How Managers Can Communicate Effectively with Their Teams
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A CEO can only do so much.
While the person at the top of the org chart may set the company’s vision and drive the organization forward, they are still just one person. For them, and the business as a whole, to be successful, they need to distribute work, accountability, and stress evenly across the entire team.
In fact, that’s true for any employee who manages direct reports. It’s critical to carefully define your job and protect it, so you stay focused on what you need to and your employees do the same.
I love these rules of engagement, which I first heard from the great Bob Prosen. I’ve adapted them a bit over the years, but they are incredibly powerful as a set of guidelines to help teams communicate effectively.
Rules of Engagement for Team Communication
Here are the specific instances when a team member should come to you for a chat:
Believe it or not, sharing a personal update is one of the best reasons to chat with your employee. It’s an opportunity to connect as more than just colleagues and helps deepen relationships.
Business Update Once Resolved
Another great opportunity for your team to keep you in the loop. This category includes updates on a problem your employee has already solved or a win of any kind. Employees often overlook this opportunity for connection; encourage them to share this kind of news with you more often.
Advice on a Proposed Solution
As the manager, there are instances where you will need to provide approval, offer insight, or potentially give very clear direction on how to address a problem your employee is facing. However, there’s a big caveat. Ideally, the team member comes to you with a clear description of the problem and a proposed solution that they have already thought through.
Most of these conversations can be short and end with you saying, “Sounds like a great plan, go ahead and proceed.” This should not feel like an employee just dumped a problem into your lap without putting any thought into how to solve it.
The Problem with No Solution
Rarely, an employee may come to you with a problem so tough or so challenging that they have no idea how to actually solve it. That being said—they should have already tried everything in their power to solve the problem and are ready to admit they are stuck. This could happen for a couple of reasons:
They don’t have the right skill set
The problem is outside the scope of their responsibilities and really should be escalated
This one is my own addition, and I realize not every leader will agree. But I do feel there’s a role for being a safe space where employees can go when they feel vulnerable or upset. Keeping your door open for that is important, but again, it doesn’t mean that you end up with their problems getting dumped into your lap.
How to Live the Rules of Engagement
If this all sounds like it’s putting distance between managers and their reports…it is, to some extent. But it’s also meant to set up healthy boundaries so that everyone can do their jobs well.
If you try to enact these rules, you’ll find out quickly whether you’ve empowered your employees or micromanaged them.
And it’s up to the manager to set the tone for the right kind of communication. That means:
Clearly articulating these rules if you expect your team to follow them
Being nonjudgmental and receptive pretty much all the time
Offering support (“How can I help you?” is a GREAT question to ask because it keeps the team member accountable but allows you to support them)
You’ll also need to gently help employees reframe when they approach you outside of the rules of engagement. That means not tolerating:
problems that get dumped on your desk with no thought toward a solution
vague communication (think emails that end with the word “Thoughts?”)
drama-informing, which is when it becomes more about the drama of the issue than solving the problem
rambling that doesn’t give you an obvious place to provide input (try asking “What’s the question you need help addressing?” to get things back on track)
Because of my personality, I try to keep things fairly emotion-free. You may need to adjust slightly based on your own personality or that of your team. But what you are willing to take on as a manager should NOT fundamentally change.
Managers Still Need to Manage
To be clear: management IS part of your job if you have direct reports. But it’s not all of it. Your job is to get rid of blockers that prevent an employee from doing the core responsibilities of their own job. And they should be empowered enough to get rid of a considerable number of blockers on their own.
I should also say: if you are on the opposite end of the spectrum—if your employees never come to you asking for help or to check in—you may have a different problem: a cultural one.
Management, and leadership, are a balance of keeping employees engaged and encouraging them to act independently.
If YOU need help with establishing more effective communication inside your company, we’re here to support you. And if you’re a CEO, you might want to watch our recent webinar, How to Become a Stellar CEO. You can access the webinar recording here.