Digital Leadership & Soft Skills

First-time manager’s lessons: when to micromanage your team

Published by Pavel Nakonechnyy on (updated: ) in Leadership and Soft Skills.
First-time manager’s lessons: when to micromanage your team

According to the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, micromanaging bosses “try to control or manage all the small parts of something (such as an activity) in a way that is usually not wanted or that causes problems.”

Even though micromanagement is usually portrayed negatively, there are quite a few exceptional situations where micromanagement might be the best solution to deal with a difficult problem or help the team meet its goals. Here are some situations where micromanaging might be especially needed or welcome, according to leadership experts:

  1. In a time of crisis. This crisis can be both internal and external to the organization. In times of great turbulence due to recession or a company changing strategy you should employ more directed attention to the processes happening in your team. At the same time, you’ll report to your manager more often and be requested for more detailed explanations. After all, you’re responsible for the mistakes and failures of your subordinates. “An all-hands-on-deck mentality for a new endeavor also may convey a team approach for getting something launched,” writes Christine M. Riordan, an author and expert on leadership, in a 2010 Forbes article.
  2. When the team has many new employees. New employees never know the processes and caveats of their execution. You may think newbies will ask you in case of a doubt, but that usually doesn’t happen due to many reasons of human psychology. By letting newer members wander unattended you risk entirely missing big parts of the project even with the best Procedures and Guides available. Whereas, more experienced teams work better without much supervision from their managers. It is important to establish upfront that close supervision and review are expected to lessen as time goes on and people figure out what they are doing.
  3. When rebuilding processes. As a manager, you can’t directly experience the business processes your subordinates follow. Understanding the way things are done is crucial to process optimization. The best way you can get that knowledge as a manager is by micromanaging affected teams for a couple of weeks, making observations and taking notes in the process. Don’t forget to inform your colleagues beforehand.
  4. When working in a highly sensitive area. There are teams and organizations where you will always have to micromanage due to substantial risks even the smallest issue brings. These could be Legal departments, Banking or Defense-related industries, or simple PII data.
  5. When facing customer complaints or results are disappointing. Both situations require investigation, as well as action items to resolve the situation. What is being done to turn things around? Don’t let unfinished jobs linger. Again, you don’t want to nag or belittle your employees, but you do want to take an active role in trying to investigate and resolve the problem. The most effective managers are constant communicators according to a 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study.

Some well-known executives pride themselves on their ability to delve into detailed matters and handle problems, which essentially micromanagement is. “Leaders today need to demonstrate many leadership styles, depending on the situation, and have the agility and ability to move into a style that is not naturally their own”.

Choosing the extent of control, you want to have over your team is a challenging decision every manager has to make. While this choice is never final, due to many various factors involved, you should consult experienced managers of your organization prematurely.