Five tips for reducing drama on your team

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In my previous post, I described what I call the “ineffective-you-doing-OK-swing-by.”  It is ineffective in that it indicates that the manager is hoping to take a short cut in solving a problem, and it doesn’t solve the problem.  Additionally, it trains your employees to set up dramas to get your attention.  It’s a leading indicator that you are managing from a deficit.

In today’s post, I’ll discuss five ways to reduce and avoid having to rely on such swing-bys.

1.       Have productive one-on-one sessions with your employees

A common practice of managers is to have regular one-on-one meetings with team members.  Leverage this time to ensure that your staff is open to discussing their issues and concerns during that allotted time only, rather than wait for you to hear that someone is “struggling” or “upset” and then do the swing-by.  During the one-on-one sessions, actively ask for what you can do to help the employee perform, and actively ask for what obstacles they face.  You may not know how to resolve them right away, but having knowledge of what is happing on the team will put you in “positive territory”, and your employees know to hold off on their issues until the individual one-on-one session. 

2.       Use drama and reactive actions as a leading indicator of your managerial (in)effectiveness

Set up a leading indicator measure on your ability as a manager to address issues proactively.  Count the number of times you want to say, “You doing OK?” to employees as you pass them by in a one-week period.  That is your “Manager Reactive Indicator”.  Also add up the number of mini-dramas that happen on your team.  Track this number and make it a goal to reduce it.  Having awareness of your drama/reactive score will help you understand where you are as a manager.  It is possible to measure this (see How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of “Intangibles” in Business), so start doing it!

3.       Take measures to actively (not passively) pursue the issues that seem to pop up. 

My critique of the swing-by is that it is essentially a passive action on the part of the manager.  It tries to get it done without doing anything substantial.  A different strategy should be in order.  When an issue pops up, it needs to be addressed with greater effort than a swing-by.  If the issue is urgent, you need to set up real time to look into the issues, understand where they came from, and identify whether they need to be addressed and what it takes to resolve them.  This, still, is a reactive stance, but to get yourself out of your management deficit, you’re going to have to take things on. Note this in your drama-leading indicator index and whether this same issue pops up again.  If it is, you have to try again.  Keep trying to chip away to reduce this reactive work, much like paying off debt. 

No matter how effective you are as a manager, issues, dramas and crises will pop up.  The idea is to keep these at a minimum, so that when they do pop up, you have the capacity to deal with them. 

4.       Meet with the non-dramatic people on the team

Get regular one-on-one meetings set up with everyone on your team, not just the high drama or difficult ones.  You may notice that the non-dramatic employees have methods for resolving issues and avoiding them altogether.  You may learn what they are doing differently than the dramatic employees, and if you like what they are doing, reward that behavior, and not the reactive work events that cause “ineffective swing-bys.”   In addition, paying equal attention to your employees — not just the dramatic ones — will keep the conversation focused on all workplace issues, not just the ones being raised by dramatic employees, or whatever the latest crisis is.  The better you can even out your attention between the non-dramatic and dramatic employees the better you’ll be able to reduce the reactive managerial work.    

5.       Move from “You doing OK?” to “How’s it going?” or “How’d it go?”

Try to transition your swing-bys to a more positive “How are you doing?” “How is it going?”  “How did it go?” Now these are good swing-bys, where a succinct answer is “Doing great!” or “It went well”.  Now you can more confidently dash to the next meeting.  You can still ask for a full run-down later. You may find that you’ll be doing more swing-bys with the top performers, and fewer with ones looking for additional attention.  This is an example supporting good work when you see it.  Employees want to know that they are being supported in their efforts, and need to know that you are aware of what those efforts are, and you have to bring some substance to the table.  “You doing OK?” indicates you’re not aware and have to play catch up, while  “How did it go?” indicates you are ahead of the game and have many points on the board early

For you aspiring management designers out there, note that you want to design a system that encourages managers to have productive meetings with their employees.  These meetings need to happen purposefully, across the entire staff, encourage focus on work rather than drama, and keep you informed of the state of each employee. 

What techniques have you used to transition from “You doing OK?” to “How’d it go?”

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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