Be a Micro-Collaborator and Not a Micromanager

06/15/2015 03:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 14, 2016


No two words quite as horrifying to most of us than those of "micro manager". If you've ever worked for a micro manager, then you know that it sucks the joy out of everything you do.

Instead of being a person with wishes, hopes, ideas, and ability, working for a micro manager makes you feel like a robot trapped in a human skin. You are not a person given a task to complete; you are an automaton living out the impulses and desires of your micro manager overlord.

Why do so many managers fall victim to this trap? It erodes trust, decreases creativity, and requires a ton of attention. Why would anyone choose to manage this way?

The answer is simple: a lack of trust and a desire to control.

Whenever I speak to executives about micro managing, their reasoning is usually the same.

I micro manage, because when I don't my employees waste time and make bad decisions. They do things that aren't important, spend too much time on small details, and get distracted too easily.

They think that the way to prevent this is to manage them more closely and to make sure they are working on the most important tasks. But this solution causes it's own problem.

The biggest problem with micromanagement isn't the erosion of the relationship between manager and mangee. The biggest problem with micro management is that it prevents the employee from ever being able to develop the instincts, skills, and abilities they would need to become an ideal employee.

They're never asked to consider priorities, make tough decisions, or to come up with creative solutions. Because of this, micro management is like a snake that eats it's own tail.

Instead of freeing the manager or the employee it traps both in a cycle of resentment, distrust, and disempowerment.

The ideal for any manager is an employee who takes a task, understands it fully, chooses the top priorities, and completes it creatively in less time and for less money than originally predicted.

But most people don't know how to do this. Even the executives and managers themselves struggle to choose the most important tasks, to come up with creative solutions, and to complete things under time and budget.

So what's the solution?

Micro collaboration is similar to micro management in that it involves close contact between the manager and the person being managed, but it differs from micro management is a few simple but important ways.

What is micro collaboration?

Micro collaboration is a system where the manager and staff member meet on a regular basis to discuss priorities, invite questions, and communicate about the scope and the nature of work that is to be completed.

How does it work?

The first step to creating micro collaboration is to simply establish a series of regular meetings between the manager and the staff member.

Ideally these meetings should happen on a daily or at the very least a weekly basis.

The purpose of the meetings is to establish and communicate about 4 things.
1: What are the specific goals or focuses that are most important to complete?
2: What obstacles, clarifications, knowledge, or skills are needed to complete those major tasks?
3: What goals have been accomplished and what lessons were learned from those accomplishments?
4: What obstacles have been encountered and how to overcome those obstacles?

All meetings don't have to include all of these factors. But they need to include at least the first two.

After the meetings are set up the next step is to conduct the meetings with a spirit of curiosity and collaboration.

Too often when managers meet with employees they are setting the agenda, identifying the priorities, and are closed to feedback.

In a collaboration meeting the goals are decided on together, with the manager having the final say but only relying on this final say as a last resort.

Most importantly, the manager needs to be curious about the priorities that the employee see's first.

At the beginning of the meeting the manager might ask, "What are the top 3 things you'd like to get accomplished today?" and listen to what the employee has to say.

Once the employee has shared their priorities, if the manager has any confusion, he or she might ask ask with a sense of curiosity, "Why those are important?"

If there are things on the list that aren't important, the manager can then share their opinion as to what isn't important and why, and finish with the thought. "And what do you think?"

In fact this is the most important question a manager uses when collaborating with an employee. Because this invites a level of collaboration or engagement from the employee that both can trust in.

Once the daily/weekly priorities are clear, the manager makes it clear to the employee that if they have any questions about the specific expectations or purpose of a task that they should feel free to ask the manager.

But if the question is about a small decision that costs the company less than X amount of dollars that they employee should feel free to make that choice.

STEP 3: Separate work
Now the employee goes off to work. And though you may want to monitor all of their activities this is a mistake. Because you've clarified what the tasks are and what the expectations are, you must simply trust your employee to do the work.

Efficient teams are teams that trust each other, and the only way to let someone you know you trust them is to trust them.

STEP 4: Dealing with mistakes
But what if employees make a mistake?

Mistakes happen whether there is trust or not. The problem isn't in making mistakes. The problem is when you have employees that are afraid of making mistakes.

The only thing worse than making mistakes is a fear of making mistakes that paralyzes your entire team.

So what happens when they make mistakes? First you must let them know that mistakes will happen. You must not criticize them for these mistakes as it will only encourage them to deceive you in the future or avoid taking any risks. Both of which will damage your company.

Instead, acknowledge what went wrong and ask them what they think happened. Try to determine if the mistake happened because of a lack of clarity, a lack of skills, a lack of confidence, or something else.

Then work with them to come up with a solution. Losing your patience, getting upset, or chastening them repeatedly won't help you create an ideal employee.

You must accept that mistakes will happen. Trust is built in a relationship when the relationship survives despite the existence of mistakes.

STEP 5: Keep collaborating
The biggest temptation is to stop collaborating and start managing. It seems so much easier to tell someone what to do. And in the short term you're right.

But if you spend all your time telling someone what to do, then you spend less time doing the work that you need to do to run your company. If you learn to collaborate with your team, then you will create a relationship of trust and communication between you and the people working for you.

Not only do you manage less, but the people you work for will do much more than multiply your effort. They will multiply your intelligence, your creativity, and your confidence.

This post was originally posted on MindFitMove.