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Looking for a PLAY to solve a management dilemma

Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 07, 2022

I am hoping that the collective conscious and experience of this group will help me with a long term dilemma that I have been struggling with. And no, I am not referring to the struggle over the correct spelling of dilemma

I have (7) managers that report directly to me, and each manages a disparate team within the Operational branch of our organization. I want to give each that time and attention they need, and have maintained 1:1 meetings with each of them, some weekly, some bi-weekly, over the past few years. The problem is that meetings have become 'the new normal'. Since the start of the pandemic 'scheduled' meetings have replaced 'serendipitous' meetings. 

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So now, I find my schedule packed. Anyone else on Office365 and get those weekly emails from Viva (f/k/a Cortana) with your scheduled vs. free time? Mine is always depressing. 

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So, with all of these 1:1's (which are 0:30 - 1:00 depending on the size of the department they manage - more people, more issues) AND the constant Zoom conferences, I am coming up for air, and then diving in again. Am I drowning? Not yet - but the struggle is real!

 

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So, in the spirit of "it takes a village...", here is where I turn to the community for advice. How do I maintain meaningful relationships with my direct report and live up to my rule of my door being physically and figuratively open for them, but balance the needs for my own time to GET STUFF DONE?

I am not (yet) familiar with the Team Playbook to pull out the right play. But advice is appreciated from any process or solution you may think will help. 

7 comments

Hi Andy, 

Sounds like a pretty typical timesink scenario. My primary question would be, what is in these meetings that couldn't be handled via async communication (confluence, trello etc) initially? I appreciate some times you need to talk things out but perhaps having an async setup for primary issues or concerns could help to prioritise better? From there it may be easier to determine when calls HAVE to take place! 

Every business is a complex environment so appreciate this may not work for you, but personally I have always found it to be a good starting place to save some time and make sure calls have value. 

Like Andy Gladstone likes this
Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 10, 2022

@Craig Collins I appreciate the advice. I maintain an open door policy - literally and figuratively - for my team. Quick and easy questions, problems, issues and ideas are discussed daily.

What I feel is lacking in asynchronous communication is the relationship development. Yes, a Trello Board or Confluence Page can help us list, track and resolve specific issues and develop trust, but it does not create a feeling of connection or mentorship that I feel I need to provide to my direct reports. 

Of our Plays, I'd recommend Ritual Reset. It evaluates the recurring activities you have in place and whether they should be retired, revised, or net new things should be added.

Outside of Plays, I'd ask you what your priorities are for the day/week/month and ask these questions:

  1. What are the big categories for your responsibilities (3-5)? E.g. understand what's happening within your org, unblocking blockers, uncovering and facilitating opportunities, etc.
  2. How would you prioritize each category of responsibilities? And what percentage would you allocate to each?
  3. What are the best vehicles for carrying out those responsibilities (1-2) that make up each category?

Once you've broken that all down, I would ask if the responsibilities in service of your direct reports are best served via meetings, and if not, how might you improve that. 

On a personal note, when I used to manage, I first used so much of my 1:1 time with providing updates but quickly realized I could automate that. Maybe there are elements in your 1:1s that could happen async?

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Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 10, 2022

@Christine P_ Dela Rosa thanks for the Play referral and additional framework. I'll try unpacking it in the coming days and see if they lead me to a better balance.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

This might be more 'tactical' than you're looking for Andy, but my senior manager is in a similar situation and I think he handles it well so I thought I'd share.

If he is really swamped, he'll reach out to a few of us on the team (based on what we're working on, or how he knows we're doing in general), lets us know that he's feeling swamped and what he's swamped with (a big presentation, a major release, etc.), and asks if it would be alright to skip that particular 1:1. He makes it clear that if we have anything critical we want to discuss he is still available to meet, but if it's just a 'normal catchup' then we cancel it so he can get some personal work time back on his calendar.

There have only been a couple times where I've had to say "No, I really need to speak with you in the next X days" and we've been able to have a quicker, more focused conversation about just the critical issue. This allows me to get the support I need while also still allowing him more personal work time. Most of the time it's been fine to just wait until the next scheduled catchup.

You sound like a good manager for prioritizing this stuff!

Also just a random funny instance from one person with a crazy schedule to another - the IASIP meme you posted made me think of the time one of the development teams I work with saw my calendar on screen share briefly and my quietest, most reserved developer literally shouted "EWWW UUGGHHH THAT'S YOUR SCHEDULE?!?!" I have never heard him be so vocal before or since! A production system goes down and this guy is calm like "heh heh....we will figure it out" and he sees my calendar for 3 seconds and literally screams LOL

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Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 10, 2022

@Monica Morris thanks for taking the time to share your impressions of a good example. Some good points to think about. 

Vero Rivas Community Leader Jan 09, 2022

Hi @Andy Gladstone 

   I have experienced your situation before and I advise you to break it as soon as possible or the level of suffocation will make you sick

  You must stop, rethink the organization and readjust your schedule as soon as possible

  I advise you to stop a week of so many meetings (except those that are vital) and start with what is most important, prioritize the meetings you really need, plus you can delegate the 1: 1 to a person you trust or space them more in the time so you don't go so suffocated

  Obviously my advice starts from the total vision of your situation, but you must stop, assess and rethink everything from the beginning

  I hope you solve it soon

Cheers

Like Andy Gladstone likes this
Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 10, 2022

@Vero Rivas thanks for commiserating! I am actually right now in the middle of a two week experimental period doing just what you suggested. I'll let you know how it goes and how I come out on the other side.

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How often are your 1:1 meetings? My first instinct was to say 'make them less often', but if they are already only once a month, I'd take it back. If they're once a week, I still suggest it.

 

Other suggestions:

- Ask your employees how do they feel about the time you spend together and how often do you meet. Perhaps some of them feel it's not necessary to meet so often and you can cut it down.

- Write down all the tasks / meetings / activities you're performing and prioritise them. Do they all need you? Are there things which can happen without you / you can delegate? Are there some which aren't the priority right now?

- Talk with the team honestly about your time constraints and see if they have some suggestions on their own!

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Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 10, 2022

@Anita Kalmane adding your advice to my recipe book for success. Thank you for sharing!

Like Anita Kalmane likes this

If I understood correctly, you value those 1:1 meetings and you value openness and being able to be approached by others - you want others to see you as someone who is ready and willing to hear them out and help if they need help.

 

I could speculate that you have a strong overall desire to contribute and help - and that may be one of the reasons you are in so many zoom calls.

In an ideal world, you would like what one of my friend has done in his role of COO for a mid-sized corporation.

He has had the luck (or talent) to select people with proper skillset which he can trust. These are his managers. He strives to delegate everything possible while maintaining focus on the main mission - his company and his core responsibilities.

This way he supposedly spends 70+% of his time just managing and looking for talent within the company and outside. Having lunches, speaking with people, ...

He used to have irregular lunch meetings with his managers every week to keep track of progress regarding ongoing projects and to build/re-affirm trust (his trust towards managers and vice versa). Don't know how they deal with lunch meetings during corona time.

 

I appreciate that this may not be possible in your company, but maybe it could inspire you to see some new options.

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Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 10, 2022

@Pavol Harvanka you chose the right word. Inspire. You gave me food for thought. Thanks for the inspiration.

Meg Bailey Atlassian Team Jan 10, 2022

One potentially helpful resource: we crowdsourced best practices for going meet-less (fighting Zoom fatigue with fewer, more impactful meetings) from the Confluence Community last May and compiled the tips, tricks, and solutions mentioned most often in this article!

Like Andy Gladstone likes this
Andy Gladstone Community Leader Jan 10, 2022

@Meg Bailey thanks for the reminder. It's been a few months since I saw that article and will bookmark it for a re-read. Hopefully between the structure provided in the article and advice of all our peers here I can strike the right balance. 

I hope to report back on progress next month.

Like Meg Bailey likes this

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