November 24th, 2020
This is a question that is often asked of managers. Some people tackle this question from many different perspectives wanting to focus on roles and responsibilities, tracking progress against a project schedule or indeed the flow of cards on a scrum wall. But I believe that the most important thing a manager can do is getting to know your team. I manage software engineering teams; however, the same applies to all teams in any discipline. In this article, I will explain why getting to know your team (and them you) is important. I will also cover my favourite technique I use to manage my directs (folks), the one on one.
All teams are made up of people. People are complex in nature. People have different needs and things that drive them. People have different ways they like to communicate. People have different family situations. By taking the time and getting to know people, you can learn a lot about that person and in the process, improve their performance. These improvements come from making small adjustments to the way you manage these folks taking into account their diversity. Lets cover some of these areas below.
Getting to know people helps you better understand that person. Once you get to know someone well, you get a picture of what makes them tick and what motivates them. Does this person have kids and are motivated by having greater flexibility in their role, is the person ambitious and motivated by big bonuses? This type of information is important to understand because it enables you as the manager to tailor your style to get better results.
Health and wellbeing are critical elements for people to perform at their best. For a manager to be able to identify when things are not right is critical to ensure that person can have time to heal without the weight of delivery weighing them down. For instance if someone is struggling with something that is effecting their performance it is best to discover this early so these problems can be understood by the manager and plans prepared to work around them. It would be awful for someone to have to hide their issues and carry the stress of delivering work outcomes with no assistance.
To get the best results from people, you need to be able to communicate with them effectively. Some people like to read and absorb for a while. Some people like to hear something said out loud and work through the solution collectively. All these different styles are valid and need to be catered for to get the best results from your folks. As you get to know someone, their communication styles come to the fore and are easily recognisable. Small changes to how you engage with these people, taking into account their communication style will reap benefits in their performance.
Getting to know someone also teaches you about their strengths and weaknesses. This is not only for the betterment of the company but also for the betterment of the person. There is a great satisfaction that comes with achievement, and it is part of the manager's job to help their folks unlock this potential. If you spend time getting to know someone you can understand the areas they need to work on.
Getting to know your team is a two-way street. I believe it is equally important for your team also to get to know you. The team needs to understand what makes you tick when you're troubled, and so on. But if I had to put one element above all else, I would pick communication. It is critically important for your team to understand how you like to communicate as I mention before people are all different, and this includes you the manager. For your folks to get the best out of their time with you, they need to learn the best way to communicate.
There are several methods that we can use to get to know each other. There are tried and true methods of breaking bread together over lunch or dinner. Many people like going out and having a chat over a drink or two. These are all great techniques, but there is a better way to get to know your team that trumps all others. The One on One.
As the name suggests a one on one is a meeting between two people (Direct and Manager). It is a meeting that is booked in the calendar for the same time each (Week, Fortnight, - I prefer weekly). It is a set time which is usually 30 mins. The good people at managertools.com have a wealth of guidance around all things management, including guidance around one on one's and I can recommend heading across there to check out their content which is excellent. I learned about one on one's by from these folks. Although I probably don't apply all of their guidance to the letter.
My one on one's typically run to this format although sometimes they are more freeform depending on the day. I am ok with this level of flexibility as I believe this is healthy for folks.
One on one's should be held regularly. It can be weekly or every fortnight or monthly. I like the weekly cycle personally because it means it is never too long to talk to your people, so things tend not to fester. I am not religious about this though, and sometimes we will cancel a one on one if we are busy or if something is going on. I know some people do a fortnightly schedule which also works fine for them. If you have many direct's, you may need to revert to a fortnightly schedule to keep your head above water.
The one on one meetings allows the manager and their staff to get to know each other. When people have a really good understanding of each other, they can work much more effectively together. The one on one is a regular slot for this relationship to grow each week. This time becomes a safe space where staff can feel comfortable opening up and sharing. When we have a open and honest discussion we tend to uncover more about someone that wouldnt be apparent from a water cooler type discussion. Investing time in getting to know the people on your team and adjusting your managerial style provides massive benefits and leads to greater performance and satisfaction all round.
It is a fairly simple process to set up one on one's with your folks. The process is:
One on ones are a great tool to assist you in getting to know your team and in turn, getting the most from them individually and as a team. Investing 30 minutes per week in building a relationship and getting to know your direct enables you the manager to have a greater understanding of what makes that person tick and how to get the most from that person. One on one’s are not the only technique you can use to get to know people but they are one of the most effective methods to building and cementing a relationship with your directs.