Your instinct is to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to understand what people on your team are doing. Beware letting this drive dominate your daily calendar.

While it’s true that active managers are tuned-in to the priorities and progress of their group members, it’s easy to let this need-to-know dominate your days and the days of your team members.

Instead of constant oversight and updating and endless status meetings, shift your focus to helping team members clear the path of obstacles. You’ll gain all of the insight you need into the status of initiatives, and importantly, you’ll gain additional opportunities to observe, coach, and of course help your team members succeed.

Succeed One Encounter at a Time:

It’s essential to ensure your interactions with team members are constructive and productive. You want every encounter with team members to support success and help move things forward.

To do this, fight your natural inclination to grill people with questions and offer on-the-fly assessments and thinly veiled commands. (Something as innocent-seeming to you as “I’m not sure I would handle this situation that way,” is interpreted as a command.)

Instead, approach your interactions with the intent of helping.

5 Ideas to Help Clear the Path for Your Team Members

1. Move From Status Checking to Help Checking

As you encounter people or groups during the day, shift your opening question from, “How’s it going?” to “How can I help?”

This simple frame change is inviting, not off-putting. The interchange shifts from an awkward mumbling or elongated description of status to one that is either over in a second or laser-focused on an obstacle.

The dialog around an obstacle will help you understand status and context. Once people know you are serious about helping, you will be surprised how hard they work to solve the issues on their own. Nonetheless, when your help is requested, it’s your time to stand and deliver.

2. Bust Some Bureaucracy

Every organization has procedures and processes. The more established the organization, the more likely you are to encounter processes and approaches that are way beyond their freshness dates.

Ask your team members, “What can I do that will help you/your group move faster?” And then move into action, recognizing that every request to change a process owned by someone else is effectively a negotiation.

Approach these negotiations with a clear view of the process owner’s interests and strive to design a way forward that preserves those interests while streamlining the process.

3. Send Help

The most effective managers work unceasingly to build relationships and create influence across their organizations. They recognize the power of gaining access to specialized expertise and extra resources when needed.

The best way to create influence in most settings is to use reciprocity liberally. That’s a fancy way of suggesting you need to do a lot of people a lot of favors and bank those unspoken, “I owe you one” markers for an unspecified future.

When it’s time, don’t lead with, “Remember when I helped you… .” Most people you’ve helped will feel good about squaring the account by returning the favor.

4. Build an Effective 911 Protocol

Ironically, managers who spend an inordinate amount of time seeking status updates are often the ones least likely to learn of an emerging problem. Their drive to stay on top of issues is thwarted by their behaviors. Involving the meddlesome manager is viewed as painful, and teams strive to solve these issues without extra help. This works fine until it is apparent that extra help is essential to keep the proverbial you-know-what from hitting the fan.

Effective managers draw upon the trust they’ve established with their team members and agree upon an early warning system where it’s safe to share emerging problems and begin identifying and taking actions to mitigate risk.

5. Turn Status Updates into Rousing Learning Sessions

If you’re investing the valuable time of a group of individuals in coming together to share an update on a project or initiative, make it worth their time. Skip the dry, death-by-around-table updates where people are compelled to justify everything they’ve ever done and use these three techniques:

Update by exception—if something is off plan or target, have people share the situation, identify their ideas on mitigating the risk, and ask for additional ideas and help.

  1. Invest a portion of the session in answering: “What’s working that we need to do more of?
  2. Solicit ideas, encourage adoption of the practices and celebrate the victories gained on this from prior sessions.
  3. End every session with the question: “What can I do to help?” And then do it.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

You have an incredible number of opportunities to create value every day. Instead of continually sucking status out of the groups and team members, get involved in helping and clearing the path of the inevitable impediments slowing progress. Inherent in this mandate is the need for you to invest in cultivating relationships with those who can help you, from your boss and executives to peers. By doing this, you’ll be modeling great behaviors and serving as an asset, not an impediment.

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