Ever since becoming a manager, my motto has always been “People before Projects”, meaning that ultimately, if I provided my team everything they need, then the project work would take care of itself.
Working for a big corporation which has a lot of moving parts, meant that for a while, I was consistently in 6 hours plus of meetings per day, each one believed to be the most important by it’s respective organiser. It got to the point where the only time I would read emails would be in the evening after the kids had gone to bed, and as for having time to spend with my team, well apart from my scheduled 1-1s, there was very little. Sure I would stop by their desks and try and check they were ok in between my meetings, but I felt I was failing them as a team. So i decided to try and change my days in the office.
Firstly, I made the assessment on the meetings I HAD to attend, compared to the ones I wasn’t compulsory for and could either decline or pass on to one of my team to attend instead. This in itself, cut my meetings down to an average of 4 hrs per day which can still be a bit overwhelming some days, but is certainly more manageable.
The next step was, how do I give more to my team, at least now in the period where I have two junior new starters? Firstly I changed my 1-1 structure, I left my laptop at my desk, took a notepad and pen and asked them how they were, how I could help them and tried to show support for what they needed. The problem with taking a laptop was that if emails fly in during the meetings, it was easy to get distracted.
Secondly, I came up with a drastic solution, which I trialed for a week. Whenever not in meetings, I decided I would literally hot-desk around the Development and QA team members, meaning I would spend time sat with the team, understand the projects in more detail and offer assistance in any way I could.
This meant I could start doing what I’d been trying to get around to before bureaucracy got in the way and that was coach my team members and use snippets of the years of knowledge I had to share. If one of my team was putting together a Test Plan or Test Scenarios, I was able to review them while sat with them, rather than them sending it to me via email and my thoughts being sent back maybe a couple of days later.
I was able to respond straight away to any concerns, we could go for coffee and discuss the issue as soon as they came to me, rather than me telling them I’d get back to them when I was free.
I felt more aware of the day to day project work and the technical difficulties the team may be experiencing, I was hearing it all first hand, rather than through chinese whispers by the time it reached me.
I was worried the team would respond negatively to me being around, maybe see me as “checking up” on them or trying to micro-manage, but the response I got from the team was hugely positive. Mainly because I was more plugged into the day-to-day work, they were able to start conversations on that level, rather than bringing me up to speed first before getting to the point.
I took them all out for lunch that week too and it all just added to the point I was trying to make with the whole week, I value them all and I want to ensure I give them all the tools and time they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
While the obvious solution is to try and engineer a desk in the middle of the team, that isn’t immediately possible, but what is possible is to find every moment I can to be available for them. That still means I have work to do and emails to read, but it’s about being organised enough to allow the time while you are all in the office together, to be as around as they need from me. The team will grow and develop and in the same way children become more independent from their parents, the team will grow and become self sufficient, then the job of coaching them will take a back seat and the focus for me can then switch. But while they need me, I will continue trying to make myself free for any time they want from me.