Preventing Manager Dependency

Teaching Your Team to Be More Independent

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Help your team members to be more independent.

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 two feet."

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 .

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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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Comments (3)
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Hi Chet

    I agree with you about the message being that the manager has enough confidence in his/her staff to allow them to accomplish a task on their own. One of my mentors used to say: "I will believe in you until you have learnt to believe in yourself." I loved that - it gave me confidence, but I also knew that his door was open if I really needed help.

    Kind regards
  • Over a month ago Chet wrote
    Yolande you make a good point here about new managers thinking they should help their team as much as possible. Turning someone away can often feel counter-intuitive when someone comes asking for help but doing things the way you did clearly works and people start to gain confidence in themselves and feel satisfied when they accomplish tasks. I like how you guided them by breaking the tasks down into manageable chunks so they didn't feel overwhelmed and you still helped them without doing the tasks for them.

    From the article the clear messages for me are setting clear expectations up front and also telling the staff that you have confidence in their ability to accomplish the task. They may not have this confidence in themselves so it's a strong message that their manager does which should allow them to rise to the challenge.
  • Over a month ago Yolande wrote
    Young or inexperienced managers often feel it's their duty to help their staff members with everything - thus creating manager dependency. Instead of learning to delegate and spreading the workload, these managers increase their own workload.

    At one place where I worked, staff members from various departments used to come and ask me for help when writing reports. Invariably I would become frustrated at a certain point and tell then to leave it to me. Then I realised, that more and more of them didn't even was just so much easier to give it to me. I then started asking them to write the framework, before they came to me. Upon showing me the framework, I'd ask them to go and write the first two pages - as best as they could and I would help them fix it (which I duly did). They soon got the message that I wasn't going to write their reports for them any longer and it was great to see how most of them grew and developed. I also loved seeing the pride with which they came to show me their own work!

    Kind regards