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The standard advice for 1:1s is that it’s the team member’s meeting. It’s a dedicated space where they know they’re going to be heard. Where they know there’s going to be time to discuss whatever is most important to them.
That all sounds great.
But what if they don’t say anything?
(This happens more often than some managers would care to admit).
To fix the issue, we first need to understand what the problem is.
Emmanuel Goossaert, a Senior Engineering Manager at Booking.com has a quick framework for diagnosing this.
If you find that a team member consistently fails to bring things to discuss with you in your one-on-ones, it’s a sign of one of the following:
Can 61,000 people all be wrong?
That’s the number of Microsoft employees who were the subjects of a recent paper in Nature studying ‘The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers’. The authors studied the effects of the first six months of the pandemic on this group through their emails, calendars, instant messages, and video/audio calls as the company shifted to remote work.
If you don’t want to read the whole paper, Derek Thompson in the Atlantic summarises one of it’s key conclusions.
In short, at work we have in-group connections with those we work most frequently, in a formal team, under a manager. Then we have out-group connections, our more informal relationships and friendships across an organisation. As Thompson puts it:
‘Remote work took a battering ram to all out-group ties.’
The paper shows that as we moved remote, we worked more tightly with our existing teams and close colleagues (hence flat or rising productivity) but our connections with those beyond that circle dropped off dramatically.
Why is this a problem?
Well, at the organisational level, companies are concerned that this will stifle innovation. Breakthroughs are often made when information from previously disparate domains is unexpectedly combined. This happens more often through out-group connections, which facilitate flows of unfamiliar ideas between departments. So there’s work to be done here to maintain those flows in a remote world.
But the aspect that Thompson doesn’t cover is the impact on individuals’ careers.
Employees’ often thrive when they gain exposure to different parts of their organisation. They learn more about how it works so they can offer more meaningful contributions, they meet new people to mentor and guide them beyond their manager and peers, and they discover new opportunities.
Again, this is all cultivated through out-group ties. Exactly the ones which the researchers say have been reduced so dramatically.
The good news is we as managers can take deliberate action to help. The clue is in this tweet:
Consider getting started before your employees have to ask.
As she points out, there are several issues with this. From placing a burden on that hire to ‘fix’ your workplace before they’ve even arrived, to erasing men of colour from this dynamic, to reducing potential hires to their race and gender rather than the professional qualities they bring.
If you suspect this dynamic is creeping into your workplace, check out the piece in full.
For those who want to take action to improve the situation, the article includes a checklist from Lorie Valle-Yanez, MassMutual’s head of diversity, equity, and inclusion, of how organisations can better support women of colour. It’s succinct and practical, so we’ve reprinted it in full:
Kalita signs off with this summary:
‘The bottom line: if your ideal candidate is a woman of color, it means your workplace needs to work to make sure you are her ideal, too’
Most of us can agree that micromanagement is bad.
However, what’s not said often enough is that it’s possible to go too far the other way.
In a bid to avoid being labelled a micromanager, and often because of bad experiences with former bosses, some managers move towards the other extreme. They take pride in being totally hands-off and ‘getting out of the way’ of their team.
She makes the following key points: