Now that most of us have experienced some version of remote work I’ve started to evaluate how I develop and maintain transparent relationships with my team. Video conferencing has become the centerpiece of communication for many of us. I mean, last week I had a few days where I had 10 or more Zoom meetings. Zoom fatigue is real.
But I’m an old dude, so I remember the days when Zoom meetings were phone calls, and let me just say – a video call beats a phone call hands down. On a video call I can see someone’s countenance and their expressions. I can read their body language and I can more easily interpret the tone of their voice.
It makes sense. As a long-time stage performer, I always liked to see my audience, and for that reason phone calls were often difficult for me. Group calls where I was the presenter were particularly rough. I remember being asked to deliver a presentation to the highest-level leaders in my organization. By conference call, of course.
It was brutal.
It started a little like this:
Then, early in the presentation I asked for feedback. Crickets. Nothing. I was so uncomfortable. I had no idea what they were thinking. Did they like what I was sharing? Hate it? Were they asleep?
I started speaking faster and faster, like the disclaimers you hear at the end of radio commercials. I’m sure it was amusing to the listeners, but it was a nightmare for me. Finally, one of my friends on the other end texted me with “SLOW DOWN.”
But are video calls enough to ensure transparency?
I don’t think so.
A video call might have alleviated some of the pain I shared in that story, but there are other problems.
Remember back, if you can, to a time when you worked in a setting with other people. You may not have realized it, but by simple proximity you were able to develop relationships with your team members. By watching how your manager treated other people, you could imagine how you would be treated. By watching people interact in the lunchroom, you began to understand their sense of humor, what was important to them, and you’d get a picture of how they were wired.
Basically, by being relatively passive you could learn a lot about the people you work with.
This is more difficult in a remote working environment, where video calls are more active than passive. Typically, you meet for a reason and you quickly get to the agenda. Even if you exchange pleasantries at the top of the call, the “reason for the call” looms. It’s more like going on a date. Put on your best face and try to get through the meeting (or date!) without incident.
Cultivating transparency as a manager
So how do you get to know people in this environment? More importantly, as a manager how do they get to know you in a way that builds trust? Here are a couple ideas:
- You have to be intentional. After all, as their manager you hold their career in your hands. If you’re not having one-on-ones, start. This will help your team members know they’re valuable to you, and it will give them a regular cadence of communication they can count on.
- Then, to build trust, have a plan for your time together (but be ready to be flexible!). This means:
- Asking good, open ended questions
- Listening to the answers and following up appropriately
- Acknowledging that people have a life outside of work. They’re people!
- Sharing stories from your own life (particularly if you’re NOT the hero!)
- Spend some time clarifying expectations regarding what they are supposed to accomplish. The goal is that you both agree on what’s supposed to be done so there are no surprises – no hidden agendas. They should always know what success looks like.
- Then, try to schedule some fun for you and your team. At Uptick, we have a standing meeting at 9 AM on Friday morning we call “Donuts”. It’s basically a free-for-all. No one leads the time and it’s become a great time to chat about anything we want. Typically we end up laughing like crazy. Frankly, it’s one of the highlights of my week – a great time to get to know my team and to have them get to know me.
To demonstrate transparency, you have to care
Yep. You can read management books, learn new techniques, and put together a perfect plan, but if you don’t really care for your team members, they’ll know it. If it’s all about the metrics and efficient performance without recognizing them as unique individuals, your folks will suffer. And if you only share your victory stories and not your struggles, you’ll never build the kind of trust you need for a high-performing team.
As in so many areas of life, building relationships is the foundation for productive, fulfilling and meaningful collaboration between managers and their teams. Cultivating transparency is a great place to start.