Monday, August 04, 2014

Are You Spending Enough Time with Your Staff? (A Work-Related Post)

According to a new study by Leadership IQ, the optimal number of time you should spend with each of your staff is six hours per week. It found that those who did had staff who reported being more inspired (29%), more engaged (30%), felt "more innovative" (16%) and were more motivated (15%) than those who spend only one hour per week with their boss.

In this modern high-tech world, it's easy to become disconnected, especially if you're a working manager, or you have a large number of direct reports.

All too often, the demands that spring up and cry for our attention (skype, email, meetings, our own boss) may be the places where we spend our limited budget of work hours. But if we aren't intentionally making time for our team, we're not being helpful.

Without even realizing it, sometimes the tendency is to wind-up the toy soldiers, aim them in a specific direction and let them going. "I love you. If anything changes, I'll let you know."

But that doesn't work. Rarely will they be fully equipped to be that autonomous, rarely will the objectives be that clear, rarely will the metrics they're working towards be so well defined and measured, and rarely will things go day after day without some kind of change in plans, some kind of shift in strategy or some kind of subtle course correction. If that's truly the case, you need robots, not human beings.

Human beings crave community, human interaction, and more importantly, encouragement and confirmation that they're on the right track, that they're adding value, that they're of worth. Even the most anti-social headphone-and-hoodie wearing individual contributors. They're not protesting your meeting, they're protesting your bad meeting.

So how on earth do you get to six hours per staff member per week? It may mean a change in priorities, or at least a very intentional effort. The report says that about 27% of that is in fact email, but that nearly half (48%) is face-to-face. You'll get to some of this by meetings (unless you don't involve your staff in the planning, strategizing or decision-making), you can also get to some by the dreaded-drive-by, standups, team meetings as well as regularly holding 1:1s.

The Dreaded Drive-By

Bill Lumbergh in Office Space actually got this kind-of right. While I never had the snazzy tie and suspenders, for awhile there I made it a practice of filling my Innotech coffee mug and making the rounds. The problem was, like in the movie, I picked the time that worked the best for me - near the end of the day. So I would invariably be interrupting someone trying to bang something out so they could clock out and be gone. So often conversations were brief. Or I wasn't prepared for a longer conversation because I had five or six workstations to hit.

The drive-by can be a way to touch base with team-mates, but it needs to be strategic. Probably earlier in the day when the team is fresh, when the issues they're facing are more about how to do something versus the end of the day when it's more about "get-it-done" and it's gotta be a true commitment - you've got to be ready to spend time if they seem like they need you to hear them about something. But also, watch body language, sometimes the signal is "I'm busy, dude - do you want me to do the work you assigned me, or do you want me to sit here blabbing?"

Drive-bys should focus on work or culture for the most part, but may be a follow-up to a stand-up, team meeting or a 1:1.


A lot of teams or departments now to daily standups. They are usually designed to be really quick, a coming together near the beginning of the day where everyone quickly assembles, remains standing and quickly goes around the circle. A lot of groups adopt the agile principle of answering three questions: "What did you do yesterday? What are you going to do today? Do you have any blockers?" Anything else needs to happen outside of the meeting. It's a quick level-set that helps each person commit to work: nothing worse than coming day after day and admitting what you did yesterday isn't what you said yesterday that you said you were going to do - that quickly becomes apparent to teammates and supervisors. If someone has a blocker, someone else should immediately commit to the next action. No one should leave a meeting with an unaddressed blocker.

Other groups are a little less formal, but there is the risk of tangents. The structure of the agile meeting doesn't stifle innovation and creative thinking, but it does keep it more tightly focused on the work at hand.

The stand-up also produces a natural flow into a useful drive-by: "Hey, Jenkins - you mentioned at standup that you were working on such-and-such but that you were having difficulty with the thing. How can I help?"

If you aren't leading/facilitating this meeting, make sure your staff still feels you are engaged, otherwise the time doesn't count towards quality time with the team members present.

Team Meetings

Team meetings are a chance for group bonding. Here's a couple of different ways we've use team meetings in the past. Sometimes devoting a full meeting to a single topic, other times covering multiple items in a planned agenda.

  • Information sharing (from other meetings, especially when the supervisor is part of a leadership team, making sure that information makes its way down)
  • Culture consideration (how does something we're working on fit within the culture. How does that recent memo from corporate change how we work?)
  • Study (we've studied books on leadership and, being a Christian organization, also worked through devotionals or Bible studies)
  • Team bonding (we've looked at how our Birkmann scores complement one another, done exercises to learn more about each other and right now we've been looking at each person's Strength Finder results)
  • Sprint planning (our team also controls a body of work, so we regularly meet to plan out another two weeks' worth of work and to assess whether we were able to finish what we committed two in the previous two weeks and if not, what unplanned events came up and blocked us.)


I think the 1:1 is probably the most important meeting you can have with a staffer. Take hand-written notes, or at least keep the laptop screen (shield) lowered as much as possible during the meeting. Schedule these in advance for a long period of time. Have them in a neutral place away from the team. This shows that they are a commitment you are making to them as an individual, to focus your attention on them for the entire 30- or 60-minutes, and then let them have at it - this is their meeting. I schedule mine for the cafeteria - it gives them a little anonymity, it doesn't have the same connotations as a closed door meeting room with your boss, it frees up scarce conference rooms and most importantly, it sets a different tone - the meeting may not need the whole 30 minutes. It's much easier for the staff to announce that they're done and excuse themselves and get back to work.

Be prepared for anything. It may be related to work, to struggles with a co-worker or with the job or the employer. It may be something going on at home. Be prepared to listen, to engage, and to offer assistance if you can if they seem like they are asking. Sometimes they're just needing a chance to talk. Because we're a Christian organization, I often end our meetings asking if there's anything specific I can pray for them for.

1:1s are incredibly personal. Sometimes it's personal stuff they probably haven't shared with anyone else in the office, but I provide a safe place outside their family and friends who may all be involved. Sometimes it's dissatisfaction, I've even talked with more than one about their job search - just make sure the reasons they are looking elsewhere aren't things within your control to change and that they're aware of that (they probably are or they'd be mad at you and wouldn't be sharing) and make sure they don't tell you of an intent to leave on a specific date because that counts as a resignation.

Before the 1:1, review your notes from the last meeting. After the 1:1, summarize your notes (I like Evernote) and take care of any action items from the meeting and follow-up with the staffer.


If you don't want all the messy human stuff, stop hiring humans and get yourself some robots. Otherwise, be prepared for it, knowing that the time you spend with them is an investment. You are shepherding them - helping them to be successful, which in turn helps you be successful.

Read more on LeadershipIQ.
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