How To Release Control Of Your Team’s Work


Some leaders hire bright, talented, creative people for their team, then spend their entire day trying to turn them into little versions of themselves. 

Oh, they would never admit to that. Instead, they would say “I’m not trying control them. I’m just trying to help them do things the way that I would do them.”

Yes, it’s the same thing. 

If you want your team to produce its best work, and you want to retain the talented people you’ve hired, you need to learn to release your control.  You must let your team members do what they do best. How do you do that, when you have deadlines looming and you’re worried that the team’s work won’t be up to par? 

Know Your Temptations

It’s important that you understand the times and situations where you’re most likely to jump in and try to control the team’s work. Are there specific situations in which you tend to grab the wheel and take full control of the work? Are there predictable times when your team just knows that they’re going to have to surrender everything to your wishes, even though they’d prefer a different direction?

Take some time to consider if there are patterns of control in your leadership. Then, spend just a little more time considering what the root of that need to control truly is. Is it a concern about your personal reputation? A fear that your team isn’t capable? A need to show your value to everyone around you? What is at the root of the control issue? 

Embrace The Stakes

Next, know what’s truly at stake with the project. Some leaders are tempted to control the work too early and too often because they’ve artificially escalated the stakes of a particular project, or they’ve mis-judged how important the early stages of the work are to the finished project. Yes, understand what’s truly at stake if you get the work wrong, but also be realistic about what it will take to get it to the right place. A project that’s 90% as good, but fully conceived and executed by your team, might prove far more valuable in the long-run because you’re teaching your team how to solve problems, not just telling them what to do. 

Set Your Limits and Checkpoints In Advance

There comes a time in the life of any project when you have to step in and make it what it needs to be. You can’t submit sub-par work to a client and say “yeah, but I really didn’t control this one!” You absolutely need to have a clear understanding of when to step in and take the wheel, and you must establish checkpoints along the way to help you determine whether the project is still on the rails, or needs your helpful correction.

Ask yourself the following:

  1. How often do I need to check in on the team’s work on this project? 
  2. What are the signs that my urgent action is needed to get the project back on the rails?
  3. At what point in the project will I know it’s time to step in and take control, to ensure we have time to deliver a quality product to our stakeholders?

Again, there are times when you simply must step in to make things happen, but it can’t be everywhere and always. Let your team do what you’ve hired them to do.

Controlling your team reduces its effectiveness to the limit of your own personal reach. Don’t allow that to happen. Instead, teach your team not just what to do, but how to do it and why it works. They will reward you with the best work of their lives. 

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Positioning himself as an “arms dealer for the creative revolution”, Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of five books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, Herding Tigers, The Motivation Code) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work.

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