Micromanagement is one of the top three reasons employees resign. Learn what causes micromanagement and how it can impact your team—plus seven concrete steps to stop micromanagement from holding you back.
Successful leaders all have one thing in common: They rely on people they trust to get things done. That’s because no matter how productive you are, you can’t do it all by yourself.
When leaders have trouble relying on others, they often turn to micromanagement in an attempt to control how tasks are done. But while learning to let go and delegate work is hard, it’s essential if you want your team (and yourself) to grow and improve.
Micromanagement is a management style that involves exerting a high level of control over employees’ day-to-day activities. People who micromanage try to personally control and monitor everything that’s going on, rather than fully delegating responsibilities to their team. They often hold all the decision-making power, regardless of how small those decisions might be.
Micromanagement and macromanagement are polar opposites. One management style focuses on small details, while the other takes a big-picture view.
Micromanagers are very specific about how and when work should be done, aiming for perfection at all stages of a process. On the other hand, macromanagers focus on larger outcomes rather than the specifics of how things are done. Instead of being involved each step of the way, they delegate and empower team members to make their own decisions about how to accomplish tasks.Read: Why you should prioritize employee empowerment
Micromanagement can be a useful short-term strategy, especially while training new employees or controlling high-risk issues. For example, it’s normal to provide lots of oversight and support during onboarding to ensure team members have a solid grip on their responsibilities. Similarly, it’s often helpful for one person to have total control during high-risk situations—like when a construction team demolishes a building.
But while micromanagement can be useful in the short-term, it’s problematic as a long-term strategy. If you want new employees to become empowered and independent, you need to relinquish control and trust them to perform their jobs well. Likewise, if you treat all situations like they’re mission-critical, projects will take too long and will be impossible to scale.
Micromanaging is an easy trap to fall into, even for people with good intentions. It’s normal to want to feel in control—especially if you’re afraid of making mistakes and strive for perfection in everything you do. Letting go and trusting your team to make their own choices is hard, but it’s often the best thing you can do to help employees grow.
People micromanage for different reasons, but here are some of the most common ones:
Perfectionism: Perfectionists have high standards and often want things to be done in a very specific way. Making mistakes is often intolerable to perfectionists, so delegating—which naturally involves some mistakes—can be particularly difficult.
Lack of experience in management: When individual contributors are promoted without enough support and training, they might want to stay involved with the tasks they’re most comfortable with. It can be hard to let go of former responsibilities and re-focus on big picture strategy.
Managing unskilled team members: When you manage an unskilled team, it’s easy to default to micromanagement in order to make sure work is done correctly. Training unskilled employees is hard and requires a lot of up-front effort. But ultimately, investing in training can save a lot of time in the long run.
There’s a reason why the word “micromanagement” often has a negative connotation. Research shows that micromanagement is one of the top three reasons employees resign. When used long-term, it demonstrates a lack of trust and disempowers employees—leaving no room for your team to get creative, solve problems, or feel confident in their work. With someone constantly looking over their shoulder, employees often experience increased workplace stress, burnout, and low morale. Over time, team members can even lose so much confidence that they become dependent on micromanagement.
Long-term micromanagement is also bad for managers. As teams and projects get bigger, it’s hard for them to keep up the same level of oversight—leading to overwork and eventually burnout. And since micromanagement doesn’t scale well, it can lead to bottlenecks and prevent teams from growing to their full potential.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the goal of a manager is to be a coach, remove blockers, and make high-level strategy decisions. You want to give employees the resources and support they need to feel empowered, so your team can figure out small details on their own. When you get too bogged down in the little stuff, it’s hard to focus on bigger picture strategy.Read: Leadership vs. management: What’s the difference?
Micromanagement can manifest in different ways for different people. Here are some signs to watch out for if you think you, your manager, or someone on your team might be using micromanagement:
Trouble delegating tasks
Taking over delegated work if mistakes happen
Focusing on small details instead of the bigger picture
Wanting to be consulted on all decisions
Disregarding the opinions or experience of others
Being very prescriptive about how to approach tasks
Wanting to be looped into everything or cc’d on every message
Requesting frequent updates, status reports, or check-ins
Spending lots of time correcting or going over other people’s work
Having unrealistically high standards
Always focusing on what should be improved or changed, rather than expressing appreciation
Micromanagement is hard to deal with, but there are concrete steps you can take to reduce and prevent it on your team. Here’s how:
Delegating is hard, especially for first-time managers and leaders. When you feel responsible for getting work done well, it can feel strange to put important tasks into someone else’s hands—after all, who do you trust more than yourself to get something done right? But delegating—and letting go—is an essential skill for all managers. You’re just one person, and you need to rely on the skills and expertise of your team in order to get things done.
If delegating makes you uncomfortable, practice handing off small types of work first before building up to bigger projects. This can help build trust and allow team members to develop their skills over time. Just remember to be patient. It takes time to build your delegation skills, and it’s normal for team members to take longer to complete delegated work than you would.
Micromanagement is often born out of perfectionism—managers trying to supervise everything in order to prevent mistakes. But in reality, making mistakes isn’t something to be scared of. It’s how we learn, grow, and improve. Trying to be perfect all the time takes a serious toll, both on your mental health and the time it takes you to complete deliverables. Ultimately, studies suggest this type of extreme perfectionism can put you at a higher risk of burnout, job dissatisfaction, and depression.
As a manager, it’s important to accept that mistakes are a normal part of delegating. Instead of micromanaging to avoid mistakes, give employees the tools they need to troubleshoot and solve errors on their own. When you allow team members to make (and solve) their own mishaps, you help them build knowledge and confidence—allowing them to tackle even bigger problems in the future.
Micromanagement often happens because of unclear boundaries and responsibilities. If you don’t know what employees are responsible for vs. what managers are responsible for, it’s hard for your team to take ownership of tasks and feel empowered to make their own decisions.
Here are some strategies to clarify responsibilities on your team:
Write down roles and responsibilities for each team member. Clearly communicate these responsibilities during hiring and onboarding, and keep a dialogue open to ensure team members continue to have a good handle on their role.
Create a RACI chart to outline who’s Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed for a specific project.
Distribute decision-making power. Let employees be the ultimate decision-maker in specific areas. For example, at Asana we empower employees by creating Areas of Responsibility (AoRs). For any given area of the company (like internal communications, human resources, or marketing operations), there’s one AoR-holder. The AoR-holder still listens to feedback from stakeholders, but it’s ultimately their call if opinions are split or there isn’t a clear answer.
Goals define exactly what your team is aiming for. They give you a concrete outcome to aim for, so you can stay focused on what’s really important (rather than micromanaging small details).
The beauty of goals is that they give you control over what your team is working on, without having to micromanage. You can use goals to clarify exactly what you want employees to achieve, but then let them tackle those objectives on their own. By setting measurable goals, you can hold team members accountable and trust that they’re making progress towards important objectives.
An employee onboarding process is a structured approach to welcome new hires to your team and get them up to speed. When done right, onboarding gives employees the tools and information they need to succeed in their new role. It’s a time when team members have extra support—so they can make mistakes, ask questions, and get comfortable with their responsibilities.
Onboarding requires a lot of up-front effort, but it helps prevent future micromanagement. After a robust onboarding process, managers can trust their employees to tackle future challenges on their own—or ask for help when they really need it. Managers don’t need to constantly check employees’ work, because new hires have already learned how to do things the right way.Free employee onboarding template
According to a 2022 study, introducing no-meeting days (specific days during which meetings are prohibited) can significantly reduce micromanagement and stress. It turns out that while quality interactions are key to building team trust, constant meetings aren’t the best way to accomplish this. Instead, it’s better to give employees space to work at their own pace and collaborate with others in ways that feel natural—instead of forcing interactions through meetings.
Establishing no-meeting days requires managers to trust their direct reports to work autonomously. For that reason, it’s a great way to practice giving employees the space they need to accomplish their best work—rather than micromanaging and constantly checking in on how they’re doing.
At its heart, micromanagement is about trust. You need trust to successfully delegate tasks and give employees space to accomplish their work. That means in order to prevent micromanagement, you should focus on building a positive workplace culture that prioritizes trust among team members.
Building trust takes time, but it can be done. Here’s where to start:
Practice being vulnerable as a leader and opening up about your insecurities.
Boost camaraderies with team building games.
Build your emotional intelligence skills to create stronger relationships and empathize more with your team.
Practice active listening to show team members you really care about what they’re saying.
Learn how to successfully give and take constructive criticism.
If you want to grow and scale your team, micromanagement isn’t an effective leadership style. This type of management style can work in the short-term, but over time it leads to bottlenecks and dissatisfied employees. And most importantly, micromanagement causes you to focus on minor details and lose sight of important, big picture goals.
Instead of micromanaging, focus on building solid team processes that clarify who’s responsible for what, by when. That way you don’t have to constantly check and monitor how work is going—instead, you can put processes in motion and trust your team to get things done.