Successful managers build confident and cohesive teams by making a conscious effort to engage. They do it consistently, too.
Recently I was reminded that there are still managers out there who don't have recurring, regularly scheduled 1:1's with their direct reports. That's unacceptable.
One-on-one meetings are a small but worthwhile investment of our time—an investment that gives our people—our work family—a voice that builds trust, resilience, and confidence. It’s non-negotiable.
Balancing the state of work with life at work
One-on-one meetings are not always meant for status updates on the state of work. There are many better ways to address your agenda without having to meet in-person all the time (see: Flock's Channels, Notes, To-Dos, and other tools). It's a people update. It's a set time for them to share with you what's on their mind and wax poetic about their current and future life at work.
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Too often, managers forget what it was like when they were new and junior. There's psychological and emotional inertia (in the "an object at rest stays at rest" sense) for employees who have something important to discuss. It's easier if they don't have to make a special effort. It’s partly incumbent upon you to initiate discussions in their best interest, especially for introverts who need help coming out of their shell.
The employee can always cancel it, of course. But the manager should always try not to be the one canceling a 1:1. (I say this having been inspired to rant after having to cancel a 1:1 with someone on my team to help with a family emergency).
Managing teams is a mindset, not just a responsibility
At the end of the day, managers need to acknowledge and accept this fact: We don't get brownie points if we do everything right and still fail. If the employee never brings up an issue that's affecting them significantly, that's equally our responsibility. Just like it's necessary to ensure that customers have easy feedback loops where we can learn and take action, it's equally vital that our employees have feedback loops that make it easy and comfortable (or even enjoyable) for them to tell us what's on their minds.
Prioritizing mental health and self-care in the workplace should also be top of mind for managers in helping to guide and support employees struggling with significant stress. Be a firm advocate for empathy and compassion that makes people feel more comfortable communicating what needs to be communicated and feel more connected at work.
If you're a manager and can't figure out how to bring yourself to invest that time and emotional energy into your employees, then you should consider another career path. It's part of the job of being a manager, and it's okay not to want that job—but it’s never okay not to do it. In other words, step up or step out.