A number of years ago I found myself leading a group of individuals, who had been abandoned, mismanaged and ignored for several years. The only communication they received was when they made a mistake. It was usually swift and brutal, so those who remained had grown a thick, protective shell to block out the pain and soldier on. They were a disillusioned and withdrawn bunch…and for the most part, it simply wasn’t their fault. They were merely tools to be used to achieve a result; otherwise, they were ignored.
As a manager, you are responsible for the productivity and efficiency of your team. That is a given. What often gets missed entirely is the importance of noticing, observing and communicating with your team members on a regular basis. Perhaps more importantly, what is missed is the clear connection between engaging staff and continued long-term improvements in productivity, efficiency and culture of their department and organization. Below are four tools I have used over the years to help me become better at observing and engaging the teams I managed.
Meet with your team every day. To the extent your team is onsite, meet with them all first thing in the morning. Have a stand-up, 5-10 minute daily briefing to cover what each person is working on that day, calendar reminders, and needs they may have to be addressed. These meetings were hugely beneficial to me to better gauge changes in individual behavior and any interpersonal conflicts that may need to be addressed on a daily basis. It also sent the message to my team that I cared about them enough to take this time each and every day to enter their world for a bit.
Don’t let behavioral or interpersonal issues fester. They only get worse! If, at the daily briefing I had some concerns about something I heard or saw, I would invite the individual(s) to stay a bit longer to talk. I would simply share that I noticed either (a) they weren’t themselves this morning or (b) there seemed to be some edge between the individuals involved, and I would like to help.
A couple of points to note about this tool. For those of you who abhor anything touchy-feely, let me offer my apologies, but no excuses. The simple fact is people are touchy-feely. You are touch-feely, whether you like to admit it or not. We all are. To be an effective manager, you must be able to go there with them. Learn the issues, understand the problem, provide the necessary encouragement, resources and challenges, so that your team can meet and exceed the expectations for their roles.
The second thing to note is this technique isn’t always productive at first; particularly with individuals who have been abused by managers or others in the past and/or present. The keys are authenticity and vulnerability applied with consistency over time. The result is trust. (A math guy might write out as an equation like this.)
Authenticity (A) answers the question of: “Do you really care about me to get involved?” I can’t emphasize this one enough. Don’t even try to do this, if you really don’t care or want to know. You will only serve to frustrate yourself and alienate your staff further.
Vulnerability (V) answers the question of: “Are you willing to be real with me and help me figure this out?” Your staff wants to know who you are. They know you have weak spots, but they also want to know you recognize them and are working on them, too.
Consistency (c) answers the question of: “Are you willing to be authentic and vulnerable every time something comes up?” Don’t give up your first 2 – 3 times. Keep inquiring.
Meet with your team individually each month. I tried to meet with my team once a month one-on-one for 30 – 45 minutes. If you haven’t done this before, you would be surprised at how meaningful this time is for your staff. We used this time to see how they were progressing on goals and address any issues we may have missed on a daily basis. The questions they would ask during these meetings taught me that we can never over-communicate the values and goals of the organization or the value of the individual across from us. I learned much from those meetings and not only did we accomplish most of the goals, I came to greatly appreciate the skill set and varied personalities on my team.
Notice and thank your team regularly. Ok. Full confession. This is one area I was not the most consistent in applying. I continue to learn the value of this as I consult with clients and their staff. People don’t know how they are doing or even if you appreciate their efforts, IF we don’t tell them. Allow yourself to slow down and appreciate where you are, what you have and the people around you. You will not regret it!
Question: What is the biggest challenge you find in managing staff?
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