How to Stop Micromanaging but Still Be in the Details

Beatriz Boavida
Feb 26, 2024
6 min read

Airbnb almost saw its end at the brink of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It lost 80% of its business in just eight weeks. Nevertheless, these dark times left Brian Chesky, Airbnb founder and CEO, with a moment of clarity: Before 2020, the company was becoming seriously dysfunctional.

Although they had an amazing culture and people, a great mission, and a brand people loved, they:

In the face of increased pressure to hit KPIs and growth slowing down, it is easy to react by focusing even more on metrics and results (almost becoming a control freak). The danger of this is that if you also disconnect to your WHY, you, the leader, may fall into this grey area many call the micromanaging trap. In this article, we will explore how the Airbnb CEO navigated this challenge and the innovative solutions he implemented.

Leading in details vs micromanaging

Although these two concepts might sound similar at a surface level, what distinguishes them is what determines their outcomes - either a team will be highly motivated and produce high-quality work, or will be disengaged and growth will considerably slow down.

8-Steps to effectively avoid micromanaging

If you want to avoid micromanaging, you need to create a culture of ownership and simplified processes and structure. Most importantly, you need to get involved in every detail without controlling everything.

Here are the 8-steps Brian Chesky applied to rebuild Airbnb that you can adopt at your company:

Write down tasks and eliminate projects

Everything worth doing should be written down – it facilitates planning, communicating, sharing ideas and making decisions. As we say at WorkJoy, “If it’s not written down, it is not work”.

Then, make sure the number of active projects is feasible and relevant. If not, prioritise and drop a few.

At Airbnb:

Before the pandemic, they did not have the habit of writing. This led to people doing more tasks than they could put on paper.

Brian Chesky eventually realised the need to have every task written down in a shared document. From there, he decided they would only focus on 20%.

So, instead of having one team doing three things, they started having three teams doing one thing. Thus, they could easily cut down the number of active projects.

Remove layers of management

Keep the company structure as simple as it can be. In other words, focus on building a functional model – think STARTUP! This allows you to know more easily what is going on in the company.

At Airbnb:

Chesky decided to eliminate divisional leaders and instead structure the company based on the main startup areas: Design, Engineering, Product Marketing, Marketing and Communications, Sales, and Operations.

If you’re a CEO, every direct to your direct should be an implicit dotted line to you. So, I treat every direct to my direct as if they’re a direct report. A dotted line. I don’t try to conflict with the direction of my team, but I always want to know what another layer below me is doing. Brian Chesky

Restructure functions

After removing layers of management, you may find that some functions can be arranged differently – you may eliminate some or create new ones to make teamwork more fluid and productive.

At Airbnb:

Brian Chesky did both – created a new function and eliminated another one. He created a function called Product Marketing. And then, he took a lot of Product Managers and reassigned them to Program Managers, which is a high-status job at the company. 

He eliminated a function called UX Writing and combined it with Marketing Writing. After these changes, he invested in training his employees to build alignment with the new demands of each role and increase expertise.

Focus on having fewer employees

This follows Fred Brook’s idea that “the best way to slow a project down is to add more people to it”. If you want to achieve astonishing results and meet deadlines, focus on having small teams of really qualified employees and expert leaders.

According to the Airbnb founder, a leader’s job should not be leading the people, it should be managing the work first and the people second.

At Airbnb:

They have fewer than 7,000 employees and they make sure every executive is an expert in their field. Chesky views himself as a Chief Product Officer, which allows him to be involved in the product and ensure its quality. Also, Airbnb’s Product Managers are all interconnected and know what everyone else is doing.

Create a roadmap

The idea of the roadmap is to display every project you need to conclude within a certain period of time. This approach helps you better plan, decide, and manage active projects.

At Airbnb:

Chesky creates 2-year roadmaps with all planned projects (apart from some infrastructure projects). Then, he gets the top 30 or 40 people who have access to the roadmap to have an ongoing conversation. The roadmap is updated every month. And metrics then become subordinate to the calendar.

Try to get everyone to row together in the same direction. Otherwise, why the hell are you all in the same company? Brian Chesky

Create a CEO review schedule

Review every project regularly. This allows you to accurately grasp the state of the project – what is working and what is not.

At Airbnb:

Chesky opts to review projects every week, 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 8 weeks, or 12 weeks. He asks the Project Manager to score each project based on three levels: red (not on track to ship), yellow, and green (on track to ship). It is impossible to know if the launches will work before they are shipped. Nevertheless, Chesky uses the reviews to predict its success.

Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy

With review meetings, you can quickly analyse if a certain project is not progressing as expected and together with product managers, come up with a comprehensive understanding of the problem and of what needs to be changed to meet goals and deadlines.

At Airbnb:

If Brian Chesky notices that something is far from working when he is reviewing the projects, he stops the meeting, gets everyone together, and examines why and how it can be resolved. 

Bring reviews into your workflow

Reviews are an effective way of monitoring your employees’ performance without micromanaging them. It allows you to be in the details and have insights without hyper-controlling everyone.

At Airbnb:

Chesky uses reviews to know how well his teams are performing without him being physically present. Thus, this has allowed him to adopt a hybrid work environment.


Knowing how to be in the details is the insight Brian Chesky (Airbnb CEO) took when facing a near-death business experience. How to stop micromanaging when the pressure for results increases and start by building a company with simplified processes and structure.

Here are the 8-Steps Airbnb founder shared with the world:

  1. Write down tasks and eliminate projects.

  2. Remove layers of management.

  3. Restructure functions.

  4. Focus on having fewer employees.

  5. Create a roadmap.

  6. Create a CEO review schedule.

  7. Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy.

  8. Bring reviews into your workflow.

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