“Jane, I’d like you to phone up the recruiter, and tell them we need a new agency person. Don’t use Jim from Acme Recruitment again, you didn’t get very far with him last time. Make sure you book whoever it is in for a week to work with us as a trial, like last time. That worked well.”

“Jane, can you find us a great developer for the new website we mentioned in standup last week? Let me know if you need help.”

Which is better?

Goals, not tasks

How about we give our team goals, not tasks? Let them shoot for something, and work out their own tasks, rather than giving them a simple list of things to do. Goals allow people to apply their own creativity and their own flair to a solution, and the end result will be stamped with their individuality.

When learning a new skill, people need direction and tasks to follow. Matt Wynne recently re-iterated the classic Su-Ha-Ri model of learning, where we start with very clear forms to follow, then break those forms as we try new things, then advanced to a place where we no longer need the forms at all. At first, we need to work closely with people, and show them the tasks we perform to get something done. Note that this is quite different to giving people a long list of tasks to complete to ‘learn something.’

Whenever we give something away, there’s a risk that it won’t be done in quite the way that we would like. The simple fact is: no, it won’t. But assuming we’ve not overstretched someone, there’s a good chance they’ll get the job done at least 80% as well as we could have. And good people will cope with being stretched much further than we think.

There’s delegation, then there’s abdication

When we take goal setting too far, we just tend to stop giving people goals altogether and let them figure out their own jobs. This is dangerous: the best people don’t need managing, but they do need leading. Our role as a leader is to paint an exciting vision of the future, and then let our team figure out how to get there.

Micromanagement has many levels

It’s quite possible to micro-manage without realising it. We might think we’re not micro-managing because we’re not telling people exactly how to do something. However if we’re leaving little room for doubt in our own minds, and creativity in theirs, then our team will feel less able to apply their own skills and talents to the problem. They’ll get up feeling discouraged and insignificant.

Ultimately it comes down to trust, and fear. How much do we trust our people to get the job done? How much do we fear losing control?

The first step to fighting a task-oriented tendency is to realise it’s probably not a problem with our team members, but with us.