How to keep pace with your team

September 25th, 2012 by Julian Corlet

Staying up to date with everything that is going on within your department can seem like an insurmountable challenge (and taken literally, it is). In this post, I'll run through some approaches for identifying where your attention is most needed and once identified, how to gather the information you need without placing too great a burden on your time or that of your team members.

Ask your team for regular, written updates

I'll admit to some bias here, as this is the core activity that my company Reportify addresses, but I am a strong believer that having your team provide a written status update each week is an important component of effective team management. There are the concrete benefits of having a written record of a team member's activities, however an often overlooked benefit is that your direct interactions with that team member then tend to be more personal and less about exchanging facts.

One hurdle with status reporting is actually getting your team to complete them. It's important to have some sort of reminder in place. You could set a reminder in your team's calendars or better yet, set one in your own calendar and then mail your team on the day the report is due. This communicates to the team that the report is important to you and in my experience results in more buy in.

When you receive a status report, a good habit to get into is to reply straight away with a comment on some aspect of the report such as offering assistance with an issue that has been raised. This reaffirms that you're giving your attention to the team member's work and has the added benefit of reinforcing what you've just read.

Schedule one-on-one meetings

As covered in more detail in this post, there's no substitute in my view for regular one on one meetings with your team. While you can read about their activities, meeting in person gives you the context. Are they feeling confident about an imminent delivery date? Are they sounding stressed or frazzled? Also, there are some things that probably are best not written down! If there is conflict between two colleagues or other sensitive topics, these need to be handled through direct communication, preferably face to face. In Ben Horowitz's excellent post on this topic he argues:

If you are an employee, how do you get feedback from your manager on an exciting, but only 20% formed idea that you’re not sure is relevant without sounding like a fool? How do you point out that a colleague that you do not know how to work with is blocking your progress without throwing her under the bus?

It's these more abstract issues that make one-on-ones such a useful tool.

Get involved early

In my experience, many of the best managers seem to be involved in everything. It's extra work, but getting involved early on and maintaining some involvement at key points in the projects or other initiatives your team is involved in gives you an understanding that I don't believe you can get second hand. This isn't to be confused with micro managing your team - it's important to make sure they are empowered and have ownership of their areas, it's more a case of keeping in touch.

Again, this is about context. When your team member comes to you with issues relating to this project later on you'll understand the dynamics of the situation.

Don't be afraid to clarify

So despite doing all of the above, the bad news is that there's still going to be plenty going on that you won't be across and some of it will be important. This is to be expected, after all, you wouldn't expect your manager to know every last detail of your job. The key here is that if you're feeling like you're not across something important, you ask for clarification. Your team member won't hold it against you and if you don't, what is now a small gap could snowball all too easily. You're better off nipping it in the bud.

Staying up to date with everything that is happening in your team is an ongoing challenge, but with the above techniques in won't be an insurmountable one.

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Julian Corlet is the founder of Reportify, a web-based status reporting tool. Julian's background is in the Telecommunications industry where he spent 15 years in management and technical roles prior to founding Reportify in 2012. Reportify was built to address shortcomings with existing approaches to the creation and collation of team status reports. You can follow Julian on Twitter @reportify.