We all know that the world of work has fundamentally changed. Maybe we are living the new way to work or maybe we are managing someone who is. Where possible, most organisations have embraced a workforce that can now be onsite, remote or a combination of both; but have we really embraced letting go of the proverbial leadership reins?

As the work climate rapidly changed, managers found themselves in a real life leadership course where they had to quickly adapt to team members being postcodes away instead of metres. For some, this was a chance to empower their team to hit new goals, but for others, there was real fear of how they could ‘manage’ from afar. This drove a desire to tighten the reins, oversee the details and make spontaneous calls to prevent a possible Netflix interlude.

The thing is – employees are adults who need to feel trusted. They want their employer to assume that they will do the right thing and not think that distance equates to laziness. A talented, driven employee in the workplace is still that person at home. If they have clear goals and achieve them in the allocated time frame; doesn’t the where, when are how become superfluous?

What is the ‘tight loose tight’ strategy?

Leaders that walk the tightrope of micromanaging and become anxious when they can’t ‘see’ their team would gain from adopting the principles of the ‘tight loose tight’ strategy. In addition, leaders that have their team in front of them but feel tempted to continually ‘step in’ would also benefit.

The tight loose tight (TLT) strategy is a framework that can help leaders achieve better results by balancing clarity, autonomy and feedback. It consists of three basic steps:

  1. Tight: Define the purpose and goals of the project, task or deliverable. Communicate them to team members to ensure that there is clear direction and a mutual understanding of output. Provide the opportunity for questions and ensure support is given. 
  2. Loose: This is where the magic happens. Now is the time to step back and provide your team member(s) with the freedom, flexibility, trust and autonomy to execute the project, task or deliverable in the best way possible. This approach allows for creativity, innovation and experimentation. Most importantly, it screams – “I trust you to get the job done to the desired level on your terms.”
  3. Tight: After the period where employees have had the flexibility to execute on the deliverables, it is now time to monitor and measure the results and success of the project or task. Check the progress, celebrate success and provide feedback. End this step by identifying any opportunities for improvement.  

A good way to remember the TLT strategy is:

  • Tight for purpose and goals
  • Loose for execution
  • Tight for results

How is the TLT strategy good for business?

The TLT strategy has been around for some time, however it has made a resurgence due to a clear need for leaders to take a breath and give their team members the empowerment, trust and autonomy to do the job that they were hired to do.

When used well, it can drive stronger business results, improve trust and collaboration, and empower workers to reach new levels of success. Some of the common benefits of TLT include:

  • It fosters creativity and innovation by empowering employees
  • Employees have the freedom and flexibility to complete their tasks in the way that they feel will bring success
  • It increases engagement and motivation as employees feel trusted
  • It aligns workers with the goals and purpose of the task
  • Performance and productivity are increased
  • Collaboration and communication improves as employees self-manage and seek their own relationships to get the job done
  • It does not lose focus of the task or the output

How to apply TLT in your business

The TLT strategy is not difficult or only available to a certain type of business. Each leader and organisation can find the right way to implement this strategy with success. When used with intention and authenticity, the TLT framework can help you achieve better results by balancing clarity, autonomy and feedback.

The following tips will provide some insight into how to implement TLT in your business:

  • Take an honest reflection of the leadership structure and approach within your business.  Are your leaders clear with the task and then purely interested in the results? Or are they seeking to implement rules, policies and check points to ensure that employees are ‘working’? It is important to start with a culture check and an understanding of the appetite to change.
  • Provide support and guidance to the leadership group to help them to understand why this framework could work for them.
  • Collate the data to show the evidence that the employee group have a reputation for delivery.
  • Talk to the leadership team about the benefits of TLT and how it can foster creativity, increase motivation, improve performance and enhance collaboration.
  • Finally, encourage leaders to trial the TLT strategy and to test the framework and measure the results, feedback and engagement. What worked well and how did this make your employees feel?

It is normal for some leaders to be apprehensive, however it is important to remember that the employer always has the opportunity to manage underperformance or poor behaviour should that occur. 

Can the TLT strategy be used in other areas of the business besides performance?

Absolutely! Like many tools and frameworks, the TLT can be applied to other scenarios. Below are two other examples:

1. Using TLT in 1 on 1s

1 on 1s are a key part of the leader/employee relationship, so it is integral to get this right. TLT can be used as part of the coaching framework with great success. The below is an example:

TLT in 1 on 1s:

  • Tight for the intent or goal of the catch up: this is where the leader is clear about the intent of the session, what they are hoping to achieve or learn and any key outputs of the session.
  • Loose for the actual conversation: sometimes leaders will dominate 1 on 1s with a whole lot of talking. Allow this part to be fluid with the employee guiding the discussion in the way that works best for them.
  • Tight following the 1 on 1: this is the opportunity for the leader to check in to ensure that the employee has taken responsibility for the actions and commitments made in the catch up. This holds the employee accountable and ensures the 1 on 1s are more than discussions.

2. Using TLT in meetings

Meetings are a core part of work, so it makes sense that they are a prime opportunity to bring this strategy to life. The application of TLT can be successful in creating productive meetings where psychological safety is embraced.

TLT in meetings:

  • Tight in setting the agenda and expectations: provide a detailed agenda well before the meeting. Add in the expected outcomes and next steps.
  • Loose in creating psychologically safe discussions: this is where there is an openness to the agenda that empowers and engages ALL participants to bring their diversity of thought and experience.
  • Tight in tracking the delivery of actions: a great meeting is just a meeting until the action items begin gaining traction. This is where the second ‘tight’ comes into play.

Manage results – not people

The old school leadership textbooks encouraged managers to ‘hold the hand’ of employees every step of the way. If there were obstacles – remove them. If there were questions – answer them.  We celebrated workers who sat in their chair for ten hours a day; even if they did not bring the results. It is now time to put in the hard yards to create a culture of mutual trust.

We need employees to trust that our leaders can provide clear goals and objectives with the right support structure in place. But most importantly - we need leaders to take a step back, loosen the leadership grip and empower workers to get the job done in their own way. Of course there will always be exceptions, but when you create a culture of trust - you may just be pleasantly surprised at how many workers step up to the plate and knock it out of the park!

Further information 

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.  Ai Group has training programs designed to support leaders on their development journey.  

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Georgina Pacor

Georgina is Senior HR Content Editor – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 25 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.