In the pre-pandemic world, I didn’t have scheduled one to ones with my teams. I associated them too readily with command-and-control performance management, and didn’t want my colleagues to feel that I was breathing down their neck all the time. If I’m honest, it was easier for me not to have similar conversations with everyone on a rote basis.
When the first lockdown hit I was returning from paternity leave. I hadn’t spoken to anyone for a couple of months and had no sense of how individuals and teams were feeling. I booked in meetings with everyone, and asked everyone the same two questions:
“How are you doing?”
“Is there anything I can help with?”
I had very different conversations with everyone. One person used the opportunity to talk at length about challenges in their home life, where another would talk briefly about work. I learned not to impose my will on these conversations. Their value was in the space they created for both of us, rather than the content of the discussion.
As time went on I kept the conversations booked in. Each team member is free to decide the frequency and duration of the check ins, or even whether they happen at all. Their value seems to be increasing exponentially as time goes on, especially in the way they augment team discussions. They give people a chance to reflect on themes from stand ups, planning sessions or retrospectives, and give everyone a safe environment to try out ideas before putting them in front of the team. Continuing the same dialogue across team events and one to ones has added a new dimension to our thinking.
Last week, one of these conversations led to a breakthrough in defining how the team works. We often swap between the Scrum and Kanban frameworks when the team feel it necessary, but never had a solid grasp on what drove the change. We discussed how, for a devops team, having a sprint timebox alongside a release schedule meant we were working to two timescales. Two timescales doubled the pressure on the team. We decided on a proposal to take to the team about framework selection in the future. Different for everyone of course, but the right thing for this team now.
I’ve learned a lot more about how my teams work as collectives and individuals with this approach, and I suspect they’ve learned a lot more about me! As is so often the case for leaders, managers and coaches, value comes from getting out of the way of what you’re trying to achieve, opening up rather than imposing will, and trusting that we’ll get there together.
That aside, I struggled with focus this week so here are a few links on that theme - some tips (of varying quality, admittedly) on retaining focus at work; why reading news doesn’t help; the brain doesn’t work the way we think it does; and focusing on importance rather than urgency.