Meaningful 1:1s, Sharing Context, Patreon, and Admin Burdens
May 6, 2021
This is Kommon People — the newsletter from Kommon which highlights stories about people, organisations, and technology to help you be a better manager. If you like it and want more like it in your inbox, consider subscribing.
In this Issue
Making your 1:1s more meaningful: it can be hard to break through with team members and have substantive conversations. This psychologist has some great ideas drawn from her research, not from a management textbook.
Context down, information up: four words which perfectly describe one of your key responsibilities as a manager and how you can help your team.
Patreon act: a communication case study: Patreon’s CEO fumbles the announcement of a layoff at his company leaving a bunch of lessons for managers about how to communicate.
Reducing your team’s admin burden: there’s no silver bullet for making your team happy, but this is as close to a sure-fine winner as we’ve found.
Making your 1:1s More Meaningful
It can be easy for 1:1 meetings to start feeling shallow and formulaic, even though neither side wants them to be that way.
We’ve heard this from both sides.
Managers want their team members to be more engaged and bring substantive topics to discuss. Team members wish their managers would take more interest in their careers.
In short, everyone wants a more meaningful conversation. But it’s not clear on how to get there.
But rather than looking for the answer in another article on ‘how to have better 1:1s’, what if we broadened out the topic to just work out how to have better conversations full stop.
Foulkes identifies six ways to make your conversations more meaningful:
Recognise small talk as a necessary first step: we get it, small talk can feel artificial and sometimes performative, but there’s a reason the bedrock of some entire cultures is discussing the weather (ahem, Britain). It helps set the scene and establish rapport before you tackle weightier topics. Try not to skip it too quickly.
Ask better questions: asking thoughtful questions demonstrates you’re not just interested in topics you’ve introduced, but what matters to the other person. These don’t have to be original questions, often it means just going deeper on the existing discussion, with phrases like ‘What was that like?’, ‘Why did you feel that was important?’, ‘How did that make you feel?’. Want some more evidence? A 2017 Harvard study found that people who ask questions tend to be better liked by their conversation partners.
Listen to the answers: Stephen Covey captured the problem many of us have with listening - ‘Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply.’ It can be a tough habit to break but Foulkes notes that trying to be motivated by curiosity rather than debate might be a good place to start.
Be willing to share something about yourself: we have consistently seen manager-team member relationships improve when managers are willing to share too. This reciprocity encourages team members to open up more. If this feels daunting, you don’t have to share your life story right away. It can be something small. But the act of sharing will encourage your counterpart to share too.
Come ready to learn: there is always something new to learn from a 1:1 meeting. Many of the points above (better listening and questioning) stem from approaching 1:1s in this mindset. If you approach a 1:1 as routine or even worse, a chore, then you’re not going to get the most out of it, and your team member will feel it immediately.
Be prepared to give and take: you and the other party should consider abiding by a simple rule: ‘I will give you the space to speak, and I will properly listen to what you have to say’.
Context Down, Information Up
A second appearance in Kommon People for Jacob Kaplan-Moss, an engineering head who’s rapidly becoming one of our favourite writers on management and leadership.
His advice is consistently clear and practical, and this week is no exception.
We’ve always said that a significant part of being a manager is information sharing.
"My educated guess is that 50% of my job as a manager is information acquisition, assessment, and redistribution. It is my primary job and the efficiency with which I do this is a direct contribution to the velocity of the team."Michael Lopp, Engineering Leader, Apple
As a manager, you’re caught in the middle between your team members and more senior management. Both sides have knowledge that is useful to the other.
Your team members will often have the most (and most accurate) information about frontline activities. Nobody knows more about how a system works than the developers who wrote the code. Or the customer support staff who answer the tickets. Or the marketing team who designed the campaign. This is already true for you, their manager, and is even more so the further up the org chart you get.
What senior leadership further up the org chart have is context. They can see across the business and all its customers, how it’s performing more broadly against a strategy, and set targets and goals based on their perspective.
To perform their role well, senior leadership need information passed up to them from elsewhere in the business on which to base their decisions. Conversely, to work at their best, individual teams need context to understand what they should be working on and why.
Part of being an effective manager is to be that switchboard. To pass the information up that your manager needs, and to pass down the context that your team needs.
If you’re unsure whether you’re doing this correctly, asking either your boss or your team whether there’s anything else they would like to know which would help them do their jobs is a good place to start.
It did not go particularly well. Although some credited Conte for his candour and authenticity, many found the video’s message muddled and self-indulgent as he tried to discuss raising $150 million in financing whilst also justifying the firings.
Whether you’re the CEO of a multi-billion dollar startup, or just trying to manage your team, the fundamentals of communication are the same. Conte’s video is a great case study in how tough it can be to communicate well, and some of the ways we can make it easier for ourselves.
We wrote an article breaking down the video and some of the main learning opportunities. You can use it to improve your own communication, but it’s also a great example for discussion with others in your company.
Everyone wants to know what’s going to make their team happier at work. Now, there’s no silver bullet, but Shopify’s VP of Engineering might have found something close to it.
In a recent article for First Round Review, Farhan Thawar refers to a graphic we hadn’t seen before from a 1968 issue of Harvard Business Review on attitudes to jobs. By far and away the most negative impact on employees’ attitudes is caused by ‘company policy and administration’.
Whilst the study is from over 50 years ago, this still rings true today. If you reflect on what you find most frustrating at work, there’s probably some admin in there. The same will ring true for your team.
As a manager, your team will always thank you if you can relieve some of this burden. Either by removing it entirely (cancelling ineffective meetings), reducing the impact (changing cumbersome expense/vacation processes) or by shielding them from it.
If you’re looking for places to start, try asking your team what they think the biggest time wasters are? Or what the worst part of their day is? Or what tool they wish they had but don’t? We bet you learn something which you can act on to make everyone happier.
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