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Agile: Successfully Enabling the Micromanager at the Team Level

Did you smile a little when you read the title? If so, you know exactly what I’m talking about...

I had a Scrum Master for one organization approach me and simply state, "Now that we have gone to Agile, we've simply allowed our micromanagers to evolve from individual to team-level micromanagement. We made it easier for them!"

I laughed...and then I cried...

It’s always ironic to me when certain staff managers bring me in as an Agile Coach in the name of teamwork, collaboration, visibility and embracing change and then find themselves as the only ones left who are struggling.

You know the traits of the micromanager:

  • They want to know exactly what is going on at all times.
  • They want to know how it’s getting done at all times.
  • They feel the need to intervene…often.
  • They don’t want any decisions made without their input.
  • They want you to make decisions but only if said decisions are what they are thinking too.
  • They appreciate if you have a great idea, but if it’s not their idea then it’s really not that great.
  • At the end of the day…you can never be working hard enough.

You see, in the past, this person was required to micromanage at the individual level. They had many people to track and or monitor and many ways to do it.

But here comes Agile!

Sure…we want the teams to be self-empowered. Yes…we want the teams to trust each other. Of course…we want the teams to self-organize. As long as they do it my way and report back to me on their status. This is great! Instead of having to monitor all the different individuals, I can just do it at the team level and have the team work the way I want them to. I love Agile!

It’s true the teams need somewhere to start. A set of ground rules that helps them get going in a certain direction; not unlike riding a bicycle. You have to hold the handlebars, peddle your feet and keep your balance. A set of rules to assist you as you learn.

But, just as you eventually let go of the back of the seat and watch proudly as they cycle away, crash, get back up and try again, you have to allow the teams to do the same. Learn to ride the bike on their own, with their own style.

Tiya Ivy, Digital Marketing Manager at Molokini Marketing, mentions in her blog entitled “The Devastating Consequences of Micromanagement”:

"Eventually, staff working under a micromanager will go one of two ways. Those with big ideas, quality skills and knowledge will remove themselves from such situations and those on the other side of the coin (for whatever reason) will become zombies; just waiting to be told what to do, rather than dreaming up ‘unsafe’ pioneering ideas of their own. What you will be left with, is a team of workers content to wait around for your instructions…completely void of their own initiative.

Some of the other destructive effects micromanagement will leave in it’s wake, are hindering workflow (all approvals go through a manager who is unable to delegate), creating a ‘wait to be told’ culture (why work ahead of time when the micromanager will come along and change everything again), retarding communication and discouraging teamwork.”

These scenarios can kill agility within an organization.

So how do you help the Agile Team Micromanager learn to let go?

Start by giving “silent transparency”. While asking leadership to “give space”, encourage the teams to provide details around decisions made, how they are working and why things are done a certain way. Encourage them to be open to external ideas regardless of source. One sure-fire way to enable a micromanager is for the teams to flat out reject anything leadership has as recommendations in the name of Agile self-empowered-ness. Allow leadership to feel their experience and thoughts are being seriously considered and, only after reasonable consideration and explanation, not applied.

Help the micromanager understand true leadership is about supporting their teams in successful decision-making as opposed to simply making the decision and hoping it’s successful. Regularly display both successes by the team, and failures, indicating how both took place and were addressed by the team. You’re creating a culture of trust over time.

Trust is a big aspect of this. Agile teams need to trust each other. Leadership needs to trust the teams. Lack of such trust is one of the top drivers of micromanagement and failures in Agile adoption. Lack of trust could be considered the kryptonite to Agile’s Superman.

Help everyone (leadership and team) to embrace that change won’t happen immediately. With effort, it will get better by both sides over time. It took how long for those qualities to be ingrained in management? Changing those qualities will take time as well. Just like adopting Agile, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It will take time, patience and endurance. But in the end, it will be worth it.

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