Why It’s So Important to Trust Your Team to Manage Their Own Work (And What It Means If You Don’t)

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Trusting your team to deliver everything they need to deliver can feel like a leap of faith sometimes, especially when it’s your reputation that’s on the line when it comes down to it. But micromanagement is a real killer — overbearing bosses and a lack of autonomy are two key factors that push people to leave their jobs.

We all know that no-one likes to be micromanaged, but sometimes it’s hard to trust that your team will perform just as well without you peeking over their shoulders.

Spoiler alert: they won’t. They’ll perform way better. In fact, giving your team the freedom to structure their own work has benefits not only for your employees, but for you and your company, too.

Here are five reasons you should trust your team members to manage their own work — as well as what to do if you don’t.

It shows respect

When you were building out your dream team, you (hopefully) put a lot of thought into your selection process. You hired people that you thought would mesh well with the company, exhibit your values, and deliver great work.

Even if you inherited, rather than created, your team, the principle still holds: these people were chosen for a reason.

If you want to foster an open, trusting company culture (and we suspect you do), you need to start by trusting your team.

So give them the freedom to do what they do best — the thing that you hired them for — and trust that they know how to do that, right down to how they choose to approach their work.

It enables flexibility

We all know that life happens. Whether an employee comes down with the flu or they need to stay home and look after the kids, giving your team the flexibility to work around other arrangements as needed means that they can develop a proper work-life balance.

And, unsurprisingly, having a proper work-life balance is a major factor in thinking about your role within a company as a career and not just a job. It makes sense: when your boss (and/or company) trusts you, you’re more likely to feel valued, which in turn translates into motivation to do good work, which in turn reaffirms that value.

Companies that don’t adapt to flexible ways of working are going to lose out in the race to attract and retain the best and brightest talent. But for flexibility to work, it needs to come with trust. The good news is that growing that trust goes both ways: when you offer flexibility to your employees, they’re more likely to be flexible when your company needs it, too.

It helps you be a better manager

Instead of minimizing your manager-ness, stepping back and letting your team work to their own schedule — as long as they’re meeting deadlines and available when needed — actually frees you up to be a better leader, too.

Instead of laboriously tracking everyone’s tasks, you can spend that time and energy on more important things relevant to your own role.

In the context of your project, that means focusing on where you’re needed — like troubleshooting a particular problem your team has come up against, or lobbying for more resources — instead of trying to be everywhere at once.

It doesn’t mean disappearing and leaving your team to fend for themselves. Make sure that everyone knows that you’re available to discuss any issues, but that you won’t be micromanaging — so they need to have the confidence to come to you about them.

It’s the canary in your coal mine

Finally, an exercise:

You know the way canaries were brought down into coal mines with miners to warn them if something was about to go wrong? The idea of trusting your team to work autonomously is your canary.

If you’re struggling to trust them to do the work, ask yourself why. Is it because it’s a high-stakes project? Is it because you’re worried that if you’re not constantly involved they won’t create something good enough and you’ll just need to redo it again later? Is it because you’re secretly concerned that you won’t perform strongly as a leader, so you’re overcompensating?

There are lots of reasons you might be hesitant, but if your path to trusting your team is littered with red flags, it usually comes down to one of two things: you or them.

How you decide to address this will vary based on the specifics, but here are three things you can do to get started.

Use the right tools

One way of trialling a more hands-off approach is by using the right tools to structure your project. Using a tool that lets your team manage their own workload in their own way but that still gives you visibility over everything that’s happening is a quick win to give you peace of mind without the meddling.

Do a test run

Start small. Delegate work for mini-projects with smaller stakes, let your team do it their way, and then measure the results. Set out clear KPIs that you’re hoping to achieve, so that everyone knows what “success” looks like — then back off and let them forge their own path there. When it’s over, get together to discuss how it went and what can be improved for next time. Then, use your aforementioned manager-ness to help them develop those skills. Rinse and repeat.  

Have regular reviews

It’s uncomfortable, but if you can’t trust your team to get the right work done in the right way, you need to have a serious think about where they fit into your company’s vision. Maybe they’re a great fit for the organization, but would do better in a different role, a different team, or even a different department. Having the right people is a massive prerequisite for being able to trust them to get things done — and as a manager, your job is to hire and develop those people for the best results.

What are your top tips for building a team you can trust? Let us know in the comments.

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