Preventing Manager Dependency

Teaching Your Team to Be More Independent

Does your team depend on you too much?

© iStockphoto/Yuri_Accurs

You've just arrived at the office, and it looks like it will be another typical day. Before you even sit down, one of your team walks into your office and asks for your help on the budget she's preparing. As soon as she leaves, someone wants to know if you have any time to help him with a marketing plan that's due by the end of the week.

Before you know it, you've spent much of your day helping your team to do their jobs, while your own tasks are left untouched.

It's important for managers to be a resource to those they lead. But it's easy for teams to take advantage of this. Over time, they can develop "manager dependency."

So how can you train team members to take more responsibility for their own tasks, instead of running to you for "hand-holding" through every step?

In this article, we'll examine how to decrease manager dependency, and how to get the members of your team to stand on their own.

Micromanaging and Delegating

Team members often become dependent on their manager because of micromanagement  . When managers don't let team members take responsibility and ownership of tasks, then it's understandable that people come to depend on that control.

It's important to take a close look at your management style. Is it possible that you're managing your team just a bit too closely?

If you are, then cut back slowly. Start by giving people tasks that don't have to be perfect. (When you reduce your control and input, your team might be uncertain at first that's why it's a good idea to start with low-priority or low-importance tasks or projects.)

Next, look at how you're delegating  . When delegating tasks, team members must understand exactly what they need to do, they need to know that they have the skills and knowledge to complete the task, and they need to feel responsible for delivering it with a certain level of quality by a certain deadline.

If any of this information is missing when you assign tasks, then your people may be forced to come to you for more information. You can avoid this by making sure that they have everything they need at the start of the project. To learn more about assigning responsibility, see our article on The Responsibility Assignment Matrix  .

One strategy for preventing manager dependency is to assign one task to two team members. Give them the responsibility for dividing the work. If they have questions, encourage them to discuss issues with each other first. They should come to you only if they're unable to find an answer together.

Let them know at the start of the task that you've given them all of the information you have. And explain that if you knew all of the answers, you wouldn't need intelligent people in their roles! Let them know that the task will require them to do some brainstorming and strategic thinking, and that you trust their ability to do it. Also make it clear that you want them to come to you with a finished project.

If they do have problems, remember the old advice to "get people to come to you with solutions, not with problems." Make sure that they've thought through at least one possible solution to the problem before they come to bother you.

Creating a Culture of Responsibility

For your team to take responsibility  , you must have a workplace culture that encourages this behavior.

Look at your organization's culture  . Does your company encourage or discourage responsibility and independent thinking?

If it's discouraged, then you need to take steps to change this.

Make sure that "taking responsibility" is written into your performance plans. You want your team to know that this behavior will be rewarded. When team members take independent action to get the job done, praise them for their initiative.

When it's time for performance appraisals, assess team members on their ability to take responsibility. Let them know that you value their initiative, and that the more they take responsibility for their tasks, the better their appraisals will be. Keep notes on which team members have taken responsibility, and what they did specifically, so you can discuss this during their performance reviews.

Using Parenting Techniques With Your Team

Surprisingly, you can use some proven parenting techniques to teach your team to be more independent.

For instance, many parents are encouraged to let their young children take the lead in some situations. The children's choices might be wrong, but the experience allows them to learn and grow.

This is a wonderful technique to use with your team. During meetings, put someone else in charge while you sit back and observe. Or, let the group choose a leader. Putting the team in control forces them to rely less on you, and it empowers them to make their own choices.

Parents are also advised to "practice being absent" if they want their children to be more independent. If your organization allows telecommuting, spend more time away from the office – or simply keep your door closed, signaling that you don't want to be disturbed. Putting space between you and your team will force them to make decisions on their own.

Key Points

Teams sometimes become "manager dependent." To prevent this, make sure that you're not micromanaging their activities. Slowly start delegating less important tasks and projects, and make it clear that it's up to them to brainstorm and find solutions.

You can also use some parenting strategies. Empower your team by letting them take the lead in meetings and on projects, and spend more time away from the office or with your door closed.

It may take time, but by slowly building your team's confidence level, they'll learn to rely less on you and more on themselves.

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