How to manage a team who want to be micro-managed?

(39 Posts)
TurtleBeach Tue 08-Dec-20 09:43:06

Just that really. I am run ragged at work by a team who seem to be unable to do anything without checking with me. I’ve never liked being micro-managed, personally, and really don’t think I come across as a person who wants to be involved in all the tiny details.

I’ve spoken to team members individually and in groups about being more confident and pro-active. I’ve told them outright that I don’t need to be copied into every single email, that I have confidence in them and their instincts are almost always right anyway – and if they are not, we will look on mistakes as a learning opportunity. I’ve made clear that I will always publicly support decisions that they make. I’ve referred to their job descriptions which make clear that the day-to-day work is carried out autonomously and they are trusted to make decisions in the majority of cases, escalating only the most complex of cases.

I’ve held training sessions, looking at issues which frequently come up in order to categorise these as “complex” or not. I’ve trained and re-trained them on systems and processes. I bring this up at every annual review meeting. I’ve set up buddy schemes within the office to encourage colleagues to work together and work out problems with a colleague before coming to me but nothing sticks.

Whenever I take leave, I always come back to hundreds of emails from team members where they are advising the customer (I use the word loosely, our “customers” are internal colleagues), “I need to run this by Turtle so can’t give you an answer until she is back from leave”. When we were in the office, and I’d appear after several hours of meetings, it would be like meerkat heads all popping up and then vying to get to me first with a list of queries to ask me. Now that we are wfh, I get dozens of emails and teams calls every day. It’s driving me to distraction.

On the odd occasion, I’ve hired a genuine self-starter, they’ve gotten visibly fed up with the culture in the office and have left, so I’m stuck with a core group of staff (4 people) who cannot function without being hand held. They are all bright people and these are not entry-level jobs. I have a 5th person who joined the team 3 months ago and showed signs of being very proactive but she now seems to be getting dragged down by the rest of them and following their lead in copying me and checking with me on everything. Not only is this impacting on my time but it also infuriates me as I couldn’t imagine working like this.

I understand that I am their manager and I do have a responsibility to train and help them. I also have a massive job of my own to do – managing the team is only a percentage of my remit, and I’m constantly getting criticised from my own boss about being too hands-on with the day-to-day work and not having enough time to take on larger projects which fit better with my grade and remit. On any given day, I spend 5-6 hours in meetings so the small amount of time I get back at my desk needs to be used well but I end up working 10-12 hour days as standard because my team are so needy.

I've been managing teams in various jobs for almost 20 years and this is the first time I've come across this. Most people hate being micro-managed. I've been in this job for 3 years now and I feel I've tried everything to get these people working independently. Please help.

OP’s posts: |
Momsincharge Tue 08-Dec-20 09:44:38

Sounds like they are delegating up.

ChristopherTracy Tue 08-Dec-20 09:48:19

Are they fulfilling the core competencies of the roles they are in? Is being more independent and the behavious associated with that reflected in their short and medium term objectives? And from that what is the performance management system like?

This should be coming up in their performance reviews as underperformance if it has been set as an improvement objective and hasnt been met.

Equally - is there a blame culture? Could you do a root cause analysis/use the 5 whys to find out why they are doing this - just pick one instance and go deep - are you confident you know the real cause?

Nowisthemonthofmaying Tue 08-Dec-20 09:51:19

You've tried the carrot - time for the stick, perhaps? Can you put them on performance measures based on them handling their own work, marking them down for things they refer to you that they should be doing on their own? Make it clear to your new 5th person that you are not happy about them becoming less of a self-starter. You basically have 4 people who can't do their job properly and are pushing out newcomers who can, so you need to sort this out! Ultimately if that means getting rid of some of the dead wood then so be it.

Shinyletsbebadguys Tue 08-Dec-20 09:55:37

How much control do you have over their KPI's ? Honestly I would go down a boundary line that proactive behaviour becomes a KPI that they need to meet. Self reported but ratified by you to enable them to understand and feel in control but you to manage the accepted amount ? Perhaps if you raise it in your own line management if you need your line managers buy off to add this in ?

I feel for you I've managed a couple of teams like this. One where the previous manager had been quite a nasty micromanager and they were terrified of being criticised for thinking for themselves. In their case I deliberately delegated jobs and made them take ownership and when they saw that they wouldn't be criticised for decisions made it settled down. I'm sure you've tried this but it really made me realise the damage a micro manager can do even after some time.

The other just had developed a culture of "Not my problem" (it was very much part of their original job) , the KPI change worked with them. Frankly it became their problem. It wasn't popular to begin with but actually turned out to be successful (except for one , who left because she felt that being asked to do her actual job rather than trying to pass it to me was rather an affront hmm) They actually appreciated having some agency in the end (was a rough year though up until then granted ).

Meredithgrey1 Tue 08-Dec-20 09:57:43

Just a suggestion (and depending on the nature of your work and the queries you get it may not be suitable) but now you’re working from home, could you set up a group chat in whatever system you use (teams, hangout etc) and make it clear that all questions go through there and you expect other team members to reply if they know the answer?
We have a team hangout, and our team is a mix of newer people, plus people with different skill sets, so if anyone asks a question, there’ll almost always be someone with an answer without our manager needing to get involved.
Then if you get asked things outside of this just reply “have you asked in the group yet” and if not, direct them to it. If no one else replies, make a comment on the group like “John, can you help Amy with this please, it’s similar to what we discussed last week. Thanks”
This will also give any people more inclined to be self starters a way to boost their confidence perhaps, and will show them that checking everything with you isn’t necessary. Your most recent new starter maybe thinks, due to their colleagues’ behaviour, that they need to check everything with you because everyone else is.

DoubleHelix79 Tue 08-Dec-20 10:06:42

Some good suggestions above. The only other thing i can think of is to map out all decsisions they are likely to have to make in the context of their roles (e.g. decide on whether to agree to a discount up to x%) and write down exactly which ones they are expected to make themselves and which ones you should be involved in. Also document any guidelines or rules they can use to make those decisions (e.g. agree to discount if the customer has been with the company for at least 1 year). Ideally get them to do this, so they own the process. Then refuse to engage in those decisions that they should handle themselves. Perhaps periodically review past decisions that they've taken to show them they've generally made the right call and to refine the guidelines for decision making over time.

plumpootle Tue 08-Dec-20 10:07:53

My view is that you can't change cultures at workplaces. Some managers would like to be allowed to micromanage their teams (not me but I have seen it). Would you not consider moving on?

TurtleBeach Tue 08-Dec-20 10:15:59

So many good points here. I'd like to respond in detail but am working and busy at the moment (I'd taken a short break earlier after starting work at 7am to get some uninterrupted time before everyone else logged in at 9am). Will be back later.

OP’s posts: |
CMOTDibbler Tue 08-Dec-20 10:20:19

I have this to an extent with an internal group (they don't report to me, but I am an SME, but they have no self starting/ self help at all), and I now refuse to answer questions where they haven't looked in the manual, asked in the special chat group, and asked the first line support (in this case it would be their peers) unless it is an emergency when they should have asked first line support anyway.
Having a defined work instruction for your team with a flow chart would seem to be a good first step - and if they bring you issues/queries not on the WI, then they get the task of writing it up and putting it in the WI.
But I agree that if they are not performing as needed, then you need to go down the route of performance reviews else nothing will change

Palavah Tue 08-Dec-20 10:20:32

Are they all clear and confident in the objectives they need to achieve? How their performance will be measured. Autonomy is no good if you and they are not aligned on the outcome that's required. As PP have suggested, if they don't have trust that the organisation is aligned to the same outcome then they do they believe others will judge them negatively if they haven't got sign off from you?

Have you seen the David Marquet talk on Greatness/ Turn the Ship Around? Worth a look - there's a video on youtube.

Also consider reading up on Systems Thinking.

turnthebiglightoff Tue 08-Dec-20 10:24:56

I've worked for a lot of managers in my time, and the only ones who complain of this are the ones that can revel in it, and can manage in a toxic or ruthless way. I'm not saying this is the case OP but maybe have a look at your tone, in emails etc to see if there is another root cause. Do they need to get your approval for basic things like dental appts, or leaving 15 mins early etc? If so, you'll find they feel they need your approval in most things.

usernamepremium Tue 08-Dec-20 10:41:55

If they ask you a question that they know themselves but want permission from you - do you give it ?

You shouldn't - tell them quite simply it's their job to take the responsibility unless it's something they truly do not have experience of

Keep reinforcing this - ask them what they think and don't give your own opinion (unless it's wildly off) - repeat at every time and email that you don't expect this to be escalated to you and why have they done that - you are not doing their job so why have they sent it to you unless it's for escalation. Keep track of how many times they have done it if necessary and rate them accordingly at their performance review.

If they are not stopping then you are enabling it and they need to take ownership of it themselves.

Longtalljosie Tue 08-Dec-20 10:43:35

I think your best hope is your new hire. I suspect your self-starting new recruits are constantly being told “you can’t just do that, you have to check with turtle”. I would be very clear with your new recruit that you value her self-starting ability and you are trying to give the rest of your team greater confidence. Invest a bit of time in mentoring her so she doesn’t lose her confidence. Then praise the decisions she has made in meetings. Hopefully the others will get the message. Also get a bit tougher. Reply to emails telling people they should be making this decision without you or perhaps they are at the wrong level.

Whoateallthestuffingballs Tue 08-Dec-20 11:06:49

What do you do about the issues that they've put on hold while you're on leave? Are you bouncing the issues back to them, telling them it's part of their role to make those decisions and then disengaging?

As the others have said, it is non-performance of key functions and there comes a point when help/training has been given and it has to be addressed as a performance issue.

I've worked in a culture like this from the other side (and didn't stay long) and it was deliberate. It was a way of getting out of the tasks they didn't want to do.

ChristopherTracy Tue 08-Dec-20 11:08:45

On reading everyone's answers there's some really good stuff there - so yes to the chat group to ask peers and also - where is the documentation - is it up-to-date, is it easily accessible on Confluence or similar?

I would also take a look at situational leadership as a really good way of assessing where people are on individual tasks or projects rather than assessing them as people overall.

Where are they on this scale:
D1 – Enthusiastic Beginner: Low competence with high commitment
D2 – Disillusioned Learner: Low/middling competence with low commitment
D3 – Capable but Cautious Performer: High competence with low/variable commitment
D4 – Self-reliant Achiever: High competence with high commitment

blackcat86 Tue 08-Dec-20 11:11:57

Have you been doing exit interviews with those who have left? I think it would be interesting to see where it went wrong with those who you thought were self starters but who then got frustrated and left. Were others telling them they needed to check everything with you or did they start feeling the need to do this and if so why.

I think its interesting that you say you would publicly support their decisions. People are equally worried about what their managers say privately usually. That's not a criticism just an observation.

It sounds like you need to shake this things up. Could you consider 'lead roles' so people become more knowledgeable in xyz and the go to person to ask rather than you? I have seen team video chats weekly etc work well so people can thrash out issues together.

TurtleBeach Tue 08-Dec-20 12:23:04

Lots to think about here, thank you all for your input. Some really hard truths and reflections for me and also for the company.

Delegating Up is not at phrase I’ve heard before. It makes perfect sense and is exactly what is happening. I realise that part of the solution is to answer questions with questions and deflect the issue back to them. I do try to do this in almost all cases but if I’m completely honest with myself, I often find I don’t have the time to enter into a protracted discussion so it’s easier to just give an answer.
Performance management is not done very well in this organisation. My own manager tends to take the “aw, you’re so hard on them” when I report that I’ve set targets and trying to shift culture, but she’s also the first to come down hard on me for not doing my job.

Blame culture – yes, if I’m honest, there is but not from me or even my manager. Our office works closely with another partner though who, despite having no direct jurisdiction over our people or work, does tend to stomp all over things and point fingers if it isn’t done his way. My team have seen me standing up to him on numerous occasions but I wonder if they see it as all of us in it together, working against him, rather than seeing me and him as being on the same level. Maybe the fact that we’re all female is a factor? While this is undoubtedly an issue now though, he only came into this role a year ago and the problem already existed before that. He’s also on secondment and will finish working with us in April so that will make a difference.

Performance measures/KPIs – yes, they need to have more ownership for their own areas. I have tried delegation and showering them with praise but I find these methods just don’t stick long-term and they revert back to their old ways. I also recently had a situation where I delegated a task to a small sub-group on the team, determining a task leader first. They knew what had to be done and when the deadline was. They had 2 months. After a month I asked for a brief status report and was told that they hadn’t started it and weren’t sure what to do, so we had another meeting to go through the task parameters. I sat back in this discussion and let them discuss amongst themselves to come up with a plan, then told them how great it sounded. With a week to go before the deadline, I sent a brief but friendly reminder, then the day before, the task leader came to me to say that they hadn’t done any work on it at all because they didn’t think it was appropriate for them to take on aspects of what they see as my job. I then worked through the night to pull it together myself. I pulled them all up on it, noting that attitudes have to change and they should consider this an informal warning.

5th person is indeed key. I have a 1:1 with her later today so planning to lay everything on the line quite clearly about expectations and how she can help change the culture. I agree that it is likely she’s being told to check things with me so I need to break that cycle as a hopefully quick and easy win.

We do have a Teams site which is intended to be an area for working out issues as a team. I’ve been copying all the email enquiries there and volunteering folk to answer where I know they have experience but often the queries just sit until I break and answer them myself. When I ask them why they didn’t respond, they just shrug and say they didn’t see the enquiry.

We had a great session where we mapped out processes, problems and decisions and put together a service charter noting where responsibility lies and where resources can be found to help. We actually brought in an external facilitator to run the session because I wanted it to e clear that I wasn’t telling them how I thought things should be done but they would come up with the correct processes through discussion and team-work. Again, it hasn’t stuck and I am exhausted, constantly pointing them back to this. I am constantly told that this situation is slightly different and isn’t accounted for in the charter.

I really do think they are clear on objectives, or at least they should be, but maybe this is a new conversation we need to have, just to ensure we are actually aligned. In terms of getting my approval for appointments, leaving early etc, that’s a definite no – if anything I am constantly telling them that they are adults and really don’t have to ask permission for these things – I’m not a clock-watcher and measure by output, not presenteeism.

We have a daily “huddle” via Teams where each person gets 5 mins to present their priorities for the day and any challenges with which they need help. I stay largely quiet during these meetings, trying to get others to jump in and help their colleagues and that actually works well but for the res tof the day I get a barrage of “I didn’t want to bring this up in the meeting but…”

I’m not trying to defend myself. I’m so worn down by this that I’m open to all feedback and suggestions to improve the situation. I know there are things that I do, and have done, well but, on reflection, I can see that there are other areas where I fall short. I need to stay firm and not just give in to give them what they want and I do need to address this through performance management, although that requires some buy-in from my own manager and HR and they seem reluctant to want to go down this route.

OP’s posts: |
blackgerbil Tue 08-Dec-20 12:39:29

Do they think you'll stick around? Where I work the senior managers and the lowest level staff stay for decades and the middle managers tend to move on after 12-18 months. I make sure that everything I do (as somebody on the lowest rung of the organisation) fits in with the culture of the senior managers and don't worry too much about the new initiatives of the middle management. There's a good chance that the person who writes my targets each year won't be the person who evaluates them at the end of the year and it's easier to explain what I've been doing to a new person if it fits with the general culture of the company. When middle managers find out that their style doesn't fit they leave or if it does fit they get promoted and no longer manage me. I suspect your problem is that the senior managers think micromanaging is the best way to manage. If so, given your position on it I'd leave ASAP before this becomes a problem for you. Find somewhere your face fits with the senior managers and you will have a better chance of promotion yourself rather than struggling with those above and below you.

ChristopherTracy Tue 08-Dec-20 12:52:29

With a week to go before the deadline, I sent a brief but friendly reminder, then the day before, the task leader came to me to say that they hadn’t done any work on it at all because they didn’t think it was appropriate for them to take on aspects of what they see as my job. I then worked through the night to pull it together myself. I pulled them all up on it, noting that attitudes have to change and they should consider this an informal warning. and

When I ask them why they didn’t respond, they just shrug and say they didn’t see the enquiry.

Absolutely unacceptable to be honest. That would have them going into capability measures in my office.

If your manager and HR won't back you up then I would be looking for a new job but really some of that team should be going, not you. Especially in this climate with people being laid off left right and centre.

Longtalljosie Tue 08-Dec-20 12:53:46

That story about the sub-group is appalling. They’re taking you for a mug! What consequences were there?

TurtleBeach Tue 08-Dec-20 13:15:51

The "consequences" were the informal warning (which is as far as I could go for this one incident) and a lesson to me about who, in the team can take delegation and who can't. And now that I'm writing this out, I see that it's not good enough - they all need to be held to the same standards.

Assessing the team, I would say I have:

1 x motivated and enthusiastic but falling into bad habits. (D4, could become D3 without intervention)
1 x enthusiastic to a point but lacks confidence and resists things that don’t fall squarely into her remit (not my job, not my problem) (D3 – verging on D2)
2 x unmotivated and unenthusiastic. Constantly negative and claim they don’t know answers and can’t work without help but both have demonstrated through refresher training that they know the job well. Could be a confidence issue? Both also fall into the “I don’t get paid enough to deal with this” category. (D2)
1 x enthusiastic but lacks confidence. Assumes delegation well although still asks for lots of help (D3).

Exit interviews with leavers have revealed that they feel they carry the lion’s share of work because they get on with things whilst others faff around waiting for help and they have gotten sick of petty attitudes in the office about who does what. One excellent staff member revealed that she had been fielding lots of issues whenever I was out of the office and had tried to coach other team members herself on how to find out answers for themselves but had ultimately grown sick of the situation and the ensuing lack of time to do her own work - I hadn't known she was doing that until the exit interview, which was a pretty sickening reality check.

In terms of saying that I would publicly support them, what I mean, and what I have always made clear to the team is that I will defend them to the hilt if anything ever goes wrong because I know that work will always have been carried out with the best of intentions and based on knowledge and experience, but, if something does go wrong, it may be necessary to investigate why and this might mean looking at retraining or similar. To be fair though, we’ve only ever had a few occasions of things going wrong because such tiny details are checked so often that mistakes are rarely made.

OP’s posts: |
TurtleBeach Tue 08-Dec-20 13:27:42

A bit of background. This isn’t an attempt to dripfeed, I genuinely didn’t consider it as useful info in the original post but your responses have got me reflecting.

Our area is quite niche (I know that’s a much-maligned phrase on MN) and we tend to know others working in the industry in different organisations around the country. I collaborated with this team for a good few years in previous roles and I’ve worked my way up from a very junior level to management whereas this team have remained largely static, so some team members knew me as someone junior to them, on the same level as them and as a manager, even before I started managing them. I wonder if I am still viewed as “one of them” or not really seen as a manager to them – although only one of that original team is left now.

I also know my predecessor had the same issues. She did spell this out to me when I expressed an interest in the role and then again in the handover but I naively thought that I was a good, experienced manager and could turn this around. Right from the beginning, the team made clear that they didn’t like the fact that the previous manager was out of the office or busy with other work for most of the day and wanted more hands-on support. But right from the beginning I told them that I was here to do the same job as my predecessor and while there would always be “support” I needed them to take responsibility for problem solving and decision making in the majority of cases. It then became clear that the previous manager worked late every night to answer all their queries once her priority tasks were done and on some occasions even logged into their inboxes to deal with work on their behalf. I put my foot down on that and three staff members left soon after. Another member left last year so I now only have one of the “old guard” left. But the new hires I’ve brought in to replace them have largely fallen into the same ways of working. One person was previously working totally autonomously, being the only person in that role in a small organisation and had a great reputation for the work she was doing. She actually took a demotion to join my team as she was relocating but I thought this would an excellent opportunity to bring in someone who was used to making decision and not having anyone above her to run things by. Her interview was textbook perfect about taking initiative and self-motivating (so many of my interview questions now revolve around this) but she’s become one of the worst offenders and when I’ve spoken to her about it, she tells me that she hated working alone and is so grateful now to be in a situation where she has me as a safety net. She is someone to whom I’ve been delegating tasks and she is getting on well with these so I’m making sure to praise her both on a 1:1 basis and publicly but she’s still coming to me with lots of queries about the non-delegated tasks/day job and in fact, she’s the worst at referring everything back to me when I’m on annual leave so others who didn’t do this are now following her lead here!

Another issue is that although I’m technically middle management, in terms of my position in the company, I am paid at a level commensurate with more senior managers, both here and elsewhere, and that’s why I am tasked with a lot of higher-level projects and initiatives, which I never have time to do properly. Other organisations and departments doing similar work to us, tend not to have someone at my level in charge – most of the work that I do would be done by someone senior. So that’s another possible reason for the issues – staff coming in who have worked elsewhere may be expecting me to be more accessible BUT this is made very clear in job adverts and job descriptions and through interview questions and then I make clear to them during inductions what my role is and what their role is and what we can expect from each other. Despite the issues with the team, I really love this job because it gives me an opportunity to stretch my wings a bit, which I haven’t seen elsewhere in our industry. Or at least it should, if I had the time. I don’t want to leave, not least because I’d likely have to take a pay cut to do something similar elsewhere and also because I am stubborn and determined to get this situation sorted so that I can show what I’m really capable of in the other side of my role.

In the very early part of 2020, my manager was sympathetic to the situation and agreed to give me budget to hire a new senior person as a deputy manager to fill a gap between me and the rest of the team, allowing me to free up my time. Then covid hit, budgets were tightened and that post was taken away (we had even started advertising but had to contact the applicants to say the job was no longer available). Really gutting as this would have helped a lot. I guess this is the crux of the matter: The workplace structure doesn't match the reality of the role - my staff want more hands-on support, I don't have the time to do this, my manager wants me to improve the team's independence and do other things but doesn't want any formal performance review measures to be taken and everything therefore remains at a standstill.

OP’s posts: |
WhereverIGoddamnLike Tue 08-Dec-20 13:33:09

They may be performing poorly, but your management now comes into question because you havent dont anything about it. They get away with poor performance because you're not tackling it and that is your job.

Are any of them on performance improvement plans? What steps have you put in place to ensure that when work is assigned, it is completed. Why did the group who did no work on that project not receiving a disciplinary?

ChristopherTracy Tue 08-Dec-20 13:56:11

Can one of them not step up to be a supervisor - doesn't cost much as not a new hire just a few grand uplift, a development role for them and then they will have to do all of the stuff you don't have time for?

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