Staying Connected

Check-In Regularly to Sustain Relationships with Team Members


Sustaining quality relationships with members of your team is a challenge for any leader in our modern workplaces. Opportunities to truly connect in a real conversation are few and far between. It is even more difficult for leaders with team members working remotely, out of sight and too easily out of mind. As leader, you have to make these connections happen, and handle them well when you do.

For many years I’ve encouraged aspiring leaders to conduct one-on-one meetings routinely with each member of their team as an anchor of their leadership practice. Even a brief meeting (perhaps 10-15 minutes) scheduled regularly provides opportunity to check in with each team member personally and professionally. What you really need to hear in these meetings is unlikely to be exposed in a full team meeting, or come up in casual hallway chit chat. It’s too personal, for your ears only.

Your primary goal in these routine one-on-one interactions is asking and responding, not telling, having a conversation rather than making a speech. The set of questions offered here will draw out the information you need to help each team member and the team as a whole stay on track toward desired results. As important, listen carefully to what they share with you to learn what each team member needs to stay engaged and productive.

The lead question in each pair asks for a response on a scale from 0 to 10, turning their subjective “feeling” into an objective number, something you can track and compare over time. Think of the medical professional who uses the same scale (reversed) to ask about your pain knowing it too is subjective - we each experience pain differently. One person’s 7 might be another’s 4. But if you said 4 yesterday then say 7 today, safe for the nurse or doctor to surmise you feel more pain now, and that’s what they need to know to make decisions.

The follow-up question suggested in each pair seeks out helpful explanation for the score. Use their responses to flesh out the conversation, checking for clarity, probing to uncover the whys behind what’s said, seeking to understand what the words really mean. Here are the questions, in an order that makes sense in most circumstance.

How satisfied are you with the Progress made on your work assignments since we last talked, on a scale from 0 to 10?
What 2 or 3 “wins”, big or small, stand out for you?

Give them a chance to tell you what’s going well first, sharing their achievements, describing their breakthroughs. Failures or breakdowns are easy to see. Successes though can too easily fall through the cracks. Especially in stressful times, celebrating any meaningful step forward sustains individual motivation and team momentum in an environment where there is lots that can drag us down. Take the opportunities you see to express appreciation for their efforts and acknowledge their contributions toward team goals.

How clear are your Priorities for action going forward, on a scale from 0 to 10?
What are the top 2 or 3 priorities you plan to work on between now and the next time we are scheduled to talk?

Without clear direction, most people simply follow the path they assume to be correct. This can lead to misalignment and potentially disappointment if their attention and effort drifts away from what really matters. As needed, help each team member see direction for their work in the near term, and a clear line of sight between what they are doing and the purpose it serves within the team and ultimately the organization. If they, or especially you, can’t see that purpose, consider reducing or eliminating that work.

How confident are you that the Plans we have as a team are achievable, on a scale from 0 to 10?
What are the 2 or 3 challenges ahead of us that most concern you?

Each member of your team has a unique perspective on the team’s…

  • Internal capacity, its strengths and weaknesses; and,
  • External opportunities and threats in a chaotic business environment.

Tap into their helpful insights, listening especially for trends, patterns, or problems they see that may not be so obvious to you. You might also learn of unfounded concerns or worries that are draining away energy or diverting focus from what really matters right now.

How would you assess your own Productivity, on a scale from 0 to 10?
What one thing could I and/or your teammates do right now to help or support you in your work?

When you work in the same space, you can pick up on non-verbal cues to how people are feeling, their energy level or indicators of frustration. That’s much harder when your interactions sporadic, or mainly via email, phone call, or video chat. Give them a chance to be honest with you about how they are doing, the work they find difficult or draining, or the support they might appreciate. Identify the biggest hassle holding them back, then do what you can to remove or minimize it.

Do you have sufficient opportunity currently to continue your Professional Development, on a scale from 0 to 10?
What skill, area of knowledge, or type of experience would you like to work on developing?

People have an inherent need to learn. Enhancing their capability, and in the process their career options, gives them a greater sense of security. Creating opportunities for them to step outside their comfort zone generates enthusiasm and energy, enhancing their engagement. Where you can, create space in current job assignments for each team member to hone their unique strengths and talents, or provide resources to empower their continued development outside the job.

How satisfied are you that Promises we make to each other in these meeting have been/will be kept, on a scale from 0 to 10?
Is there any other help I can provide you or your team mates right now?

If promises are made during the meeting, write them down. While you want to keep these meetings casual to facilitate open conversation, they are still business meetings. Documenting promises is the first step toward accountability, turning good intentions into solid commitments. If you make a promise, follow through and report your progress either before or at your next scheduled meeting. Be a model of what you expect of others. If their promises to you from previous meetings don't come up naturally in conversation, ask about them. What you don't follow-up, they will likely assume doesn't matter.

How are you doing Personally, on a scale from 0 to 10?
What have you done since last we talked to relax and re-energize?

Let them know you care about them as a person, not just as a performer. Their lives are bigger than their work. Working remotely, it can be difficult to separate work and personal time when both happen in the same place. There may not be much you can do about some of the personal things on their plate – you’re a leader, not a social worker. But they will appreciate that you asked anyway, and you might be able to point them toward helpful resources in the organization or community.

Placing This Anchor

Here are a few tips to help you implement this anchor with your team...

Leadership Anchors

In climbing, the “lead” is first up, setting the path or route. Along the way, the lead places “anchors”, points of attachment to provide “protection” for the lead and those who follow, freeing all to use their talents confidently and competently.

Our Leadership Anchors are habits and hacks for leading. With the right anchors in place and used well, you will be better able to apply your unique strengths and style to the challenge of delivering results by leading others.

Ask us how our coaching and content will help you be a better leader, on the job, where it matters.

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