When managing a team, striking the delicate balance between effective oversight and stifling control can be the difference between leading a thriving team and driving them to frustration.

I think it’s safe to say we all want projects to be smoothly and successfully executed. As a people or project manager, you likely feel pressure to ensure your team is producing deliverables that are timely and accurate, and there are undoubtedly times you feel tempted to insert yourself into every crevice of the project, or even take the ball back altogether when you see things getting off track. These tactics may result in the project being completed on time, but they are neither sustainable nor in the best interest of your team’s morale and growth.

But where is the middle ground between trying to control every aspect of a project to ensure its successful completion, and being hands-off to the point you find yourself pulling your projects out of a black hole? The answer lies in the practice of trust AND verify.

My team (lovingly) classifies me as a “feeler.” I possess many of the qualities of a classic “F” on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and as a result, I naturally lead from a place of compassion, empathy, and understanding. The oft-used phrase “trust but verify” has always rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like an oxymoron and the feeler in me worried that saying to my team, “I trust you, but…” would be perceived as a lack of confidence in their ability to do their job. The simple act of changing the word “but” to “and” in the phrase shifted my mindset. The outcome of trust AND verify when thoughtfully executed is a culture of open communication, transparency, ownership, and growth.

The distinction between micromanaging and the "trust and verify" approach lies in the autonomy entrusted to your team members. Micromanaging involves closely overseeing every aspect of a task or project, often to the point of stifling individual initiative and creativity. It may involve requiring people to do it “your way” versus find their own path forward. In contrast, trust and verify is about entrusting team members with responsibilities to get their work moved forward. And it also involves, periodically, in a pre-defined and regular cadence, checking in to gauge progress and review work to ensure your team members’ understanding of the objectives, identifying where expectations may not have been clearly communicated, and gaining insights into where your team could use guidance or feedback.

So how can you best implement trust and verify without stirring up feelings of micromanagement and control within your team? Here’s a few key steps to follow to ensure your approach to managing your team and their projects is effective and met with positivity.

  1. Clearly Communicate Expectations: Schedule a huddle at the beginning of a new project or delegation to gain alignment on the objectives, scope, and areas of ownership for the tasks at hand. Do more than just assign tasks. Take the time to explain the why around the initiative and the impact its successful completion will have. Don’t forget to agree on timing, so that you are on the same page about the pace with which the work should move.
  2. Establish a Verification Cadence: At the onset of each project, agree to a regular check-in schedule that aligns with critical milestones of the project and by-whens for deliverables. Meeting regularly to assess progress and verify tasks are being completed as expected will ward off hair-on-fire moments and unpleasant surprises, allowing you to course-correct before things have a chance to come off the rails.
  3. Provide Feedback – And Create Space to Receive Feedback, Too: Offer specific and timely feedback on the tasks and deliverables completed and encourage open communication from your team by creating space for them to share their ideas and concerns as well. When the team sees feedback is a two-way street, you’ll foster a culture of trust, and your people will feel empowered to ideate and improve processes.
  4. Capture Your Meetings with Recaps: Assign the task of writing a recap to one person on each call from the project kick-off huddle to the very last check-in. It’s not uncommon to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time in meetings and what one person hears or takes away from the call may be very different from another person’s understanding. Ensuring decisions made, action items and next steps are captured by one individual and sent to the group for their review and input will create clarity and alignment for all parties involved. And having a written recap to reference will reinforce accountability and serve as a valuable resource for future discussions and tracking progress.

Embracing the concept of trust and verify will foster collaboration, improve confidence, mitigate risk, and create a culture of transparency, empowerment, and growth.

Let go of the fear of old-school micromanagement and instead implement the complementary forces of trust AND verify!

Verifiably yours,