We are all aware of the impacts of micro-managing your team, the most damaging of which is a lack of trust in their abilities and accountabilities as adult employees. But there is a different approach which can be just as damaging – and that’s undermanaging your team.


This management style is harder to detect and less likely to be challenged, because the effects are less easy to pinpoint, and the manager in question is usually well liked and personable. Instead of being too “hands-on”, they are too “hands-off”, and will defend their team and their talents to the hilt if they are challenged. And just as the nervous manager who lacks confidence in their team’s ability will try to manage what they are doing very closely, the Undermanager will do their best to avoid conflict with their team members and maintain their image as a popular manager – but this means that problems go unchallenged and issues with performance are rarely addressed.


In this post, we’ll look at some of the symptoms of undermanaging a team, what causes it, and if this is you, what you can do to address it.


The Symptoms of Undermanagement


Some of the warning signs that a team is being undermanaged may take a little digging, because they may not be as obvious as a micromanaged team. On the surface, the team members may seem pretty contented – they don’t have any particular pressure on them, and they seem to get on well with their manager. But here are some questions to ask:


  • Is the team meeting its deadlines?
  • Does the team have drive and passion for what they do?
  • Does everyone have clear goals for how to improve – as a team, and individually?


If the answer to any of these is uncertain, then it’s likely the team are being undermanaged. The consequences are that underperformers coast along without being challenged; average performers go on as normal, but may go off in the wrong direction with a task for weeks before it’s picked up; and high performers lose motivation and leave.


A clear performance management framework, backed up with the right level of attention and communication, are the basic ingredients for a successful team that’s achieving what it’s supposed to; with that balance struck between the two extremes of micromanagement and undermanagement.



What are the reasons for Undermanagement?


There are several reasons why a manager isn’t doing all of the things they should for their team. One of the biggest is the desire to avoid conflict – having to challenge those trickier areas of staff performance, or having the conversation about that time management issue, are things that some managers would just rather not do. Unfortunately, these matters that could be solved with a simple conversation (however daunting for the manager) can often escalate and become serious problems for the individual’s performance, and for the team around them.


Another reason for undermanagement is that managers feel they just don’t have the time to spend on creating that performance management framework for their team. They may have significant work commitments of their own alongside managing their team’s work – but one thing’s for sure, they will end up with a great deal more to do if their team are unaware of what they need to do to achieve.


Managers may also perceive that putting a performance management framework in place for their staff, and then recognising and rewarding achievement, will mean that their team feel unfairly treated – or even micromanaged. A manager who has done all they can to avoid conflict with their teams, or to keep up an image of being ‘nice’, will naturally be very reluctant to be seen as a micro-manager – but may not realise where that balance has to be struck to meet the needs of their team.



What to do about it


That balance between the two approaches is critical to a successful, motivated and loyal team – and there are some very simple things you can do to give your team what they need to excel.


Expectation: share the vision with your team. Make sure everyone knows why you are all there, and what you’re all working towards – what the end goal is, who will benefit, and how this fits in with the aims of the whole organisation. Set team goals that support the vision, and then individual goals with clear and achievable deadlines, along with the support you will put in place for them along the way.


Communication: talk to your team regularly, and give them time to talk to you. Weekly team meetings are an essential time commitment you should make to your team to keep everyone updated on progress – and regular one-to-one timeslots are a must as well, when you can go over their individual goals, even if it’s just in brief. These team and one-to-one meetings will offer the time and space for issues to be raised, discussed and solved between you, and they are a clear demonstration of your commitment to your team, as a whole and as individuals. When issues do arise, don’t forget that important accountability conversation, too – what went wrong, how it will be fixed, and what’s been learnt for the future.


Congratulation: when things go well, celebrate them. As part of your performance framework for individuals, it’s important to define what areas need work, what’s going well, and what’s exceptional. The first two are probably quite simple to define, but the last is more tricky – but it’s well worth investing the time to define it. Exceptional work is what makes someone role model material – someone who takes a lead in mentoring others, or is the expert in a particular field; or perhaps someone who is the first to embrace change, and helps others to embrace it too. Define exceptional work, and celebrate it when it happens – when it’s well deserved, it will foster plenty of goodwill and boost morale.



If you feel you may be falling into the Undermanager category, there is help available! Contact me today for a free chat about how I can help you to get the best from yourself and your team.