Keeping in Touch without Smothering Your Team

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“I don’t really know exactly what my team members are working on right now. When we were in the office, I felt like I had a better handle on it. I need to know what they are doing, but I don’t want to micro-manage them. How do I find that balance?”

This was a recent conversation with a client who, like many of us, has been trying to figure out how to work remotely with her team without smothering them. Even as this particular team transitions back to working in the office part-time and working from home part-time, they are scattered around and not ever all in the office at the same time. Their team meetings still happen with at least some members connecting via digital means.

Self-aware managers have been engaged in balancing this struggle long before Covid-19 came into our lives in such a prevalent way. It’s just gotten more complicated with our current reality and how we have to work now.

Here are three of our strategies for striking a good balance.

  1. Establish Expectations

You can prepare for the conversation ahead of time, whether you’re the manager or the team member. Make a list of the expectations you have from your side. Try to think about it from the other side’s perspective. Then meet together for the purpose of establishing clear expectations around what will be done, by whom, by when. The more detail there is about deliverables, timelines and benchmarks, the better.

  1. Get Agreement

This *should* be a no-brainer part of the first strategy. But we are including it here because we have noticed that it’s a step too often skipped. Whether it’s fear of appearing redundant or dumb or whatever, or our tendency towards making assumptions, or something else altogether, we sometimes stop short of ‘sealing the deal’. So don’t! Get agreement to the expectations you’ve established together. Probe deeper and make sure all priorities have been taken into consideration. What else is on your calendar or theirs that might interfere with deadlines? Adjust accordingly. But don’t leave the conversation without agreement to the expectations and timelines.

  1. Clarify How to Support

ASK. As a manager, you may have ideas about how to manage your team members. You may have lots of experience with it. You may have a well-established style that you are quite comfortable with. That’s great! But do you know how well your approach and methods work for your team members? What can it hurt to ask? There’s a simple question we like a lot. “How can I best support you?” Follow up questions should help you get clarity about when and how you’ll touch base on progress.

When in doubt, ask. Styles vary widely when it comes to communication, how much oversight one person would like to have compared to another, and many other areas of communicating effectively. When you make the effort to establish up front what everyone’s expectations are, everything gets a little easier. We’d love to hear how it goes for you. And we’re always here to help. Be safe out there, friends.


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