Aubrey Rhodes

Striking a Tone

May 26, 2020

See Your Team Members As People—Professional People

One-on-one meetings will be one of the highest leverage uses of your time as a manager. Seeing your team member as a whole person will help you make the best use of the time. Over time, your relationship and trust will grow. You will be more comfortable asking about personal matters. Many times this can help you understand the cause of issues that may have been alluding you.

Have a developer who is super personable but has suddenly become withdrawn? If you can talk to them about what is going on in their life, you will be able to look at them as a whole person. This can help you adjust expectations instead of piling on to a stressful situation.

Power Dynamics Are Real

Be careful, you need to be thoughtful in how you discuss your team members’ personal lives. It is easy to start giving advice like you would to your friends. But, you need to remember to be professional and that you are their manager. There is a power dynamic in these meetings that is easy to forget because you are on the upper side of it. If you start treating your team members as if they are your therapist, it is uncomfortable for them to push back. Remember that you are their manager in this setting. You may also be friends, but you hold huge power over the future of their career. They may share more than they are actually comfortable to just to appease you as their manager. “How is life going outside the office?” is a great question to ask. Yet, “Tell me about your relationship with your dad” is probably over the line.

Keep It Confidential

Your team members should know that anything they share will stay between the two of you. You will never be effective as a leader if people feel that they need to keep a wall up when they are around you. If there is something that comes out in a one-on-one that would be useful to share, ask if you can share it. Respect their wishes if they ask you to keep things between the two of you. When your team members feel safe, you’ll be able to help them much quicker.

There will be some things you are not able to keep between you and your team members. You may need to relay information about harassment or issues of fraud. Find out ahead of time about what you have to share and let your team members know. This way they know what to expect if a serious situation arises.

What About Conflict?

When conflict arises, you may need to step in to mediate. Be sure to ask before you approach the other person. They may prefer to handle it themselves and you can still coach them through that. If they can learn to handle conflict on their own, this can be an opportunity for growth. This can’t happen if you jump in and try to fix the situation if they don’t want you to.

Your Best Tool, If You Use Them Right

One-on-one meetings with your team can have a huge effect on their professional growth. Make sure that you put the time in to get the most out of these meetings. You will find that it will be some of the most rewarding time you spend as a manager.

Written by Aubrey Rhodes who builds software engineering teams in Atlanta.

© 2020 Aubrey Rhodes