“If I Don’t See My Team Working All The Time, I Question If They Are Delivering Value” (Lesson 6)

Many leaders and senior executives feel the need to micromanage their teams. This form of management involves closely observing and controlling the work that individual team members carry out.

Now while the leader sees micromanaging as the way to increase productivity, as well as know what’s happening in any given project at any time, the team view this form of management as a hindrance to their creativity and a sign of distrust. Consequently, it is testing, intimidating and disheartens a team, which reduces productivity—the exact opposite of what the leader or senior executive is trying to achieve.1

Peter represents a perfect example of a leader who wanted to see his team working all the time. If Peter didn’t see his team working, he would question if they were delivering value. Peter was the senior executive for a large corporate group based in London. He not only insisted that his team started work early, but also that they had breakfast together every morning.

Also wanting his team to be around him during the day, Peter would call them to catch up on their work progress. His most common lines when contacting a team member were, “What are you doing?” And, “Where are you?”

However, what Peter didn’t realise was that every time he called, he interrupted a team member’s thought process, their concentration, and their level of productivity.

The office where Peter and his team were situated overlooked the carpark. So the team could see people as they arrived and left the office. Peter’s micromanaging became a ritual, so the team would wait until they saw Peter walk across the carpark to his vehicle before they would pack up and leave themselves. Over time, this tactic became known as leaving at “5 past Peter.”

So, why do leaders need to see their team working all the time?

There are several reasons and they all stem from old ways of thinking. Let’s look at these now.

Ignoring Technological Advancements

With technological advancements, today’s workplace is not the same as it once was. Team members don’t always need to be present in the workplace to be productive—they can work from anywhere. Previously, work needed to be completed at the office as there were no systems to support remote working such as remote access, email or shared cloud storage.

For instance, now most office workers can access company documentation, answer emails, connect with clients and create (and present!) presentations from their laptops at home or on the road. Plus, they can transfer or share files with other team members via enterprise Cloud technology, Skype and email.

So, even though an office worker is not sitting in an office in-person, they are still able to actively collaborate on projects—possibly even more effectively when you consider the time and energy saved on commuting.

However, for the leader who has moved through the ranks without such technology, it is difficult to grasp that work outside of the workplace is possible, and with relative ease. Instead, this leader needs to know what’s happening, and all the time. And the only way to do this is to have their team in his line of sight.

Old Management Processes

Also, many senior executives have advanced through their career using old management principles such as Taylorism, the theory—discussed in article 1—which hails from the 20th Century and involves close monitoring of mass production factory workers.

Consequently, by applying this thinking to workplace practices, leaders believe that they improve the efficiency and output of a worker.  Historically speaking though, this approach often resulted in workers striking and walking off the job, as many felt they were nothing but a machine put under too much scrutiny and pushed to their limitations.2 

Applying Taylorism to thought work, where it’s not as simple as monitoring people physically ‘doing’ tasks on a factory floor, has been met with even more resistance.

A Culture Of Distrust

Many leaders also feel that they must see a team member working and what they are working on to believe they are doing something constructive. This belief is a result of the nature of ‘thinking’ work combined with larger workplace practices where it is difficult for a leader to monitor their staff closely.

So, with a lot of staff working in one area in a larger organisation, being able to review outcomes isn’t always possible. The enormity of an organisation can then lead to a culture of distrust where a leader doesn’t feel that their team is delivering value. When this occurs, the team don’t feel trusted, which then encourages them to be less productive.

Why?

Well, distrust creates disunity between a leader and their team, or an ‘Us’ vs ‘Them’ perception.

 

1 Wilkins, Muriel Maignan. Signs That You’re a Micromanager.HBR.org 2014.

2 Henshall, Adam. Taylorism and the History of Process: 6 Key Thinkers You Should Know. Process.st 2018.