illustration of two managers practicing macromanagement by looking through a telescope

When it comes to team management, think big. Every leader wants to support their team to drive results and do their best work. Helicopter leadership—micromanagement over every small detail—stifles creativity and makes employees feel powerless, rather than productive. Instead, macromanagement is an effective leadership strategy to inspire and empower employees to achieve objectives and enjoy a better employee experience. Here’s why.

What is macromanagement?

Macromanagement is defined as a hands-off approach to management. You might hear it described as a laissez-faire leadership style. Macromanagement is all about giving employees autonomy and ownership over their work. Macro managers don’t dish out clear directives or keep tabs on the day-to-day details of their teams. Instead, they set the goal post (which is usually a broader strategic goal) and then empower employees to figure out how best to reach it. To put it simply, the manager provides the destination. But the journey? That’s up to employees.

Micro vs. macromanagement: what’s the difference? 

How is macromanagement different from micromanagement? Well, it’s the exact opposite. 

While a macro manager steps back and trusts their team to do their work, a micromanager closely monitors absolutely everything their employees do. As Gartner describes it, micromanagement involves “excessive control and attention to details.” 

What are the pros and cons of macromanagement?

Most employees would probably agree that a macro manager is preferable to a micromanager. But, that doesn’t mean that this approach is without its pitfalls. 

“On one hand, these bosses give employees considerable initiative and empowerment,” explains Professor of Leadership and Organizational Development, Jean-Francois Manzoni, in an article for Harvard Business Review. “On the other hand, they can sometimes be so removed from the action that they’re unable to intervene when needed, making employees feel like they’re left to fend for themselves.”

Let’s take a look at a few of the major advantages and disadvantages of macromanagement. 

Pros Of Macromanagement: 

  • Increases trust between employees and managers
  • Leads to more creative ideas and gives employees space to contribute
  • Supports employee growth and development
  • Prioritizes transparency with managers who are open and honest

Cons Of Macromanagement: 

  • Slows progress and decision-making due to teams calling the shots
  • Makes it challenging to provide detailed performance feedback
  • Doesn’t always fit specific situations, projects, teams, or employees 

How to be a macro manager (without stress and panic)

So, how can you reap all of the rewards of macromanagement without the potential drawbacks? Here’s how to give your employees trust and autonomy—without making them feel like they’re left high and dry. 

1. Explain the bigger picture

Macromanagement means you’ll trust your team to figure out how to achieve your organization’s strategic goals. But first, they need to know what those goals are.

Think that’s common knowledge? Not so fast. It’s estimated that only 40% of employees actually know and understand their company’s broader objectives. Leaders need to do a better job of sharing this information with their teams so they’re equipped to take ownership over their work. 

There’s more than one way to create this level of transparency. A few ideas include:

  • Create a resource: A document or Trello board that spells out company and team goals keeps employees in the know.
  • Tie all projects to larger goals: While you won’t be dishing out specific tasks and prescriptive steps, you still want project oversight. Clearly draw the parallels between those initiatives and the larger goals they support.
  • Involve employees: One way to ensure employees are in the loop on company goals is to bring them in to set them. Not only does this boost visibility and understanding, but employees are also more than three times more likely to engage when they’re involved in goal-setting. 

Never underestimate the power of a simple conversation. Even a quarterly meeting where you revisit goals will ensure everybody has the same North Star, without the need to have a hand in the details of the day-to-day. 

2. Provide the right resources for collaboration (and accountability)

The control and autonomy that come along with macromanagement can be a positive. But, because teams are managing themselves, they can start to see unbalanced efforts—and ultimately resentment. 

Research from Harvard Business Review found that 20-35% of value-added collaborations actually only come from three-to-five percent of employees. Social loafing (when people contribute less in group settings than they would individually) and other group phenomena can throw teams off track if they don’t have the resources in place to collaborate effectively and hold each other accountable

Here are a few ways that you can make working together easier for your team, without stepping on  toes:

  • Use a work management platform (cough, Trello is great for this!) so that projects and communication are centralized. Make sure everybody has a holistic view of what the entire team is up to.
  • Host frequent retrospectives where teams come together to analyze their wins and failures.

Remember that a macro manager is still leading the team. It’s never your employees’ responsibility to decide who needs to be reprimanded or let go. If someone simply isn’t pulling their weight, it’s up to you to make the tough decisions and take the appropriate action. 

3. Get comfortable asking questions

Macro managers don’t dole out directives. They invite employees to take an active role to figure out their tasks and get work across the finish line.

That doesn’t mean you need to be completely out of touch with what everybody is doing. Ask questions to be invested in what employees work on without providing instructions.

Not all questions are created equal, though. The best questions for macro managers are: 

  • Open-ended: These questions require more than a “yes” or “no” response, which means they elicit a far more honest and thoughtful reply.
    • Example: “What ideas do you have to increase our subscriber count?” instead of, “Do you think offering free downloads will increase our subscriber count?”
  • Non-leading: Leading questions subtly push someone to the answer you want. As you’d probably expect, these questions heavily influence responses (hence why they’re often objected to in court trials). They can be kind of tricky to spot, but focus on asking clear questions rather than incorporating any of your own opinions.
    • Example: “How do you feel about the team’s performance?” instead of, “How good of a job do you think the team is doing?”

Know how to ask the right questions to keep your team members in the driver’s seat and keep you informed about their route. 

4. Maintain an open door policy

Macromanagement might be hands-off, but that doesn’t mean employees should feel like they’re left to get by totally alone. 

An article from McKinsey describes this perfectly: “Many managers think delegating to others and empowering them means leaving them alone to make decisions; but successful empowerment requires involvement, it means being hands-on, just not directive—playing the role of inspiring coach and servant leader and providing guidance and guardrails, but not making the decision.”

McKinsey also reports that employees’ relationships with their bosses are the top factor in their overall job satisfaction. Teams need to know that their leaders are there to provide support, encouragement, advice, and resources when needed. A macro manager’s role might include: 

  • Planning regularly-scheduled one-on-ones or team meetings
  • Hosting office hours reserved for employee questions, concerns, or other feedback
  • Serving as a strong advocate for the team to company leadership

In short, good macro managers should demonstrate that they’re still accessible and invested, even if they aren’t elbow-deep in the minutiae of the team’s daily tasks. 

5. Hire with macromanagement in mind

Here’s the truth: Not everybody thrives with a macro manager. Some employees love the opportunity to have more control over their careers and contributions. Others feel aimless without structure, direction, and intervention from their leaders.

If macromanagement is the route you’ve chosen, it’s important to make hiring decisions with that approach in mind. Ask team prospects specific questions about preferred leadership style and work environment, including:

  • Tell me about the best boss you’ve ever had.
  • Describe your ideal work environment.
  • What causes you to feel pride at work? What about stress?
  • How would you describe your preferred management style?
  • How do you prefer to communicate with your manager? How often? 

These questions will help you uncover candidates who will prosper on your team, rather than feel paralyzed by a lack of control. 

Macromanagement is hands off, but eyes (and ears) are open

You want your team to feel driven, but not dominated. Supported, but not stifled. Informed, but not incapable. Responsible, but not restricted. It’s a tough tightrope walk for even the best of leaders, but macromanagement can help you empower your team—without directing their every move.

What is macromanagement? 5 big tips for effective macro managers