A Practical Guide to Managing Teams

A Practical Guide to Managing Teams

Context

As a company grows, it will have more managers and a more diverse workforce. High-performing managers are critical to the company's success, and the value delivered to customers. The goal of this document is to have a codified general philosophy on what to expect from people managers, and tactics to help managers provide the guidance the team needs.

Philosophy

Every employee should know and understand their role, know how to measure success, feel supported in that role, and understand how their role fits into the larger framework for the company. It is the manager's job to ensure this is true for everyone on her team. The most important ongoing conversation topic between you (a people manager) and your boss is about people on your team - how are they doing, who's doing great, who's struggling, and the why behind it. It is critical to be open about personnel challenges with your manager so you can address issues together.

Every employee needs a different type of support. Your approach to each of your direct reports needs to leverage a toolbox of skills. To figure out which skills to use, first you should understand how your direct report “shows up.” One way to gauge this and start a conversation is the Myers-Briggs Framework to learn how to adapt your approach to your direct report's style. (There are many other methods, none perfect. Pick one that works well for your company.) After doing that, you will have a viewpoint on how different people communicate, and different ways to approach conversations. In doing so, you are building trust. Trust is the most important feature between an employee and their manager. Specifically the employee trusting the manager to be able to discuss anything professional or personal with them. Remember, 'employees don't leave companies, they leave their managers'.

Based on experience and personality, different people will require different levels of guidance. Without a clear goal and career next steps already defined, simply asking the person to 'figure it out' or 'do what they think is best' may not be the optimal course of action. Instead, helping unpack the problem, providing your unique insight, reminding them of company goals (and team goals), framing success metrics, and helping them craft a conclusion based on pros and cons can leave your direct report feeling empowered, supported, and understanding how to best make an impact. In short, provide enough direction, but don't micromanage.

Developing your employees, and helping them achieve their next career milestone, is important. We should strive to make that next milestone to be at the company. However, sometimes that is not always possible based on the employee's goals and/or company needs. It is ok to be open and honest about that, and empower the employee to to discuss that openly and honestly with their manager (and also keep it confidential so it doesn't negatively spread to the rest of the team). This way the employee doesn't feel they need to hide their ambitions, the company has time to plan a smooth transition, and we can all celebrate the move as a 'graduation' instead of a regrettable departure.

Tactical Requirements of all People Managers

  • 1:1's - at least 30 minutes every week with each direct report. A weekly touch point ensures that each manager is in sync with his/her direct report and vice versa. It helps build trust. It ensures that not too much time passes so good news, bad news, or issues don't fester.
    • The agenda should be driven by the direct report. However, the manager should help by providing a framework based on how each person operates. “So, what do you want to talk about today?” is not a great way to start a 1:1. Shared 1:1 docs are effective in having a running log of agendas, notes, follow-up items and decisions. You can take notes in real-time or write them up later. Managers should coach direct reports on how best to prepare for 1:1's - think about what you want to talk about, personal or professional, and write them down in the shared doc. Provide reference reading materials on good 1:1 tactics if helpful.
    • Sometimes your direct report will bring up questions that you aren't prepared to answer. It's ok to say you don't know, and that you'll follow up later or next week.
    • Try to vary 1:1 settings. In addition to a conference room or a zoom at your desk, depending on the topics to be covered, consider using the couches or lunch tables, taking a walk, or going to a coffee shop. In a remote world, 1:1s on facetime on the couch or a walking phone 1:1 can provide variety and improve quality conversation.
  • Coaching
    • The Manager should proactively coach their direct report on the skills they have both decided are important to develop. The Manager can and should ask their manager or other relevant people to help them do a better job of this. You aren't alone in coming up with and delivering all the coaching, but you are accountable for it happening.
    • It is the managers job to ensure that both parties have an understanding of where each person is on the career path, and what skills they are building.
  • Quarterly Conversations (beginning of every quarter - ideal to give a one week's heads up so direct report can prepare their thoughts). Software like Lattice can help make this process easier.
    • What are 3 accomplishments you're proud of from last quarter?
    • What are 1-2 areas you want to focus on developing on this quarter?
    • How can I (your manager) help you achieve these goals?
  • Start/Stop/Continue Quarterly (After first month of each quarter, Manager asks employee. Also ok to do this via a google form, but it is critical then circle back in a team meeting or individually with key themes that you will work on getting better at)
    • What are three things I should continue doing?
    • What are three things I should stop doing?
    • What are three things I should start doing?
  • Understand OKRs - Have a clear command and understanding of the company's strategy and goals, your team's strategy and goals, and how they relate. This way you can ensure that your direct reports can follow how their work supports the broader company. Ask your manager if you need help putting these pieces together into a coherent narrative.
  • Prepare in advance of difficult conversations - Difficult conversations will happen. Likelihood of a success and change is higher if you prepare for the conversation. For example, when giving performance feedback on areas to improve, take a few minutes to write down some notes, and play the conversation in your head. Role playing with a peer or your manager can be extremely helpful to work out the nuances and jitters. Your direct report will appreciate your preparedness.

Note: While this document is drafted specifically for and distributed to managers, it is ok for all employees to see and understand this document.