An IT leader (new to his team) was recently grumbling about his team members not wanting to participate in a team outing after work. He made an assumptive leap that their lack of interest in getting together as a team meant they did not want to get to know him. In probing further, I asked him to tell me about his team members and he told me about the work they do. I interrupted and asked about them personally—what are their interests and do they have families? He paused and said “I think a couple of them do.” This opened the door for a conversation about how to truly get to know team members.
A manager is responsible for getting results through others rather than getting results on his/her own. Working in collaboration with others requires a foundation of trust. Developing a trusting relationship with each team member takes time and is an ongoing process; knowing team members is not a check-the-box kind of activity but there are simple trust-building strategies that leaders can weave into their daily habits.
Know the names of each team member’s significant other and children and ask about them.
I once heard this referred to as the “retention litmus test”—if you can name the significant other and children of each of your team members, you will have strong retention within your team. I suspect that team members care more about their family members than they do about most of their tasks at work. Their family is likely a big part of why they do what they do, so leverage that! Engage team members in conversations about their family and what’s happening with them. It is a big part of their lives so in order to truly know them you must know who is most important to them (at least their names).
Ask one simple question at the beginning of each team member 1:1 – How are you?
There’s an assumption within this strategy that you are holding regular 1:1s with your team members. If you aren’t, then start immediately as 1:1 meetings are a must for getting to know your team members. The 1:1 is THEIR TIME— dedicated time to sit with their leader and share whatever is in their heart and head. It’s not your time so resist the urge to dump your list onto them. You’ll avoid this by starting every meeting with the simple, question, “how are you?” Because the question is open-ended, it empowers team members to own the meeting and take it in the direction they want to get what they need.
Engage your team members in helping you to actively listen to them.
We all know the value of listening—it’s the only way we’re ever going to learn anything about anyone, but many leaders (myself included) are not naturally good listeners. My assertive, goal-oriented style would rather tell you what to do. Through experiences, I’ve learned that leadership requires a leaning in and seeking to understand, so I am intentional about doing that. I also engage my team members in helping me to be a better listener by asking them to tell me if they feel I’m not listening or if the information they are sharing is something that is critical for me to hear.
Every day, look for opportunity to leverage team members’ strengths.
In a Strengths@Work Survey, employees report that only 34% of their managers can name their top strengths. No doubt this contributes to the low employee engagement rates across organizations. Each team member has unique strengths to contribute—look at these strengths as gifts and identify opportunities to leverage these strengths each day.
So, as it turns out the IT leader who was grumbling about his team members not wanting to participate in a team outing didn’t really know his team members. A few weeks after the initial conversation, he told me that he learned that four of his five team members had small children and one of them was in a basketball league that met after work. They all wanted to get together as a team, and identified a time that worked best for them and worked around their other priorities.
Isn’t it interesting how we can assume when we don’t truly know? Do yourself and your team members a favor by getting to know them. Lean in and ask questions. It will benefit you all.