As a project manager, you want your team (not to mention your project!) to be successful. So, as a result, you feel the need to keep a watchful eye on every single thing that’s happening.
That’s your job, right?
Well, sort of.
Your role dictates that you need to make sure things are running smoothly and that the project (including the timeline and the budget) is all on track.
However, another key responsibility of your position is to keep your team feeling motivated and engaged in their work. To do so, you need to find a way to ensure the project is moving forward—without transforming into a quintessential micromanager.
While the siren song of micromanagement is tempting, constantly interfering with your team members can have some pretty dire effects.
In one survey, 71% of respondents stated that being micromanaged interfered with their job performance. Another 85% said their morale was negatively impacted by this management style that was far too controlling and hands-on. Even further, 36% of people have actually left jobs because they were tired of constantly being told how to do their own work.
Micromanagement destroys engagement, job performance, and morale.
Outside of destroying the productivity and outlook of your team members, micromanaging slows you down too.
Ultimately, a project manager’s job is to keep an eye on the big picture and ensure the puzzle pieces are falling into place. But, that’s going to be pretty tough to do if you’re far too consumed with the minutiae of the day-to-day tasks—you know, the stuff you should be able to trust your team to handle themselves.
So, how can you strike this delicate balance?
How can you make sure everything is going according to plan, without hovering over team members and having your fingers in all sorts of pies?
Here are a few tips to help.
1. Have a detailed plan
To avoid micromanaging, you need to start with a foundation of trust. If you can rest assured that your project team knows what they should be working on and when they should have those tasks done by, it’ll be that much easier to resist constantly checking in and breathing down their necks.
This means the first step is to ensure that you have a solid plan in place that details your timeline, your goals, and any other relevant information that your team members should have.
By taking the time to lay the groundwork and get everybody on the same page with guidelines and expectations, you’ll feel that much more comfortable trusting your team members to steer their own ships.
Remember, it’s up to you to dictate what needs to get done and by what deadline. But, leave a little flexibility for your team members to determine how they’d like to get their tasks accomplished.
2. Play to your team’s strengths
So, how do you establish this sort of trust? Well, that becomes much easier if you feel confident that you have the right people handling the right tasks.
As a project manager, it’s important that you know the strengths of your individual team members, as well as any limitations they have, so that they feel empowered to take initiative, come up with solutions, and own their work—rather than requiring constant reassurance.
You can learn a lot about your team members’ strengths and weaknesses by just observing and listening to the way they engage with the projects and interact with each other.
However, if you really want to dive in, you can also have one-on-one conversations to get inside their heads.
Ask them where they think they excel.
Where do they find themselves getting stuck?
What tasks or projects really excite them?
Knowing that will help you to make sure that you have the right people handling the right duties. And, when you know you can trust your team to handle their work with passion and professionalism, you’ll naturally feel less pressure to consistently check in.
Want some more information about how to identify strengths? Harvard Business Review has some great ones.
3. Remove yourself
Well, duh, right? If you’re trying to avoid micromanaging, removing yourself seems like a pretty obvious tip—I know.
But, here’s the thing: You’d be surprised by how many business and project functions are setup to require a certain level of micromanaging. A team member can’t move forward with this piece without a manager’s approval. Another team member can’t answer this question without talking with you first.
Yes, you want to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening. But, there’s a big difference between being a resource for your team and being a roadblock.
Collaborate with your team members to talk about where they need you and where they don’t. This will help you to create streamlined processes that allow you to step back and limit those things that require your direct involvement.
After all, you don’t want to be a bottleneck for your team.
Will questions and issues still come up that you need to be involved in? Absolutely. However, if you can move yourself away from needing to give your stamp of approval on every little decision or task, you’ll free yourself up to focus on the bigger things that actually require your attention and direction.
4. Utilize questions
Even with all of the right pieces in place, there will still be times that you need to check in on how things are progressing. And, when you do, you’d prefer not to sound overly aggressive and pushy.
Asking questions is a great way to involve your team members and make it clear that you aren’t trying to dictate how they do their work.
What does this look like in practice? Well, instead of starting a conversation with something like this:
“You need to have this piece of the project done by the end of the day.”
You’d ask something more like this:
“Do you think you’ll have that wrapped up by today’s deadline? Is there anything you need from me to keep moving forward?”
It’s a much more collaborative approach and demonstrates that you’re in your team’s corner.
Yes, occasionally you’ll need to have a firmer hand and make expectations clear. But, more often than not, involving your team members in a discussion—rather than preaching to them—will have a much more positive impact.
5. Set communication expectations
Effective communication is crucial as a project manager. That means you don’t want to just give your team everything they need and then stay totally out of the loop until the project is completed.
However, swinging to the opposite side of that spectrum and frequently dropping by for impromptu chats and check ins will begin to annoy your team members—and ultimately slow them down.
Instead, it’s better to set communication expectations with your team from the get-go.
Will you have a weekly group conversation where everybody can stay up to date on progress, accomplishments, and challenges?
Will you have somewhat regular one-on-one conversations with members?
What exactly these expectations are will vary based on the scope of your project. But, the important thing is to get everybody on the same page about what they can expect in terms of communication moving forward.
That way, asking about progress is something anticipated and intentional—rather than a micromanaging habit you can’t seem to kick.
6. Ask for feedback
Here’s a sobering statistic: 80% of people believe that they’re better leaders than what they actually are. So, you might think that you’re treating your team a certain way, and they could be having a completely different experience.
80% of people believe that they’re better leaders than what they actually are.
For this reason, it’s important for you to seek feedback from your team members about your approach to management.
Your one-on-one conversations aren’t just a great opportunity for you to provide constructive criticism for them, but also for them to do the same for you.
Is there an area where they think you could do better?
Is there something that keeps falling through the cracks?
Explicitly ask your team members for their insights and feedback, and you’ll be able to make any necessary tweaks and changes to manage in a way that empowers and supports them best.
Over to you
As the project manager, it only makes sense that you’d want to be in the know about how the project is progressing. But, you also need to be careful not to cross that fine line into micromanager territory.
Fortunately, there are some tactics you can use to effectively manage your projects, without making your team members feel like small children.
Put these tips to work, and you’re much more likely to have a happy team and a successful project!
Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. She's passionate about being as efficient and effective as possible—much of which she owes to her 114 words per minute average typing speed. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she loves to bake, read, hike, or tackle yet another DIY project around her home.