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Should you micromanage or provide autonomy to your team

Micromanagement always had bad reputation. Employees dislike being constantly watched by their managers, it’s a fact. They feel they lack of control and freedom and end up losing both, their creativity and their faith in the company they are working for.

I admit I am experiencing some management issues in my company right now. After having raised an important amount of money at the end of last year, we are hiring to reinforce our team. The management method that I applied few months ago with 6 people, no longer works today with 15 people. I have to adjust the structure and internal organisation of the company to overcome the rapid growth we are facing.

As a CTO, my team, mostly composed of developers, engineers and QA testers, is growing quickly.

One of my challenge at the moment is to find the right balance between over-managing members of my team or giving them the level of autonomy and freedom they wish they had.

My cofounder and I created the company two and a half years ago, from experience, I learned that the more a team grows, the more management methods have to evolve.

 

First, let me explain why I felt the need to change my management method.

  • Bad communication, no capitalization of information within the team.
  • Too many people implied in every debate/discussion.
  • Office constantly disturbed by too much unproductive discussions.
  • Most importantly, as a founder, I wasn’t systematically aware of issues concerning products or customers…

 

Bad communication, no capitalization of information

Communication is key to allow a company to succeed. Information about customer requirements, product evolutions are critical to deliver the best quality of service to customers.

At some point, in my team, something terrible occurred (I overreact voluntarily): information were lost. Important subjects were debated on the fly, nothing was written down. Months later, we often tried to remember what a customer asked or what we decided at that moment.

It is crucial to find an effective way to communicate within the team and to be sure that the information is then accessible anytime from anywhere.

Too many people implied in every debate/discussion.

Two years ago, we were only 2 people, then 4 and we all worked in the same room. At this time, everytime that one of us had a question, we asked it orally to everyone and we discussed about it right away if it was necessary. Communication was basic but quite effective.

The more people we hired, the more impossible it became to apply the same basic communication techniques. When we were 14 people, we had a bigger office but once again, it was an open space with everybody inside. And at first, as usual, if someone had a question or encountered a problem, he instantly mentioned orally his problem to the rest of the company. Too many people participated to the discussion, even sometimes people that were absolutely not concerned by the topic. (They are kind people that I deeply appreciate who just naturally want to help others but still, it is a big efficiency loss).

 

Office constantly disturbed by too much unproductive discussions.

Unfortunately, even those who didn’t wanted to participate were distracted and unfocused by the surrounding noise and became less productive.

This became quickly an important productivity issue.

 

As a manager, I wasn’t systematically aware of issues concerning products and customers.

I am often out of the office. My cofounder and I were, at that moment, opening an office in Paris and it was difficult for us to be in our headquarter every single day.

When my team were mentioning an issue and instantaneously discussing the best solution to solve the problem (without storing or archiving the debate and therefore the solution) I was too often, not physically with them and I ended up being unaware of a lot of decisions (minors or even majors). Sometimes, weeks or months later, while speaking to someone in the office, I learned stories about past issues. It was really frustrating for me to not being aware by any ways of problems my team regularly encountered.

As a founder and an entrepreneur, I consider it is my job and my responsibility to help my coworkers finding higher level solutions to avoid recurrent difficulties.

 

Solutions

Facing all of those 4 issues mentioned above, my first reaction has been to micromanage people in order to try to give them good habits and learning them to store and archive information and to not systematically disturb the entire office systematically. In less than two days, I realized that micromanaging members of the team was absolutely not a success. Everybody disliked that I was behind their shoulders to be sure that communication was effective, and I quickly felt this was not sustainable.

To overcome this issue and to avoid over-managing my team, I worked on a logical and fluid information workflow and an internal process that could help us better communicate between peers.

In my team, the solution has been to nominate a « unicorn » within developers. The « unicorn » changes at each « sprint » (read my articles about the Scrum framework if you don’t already know what a sprint is). Every three weeks, the unicorn is a different developer. The responsibilities are fairly distributed, the knowledge are homogeneous and everybody contribute to the peacefulness within the office.

The « unicorn » is the referent person other teammate must talk to if they have an issue or problem and then the « unicorn » is responsible to dispatch the information to concerned people who helps finding a solution or answering the question.

Finally, the « unicorn » is in charge to write down and archive the issue.

And finally, as the « unicorn » is in charge to dispatch the information, being the CTO, I am often in the loop and therefore aware, all the time, of issues encountered in the office. People are no longer disturbed all day long and can focus on their work. Better productivity, better communication and capitalization of information are now part of our daily routine.