By Wayne Turmel

I’m sure that title got your attention, and probably tweaked something in the back of your brain. After all, we’re hard-working leaders, and there’s ALWAYS stuff to be done. So, what the heck are you talking about this time?

There’s actually one time when it’s fully acceptable for the manager to do nothing: when someone else on the team can do it just as well or better.

This is particularly true with remote teams. We’ve written many times on this blog about how vital it is for team members to know the strengths that each member brings to the work, as well as the importance of encouraging them to work together, rather than always bringing you into the middle of it. This accomplishes two important functions:

  1. It keeps the team in contact with each other, and encourages constant positive contact between the individuals and reduces “silo” thinking.
  2. It frees you up for more important tasks. You get time back in your life.

The team communication improves and functions at a high level, and you get to do less. Win-win.

Of course, like all time-saving plans, there’s work that needs to be done in advance. In order for you to kick back and stay out of some of these conversations, you need to set expectations, and monitor your own behavior (to overcome your natural tendency to either help or micro-manage, depending on your point of view):

  • When assigning a project or task, set clear expectations about roles and resources. Before you even assign a task, make sure that people know who besides you they should go to with questions or requests. “Oh, if you have any questions, you don’t have to come to me, you can go directly to Alice for anything you need.” (Of course, make sure Alice knows about this or you’ll get sucked into THAT discussion.)
  • When you do get a question or request that can go elsewhere, take a deep breath and delegate that work. It takes only a few extra seconds to type “This request should go to Alice. I’ve cc:ed her on it, let me know if you need anything else.” If you respond like Pavlov’s dog (out of either frustration or an honest desire to help), you’ve basically told that person they can come to you—and many people prefer to go to the highest authority possible, or the person they have the best relationship with. It’s perfectly okay for you to decide “this should go elsewhere,” then make sure it does. Really, it’s okay.
  • Check in with everyone from time to time to ensure those conversations happen. As part of your one on one coaching conversations (which you’re having, right?), one of the important questions to ask is: “How is the team (or an individual) helping you with your work?” You’ll find out if people are responsive, if they are in regular communication with each other, and how things are going. You may not know unless either you ask directly (better) or things go sideways and you wind up intervening later (decidedly worse.)

By helping the team find better and more effective ways to communicate with each other and to not drag you into the middle of things, you’ll wind up with a better functioning remote team, while doing less yourself, or at least giving yourself time for those “important but not urgent” tasks on your own to-do list.

For more on helping your team communicate better and engage with each other in positive ways, check out this list of great events and resources for remote teams.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute
Wayne Turmel, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute.

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

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