Working with Adults — or Why Micromanagement Sucks Big Time

Apr 9, 2020

“The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.” — Chinese proverb

With COVID-19, we’re currently experiencing a situation that pretty much forces many companies to adapt to a working style that we at Giant Swarm have considered the norm from day one. In essence, working remotely from wherever you feel the most productive, and at a time and in a manner that suits you best. Of course, it’s not completely like this with us but more on this later.

Talking to many different company owners and team leads, I always get the same question: “But how do you control that people are actually working?”

My answer to this: “We don’t.”

This usually confuses them more. But here’s the thing, control won’t get anyone to be productive. However, trust, motivation, and a sense of purpose might. And all of this is deeply linked to the company culture that Giant Swarm has established from day one.

Lately, things like using a webcam to take pictures of your employees every five minutes to make sure that they are in front of their screen have gained more popularity with companies who (under normal circumstances) would not consider remote work. However, assuming that this will lead to more productive work is a misconception. If people don’t want to work, they’ll find a way to get around it and no means of control will prevent this. And remember that real remote work has little to do with the old office adage “I’m doing home office on Fridays“ where yes, some people might do more of the ‘remote’ less of the ‘work’.


Why we don’t feel the need to micromanage our team members

It comes back to our founding principle that the best people do not work for money but for a purpose and a way of working. In other words, intrinsic motivation beats control every time.

A very simple but at the same time quite underestimated answer to the initial question is that we consider our team members to be adults. I know this sounds like Captain Obvious right now — but in many companies, this isn’t a given.

For us, this means that they are capable of organizing themselves in a way that leads to their most productive work output. In many cases, they have been doing their jobs for a while and are really good at what they do. We expect them to tell us what they need to do their job best and to be confident enough to speak up for themselves.


For some people, this doesn’t come naturally, and we are aware of this. However, through our culture and constant encouragement, we hope that everyone in the team finds the courage to confide in others. Another big aspect is that our team members are extremely passionate about their work and being a part of the ever-evolving tech world.

“There are 1600 superstars at Mercedes. But the strength of the team is every single individual. I cannot drive the car. I am not able to design an aerodynamic surface. But I try to understand everything around the guy who can. And I try to provide a framework for these individuals to perform at their best.” — Toto Wolf, Manager Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula 1 Team

The uncommon value of common sense

Offering things like flexible working hours, unlimited holidays, and the option to choose how and where you want to work doesn’t work without a shared understanding of common sense. We realize that these advantages are only possible because we all play by the rules. When we want the flexibility to work whenever we want, we also need to make sure that we don’t miss out on crucial meetings and that we get our stuff done in time. This system wouldn’t work if we, at the same time, wouldn’t do our jobs properly. We are working within a competitive global market after all. The same applies to vacation days. If all of us take 100 days off per year, the company wouldn’t survive, but there is no problem if we all take between 25 and 35 days.

When traveling, we ask our team members to treat the company money as if it were their own, which means no first-class flights or Michelin-starred restaurants on the company budget. And again, we trust that our employees are adults who make good decisions. ;-)

“Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers, employ good people, and free them to do the same. All else is trivia.” — Dee Hock

So far this has worked out pretty well. Will this still be the case when we grow to 500 people? I don’t know. However, I do know that we’ll try our very best to maintain and protect our culture for as long as we possibly can and adapt and revise wherever it’s necessary. The goal is to stay in the agile mindset and build, measure, and learn. In addition, we attack problems head-on to make sure that our rules and guidelines really do enable the best performance of our team. And any missteps lead to one-on-one discussions, not rules that punish everyone.

“Management Rule/Role No.1: GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY. “Manager” = Hurdle Removal Professional” — Tom Peters

Does Giant Swarm sound like a company you’d like to join? Explore our current job openings and follow us on Twitter.

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