been accused of micromanaging team members, don’t worry — there’s a way to stop doing it.

Keep on reading to learn what micromanagement is, how to recognize it, and what to do instead.

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What is micromanagement, and why does it occur?

Micromanagement is a management style that focuses on total control, even down to the smallest details. A micromanager finds it difficult to let anything go. Micromanagement is often linked to reduced team morale, low productivity, and high staff turnover rates.

They feel that their employees must complete every task exactly as instructed, and they watch closely to make sure other people carry out each instruction precisely as directed.

Managers that operate this way are usually passionate and well-intentioned. However, their fear of failure can make them more hands-on than they need to be.

Ironically, this fear of failure ultimately leads to failure.

Psychology of micromanagers

The reasons for micromanagement are often rooted in the manager’s personality and skill level. They often stem from:

  • Insecurity – A manager might feel incompetent and project these feelings onto their team members. They micromanage in an effort to get their team to respond to their authority. Often, these people have a hard time dealing with failure and uncertainty.
  • Control issues – Some people want to control every aspect of their life, including their work. They can’t let go of even the smallest details. For these managers, it’s frustrating when team members tackle tasks differently than they would have done it themselves, even if the results are the same.
  • Perfectionism – A lot of micromanagers are perfectionists by nature. They need to either be (or appear to be) perfect, and they project this need onto their team. Perfectionists tend to be overly critical of themselves and others.

Often, micromanagers thrive on stress.

An “emergency” situation allows them to step in and take charge, proving how important they are to the team. They may subconsciously create problems, or they might look for conflict.

For example, a manager might seek conflict by sending messages to remote team members to see if they’re actually at their desk and working right that second. If they don’t respond right away, that justifies extra oversight.

The combination of insecurity, control issues, and perfectionism can create a manager from hell.

Luckily, you can prevent yourself from micromanaging, even if you struggle with some of these. Let’s talk about how to recognize if you’re micromanaging your team.

How do you know if you’re a micromanager? Use this test to find out

Are you worried that you might be a micromanager? Look for these signs that you need to reevaluate your management style.

1. Obsessive attention to detail

Are you detail-oriented? Great. Managers should pay attention to details.

But do you check everyone’s work to make sure even the tiniest details are exactly what you want? There’s a big difference between being detail-oriented and being a nitpicker.

While paying attention to details is not a bad thing by itself, it can be a problem if it turns into an obsession.

Micromanagers tend to lose sight of the big picture because they get caught up in the smallest details. This can lead to missed deadlines and stalled projects.

Getting too worried about every tiny detail will result in you getting overwhelmed by low-priority tasks. It’s also bad for your team because it slows team members down and has a negative impact on morale.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I review all of my team’s assignments?
  • Have I ever sent a project back for multiple rounds of revisions because I keep seeing ways it can be better?
  • In the last month, have I missed or extended a deadline because I got lost in the details?
  • Do I find it frustrating if my team doesn’t update me about every step of a project?
  • On most normal workdays, do I feel like I don’t have enough time to get through my to-do list?

If you said yes to three or more of these, you might be overly involved in details at the expense of the big picture.

2. Failure to allow others to make decisions

Do you insist on team members asking for your approval on every task?

Micromanagers are notorious for wanting to make all the decisions and solve all the problems themselves. They don’t trust their team members’ decision-making skills and get irritated if someone makes a decision without consulting them first.

This can make team members distrust their own judgment and discourage them from taking on more responsibilities.

It’s natural for teams to have approval processes. However, team members should also have some autonomy in deciding how to complete a task.

Use these questions to gauge how well you do at empowering your team to make decisions.

  • Do I always give the final approval for every decision?
  • Do more than half of the ideas my team works on come from me?
  • Have I ever disciplined a team member for acting without my approval?
  • Do my team members hesitate to volunteer to take on extra projects?
  • On a daily basis, do I receive multiple questions about how to proceed, even from experienced team members?

Three or more of these should tell you that it’s time to work on trusting your team more.

3. Absence of constructive criticism

Micromanagers are reluctant to pass on their skills and knowledge because they fear that doing so would make them replaceable. When a team member doesn’t complete a task successfully, they usually won’t tell them how to do better next time.

Micromanagers often lack the emotional intelligence and the communication skills needed to provide constructive feedback.

What they’ll do instead is take over the task and do it themselves. This is a short-term solution that only fosters resentment and negativity.

It’s also extremely demotivating and frustrating for the rest of the team. Naturally, most people want to be in a team with a manager that can help them become better at their job.

Here are some things to ask yourself.

  • Have I ever taken control of a project or task even though I don’t have the extra time to do it?
  • If a project fails, do I blame a specific person instead of a process or policy?
  • When I give performance reviews, do I ever share criticism that the team member has never heard before?
  • Have I ever complained about my team members to someone else at the company?
  • Do I struggle to articulate why I am dissatisfied when I give feedback?
  • Have I ever chosen to ignore a problem because I don’t feel like it’s worth the conversation?

If you checked three or more, it might be time to work on your constructive criticism skills.

4. Poor delegation skills

Do you have a hard time giving up control? Micromanagers try to do everything themselves because they think no one else can complete tasks as well as they can.

In reality, they’re likely less qualified for some tasks than their team members.

When they do delegate a task, micromanagers tend to give precise, step-by-step instructions on how to do it. This gives them some sense of control over how team members will complete a task.

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Instead of judging the success of a task or project based on the outcome, they’ll look at how closely you followed their instructions.

Ask yourself if you show any of these warning signs:

  • Do I discipline team members for failing to follow instructions, even if the outcome is what I asked for?
  • Do I keep tasks in my own to-do list because nobody can do those jobs as well as I can?
  • If I don’t have time to finish everything, do I push deadlines instead of asking for help?
  • Do I feel like asking for help from a team member is the same as admitting I can’t do my job?
  • Do I judge other people as less capable when they can’t get through their workload and ask for help?

If you answered “yes” to two or more, that means that you have room to work on delegation. This is an especially important skill for leaders because your time is more valuable — you can’t afford to spend it on tasks that someone else could get done for you.

5. Overall lack of trust in your employees

Micromanagers often don’t trust that their team members can complete tasks properly. They’ll ask for multiple daily updates and check in with team members frequently. This often results in team members spending more time on producing updates and reports than doing actual work.

The manager, on the other hand, wastes time reviewing all the updates and course-correcting team members on their tasks.

Micromanagers also want to keep a close eye on team communication. They’ll ask to be CC’d on every email and will chime in even when their opinion isn’t needed.

If you tend to do any of these things, don’t think that team members haven’t caught on — they can tell you don’t trust them. This creates a stressful workplace and impacts your team’s well-being and productivity.

Here’s what to ask yourself.

  • Do I frequently say things like this? “It’s hard to find good help.”
  • Do I often worry about distractions that take my team away from work like social media?
  • Do I closely watch when people take breaks to make sure they don’t take extra time?
  • Do I check in with my remote team often to make sure they’re working?
  • Have I ever checked a team member’s browsing activity because I suspect they aren’t being as productive as they could be, despite not seeing productivity issues?
  • In general, do I feel like my team won’t work if I don’t watch them?

Answering three of these with a “yes” might tell you that you have some trust issues to work on.

One more sign to watch for: is your team boss-obsessed or customer-obsessed?

Identifying micromanagement might even boil down to one simple question: Is your team boss-obsessed or customer-obsessed?

Team members that work to please their boss instead of the customer can quickly find themselves in a toxic work environment.

While pleasing your boss is a necessary evil in any occupation, it should never outweigh the customers’ needs. The old adage “the customer is always right” is overused but certainly relevant here.

An example of a boss-obsessed team

For example, let’s say your team needs to design an email to increase signups for an upcoming virtual event. They’ve experimented with numerous call-to-action designs and placements. Additionally, they’ve A/B tested them thoroughly.

One of these email mockups came to fruition because of your consistent input. However, let’s say that some of the other layouts performed much better than the email in question.

A conflict may arise if the team decides to go with the design that performs the best but was made without your input. If they choose the design that you, their boss, like best instead, they worry that you’ll be disappointed in the performance.

A lot of teams deal with these types of scenarios every day. Unfortunately, no-win situations like these can lead to stress and burnout.

The negative effects of micromanagement

Wondering how bad micromanagement is?

The short answer: it’s really bad. This management style has a negative impact on:

  • Mental health and wellbeing – If you scrutinize everything team members do, you create loads of extra stress at work. Micromanagement hurts your team’s performance and their health, and it’s a major cause of burnout.
  • Morale – Micromanaging team members shows that you don’t trust them. It also makes them think that you don’t consider them to be capable of doing their job without your intervention. This fosters distrust on both sides and negatively affects team morale.
  • Confidence and initiative – Constantly telling team members how to do things can significantly impact their confidence. They’ll start thinking that they can’t do anything right. Soon, they won’t feel secure enough to voice their opinions or come up with fresh ideas. You’ll be stuck doing everything because your team members don’t feel capable and won’t take initiative.
  • Staff turnover rate – No one likes being micromanaged. This, combined with all the other negative impacts we’ve already mentioned, causes a high turnover rate for teams with a micromanager.
  • Productivity – By micromanaging team members, you take away their autonomy, stress them out, and make them feel incompetent. All of this leads to reduced productivity.

The bottom line is that micromanagement is expensive for companies. While there may be some short-term benefits, the long-term expenses far outweigh them.

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5 strategies to help you stop micromanaging your team

If you are guilty of micromanaging, it’s never too late to adjust. Here’s what you should do to stop micromanaging:

1. Set clear expectations

You can’t expect team members to meet your expectations if they don’t know what those are.

Not setting clear expectations essentially means setting your team up for failure. The clearer you are about what you expect from team members, the more likely they are to complete the task in a satisfactory way.

Setting expectations will also help improve your team’s focus and help them stay motivated.

You need to make sure team members understand their tasks and the importance of each task. Once everyone is on the same page, you’ll see that there’s really no need for micromanagement.

When setting expectations, it’s good to separate them into two distinct categories:

  • Performance – Expectations regarding job-specific performance. These should be different for every role. For example, you might want your content writer to produce four blog posts every month or expect your sales representatives to make ten sales calls a day.
  • Behavior – Behavioral expectations revolve around team members’ attitudes and communication. For example, you might expect team members to have a positive attitude and respond to team messages promptly during work hours.

2. Delegate tasks others can do

The next step to stop being a micromanager is to get comfortable with delegating tasks. If this is difficult for you, start small and delegate tasks you don’t consider to be important or a big priority.

Ultimately, you’ll want to get to a point where you’re delegating everything except the tasks that only you can do.

When delegating a task, consider team members’ strengths and weaknesses. Try to delegate each task to the person that’s going to be the most efficient at doing it.

Additionally, once you assign a task to someone, avoid the temptation to tell them exactly how to do it. Give team members the freedom of approaching tasks in a way they consider to be the best.

Step away and let them do their thing. Only intervene if they ask for help. Sure, some things might go wrong, but the things you and your team learn are worth the setback.

Finally, remember to provide feedback once a team member completes a task. Praise them if they did a good job and give them tips on how to improve if their performance was subpar. Practice giving constructive feedback and focus on the things that will make the most positive difference.

3. Create and share policies and company values

As a manager, you should be more concerned about the overall company culture than individual tasks. Leave the to-dos to the people you hired to do those things and spend your time building the kind of company you want to lead.

How to build culture for your remote team

By developing the right values and teaching them to your team, you’ll help team members complete tasks without any need for intervention on your part.

When defining company values, think about the following:

  • What’s your company’s mission?
  • What kind of value do you strive to provide to your customers?
  • How do you want team members to treat each other?
  • Which kinds of behavior are acceptable and which aren’t?
  • What should communication between team members look like?

Once you have answers to these questions, put them in a document and share them with your team.

This will help them keep company values in mind when approaching tasks and collaborating with coworkers.

4. Hire self-starters

Your micromanagement tendencies are more likely to come out if a team member is unqualified to do their job or lacks a particular set of skills. That’s why you need to make sure to hire the right people from the start.

Hire self-starters who don’t need you to guide them through every task and enjoy having autonomy in the workplace.

how to train remote new hires

Use these questions during an interview to determine whether a candidate might be a self-starter:

  • Can you describe a situation where you didn’t meet a deadline? What happened?
  • What kind of changes have you tried to implement at your current job?
  • Tell me about a few goals you set for yourself and how you went about achieving them.
  • What do you consider to be your greatest failure? What have you learned from it?
  • Tell me about a project you suggested and then worked on. How did you convince your manager to approve the project?
  • Did your manager ever give you a task without any instructions on how to do it? How did you handle it?

5. Use software to break your habit

What if we told you there’s a way to keep an eye on what team members are doing without bothering them and impacting their productivity?

Hubstaff activity dashboard

You can use software like Hubstaff and Hubstaff Tasks to:

  • See which tasks team members are working on
  • Learn the status of each task and project
  • Get daily updates from team members
  • Understand when team members are struggling and might need help

By taking advantage of tools like Hubstaff and Hubstaff Tasks, you’ll have an easier time managing your team. You’ll also spare team members from all the negative impacts of micromanagement.

These tools work particularly well for remote teams because they create visibility that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Instead of asking for an update, you can check the software.

You stay out of the way and you have the peace of mind that everything is recorded in case you need to look back on that data later.

Final thoughts

Moving past micromanagement can help you reduce stress, eliminate burnout, and repair your team’s turnover rate. It will also give you more time to spend on improving company culture, training your team, and creating more effective processes and workflows.

Ready to stop micromanaging? Here’s what you should do:

Take a look at all the tasks needed to complete a particular project. Mark the tasks that only you can complete and turn them into a list. That’s your to-do list.

Go through the remaining tasks one by one and determine which team members are best suited to complete them. Then, delegate the tasks to your team.

Let team members know about the expectations you have for each task, but let them choose the best way to do it.

Start doing this for every project moving forward.

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Category: Workforce Management