Skip the Meetings, Stay Informed
It was 5:30 on a Thursday evening and Jim’s meeting was just about to start. These daily gatherings were held as a forum to raise critical issues that occurred during the day. Jim wanted to avoid being surprised when he walked into his first client meeting each morning. Over time, the meeting morphed into a daily justification of everybody’s job. Each attendee felt compelled to explain their day, whether there were problems or not. As a result the 15 minute stand up was now a meeting that ran from 5:30 until 6:30 or 7:00 every evening. Let’s look at a few ways to stay on top of what’s going on without wasting valuable time in meetings.
What do you want to know?
To effectively develop a system for getting updates from your team, you’ll need to think about what you want to know and how you would like to find out about it. It seems obvious but most of us never stop to deliberately communicate that to our teams. Instead they learn how to best communicate with us through trial and error.
Four methods for staying informed without calling meetings
Here are four popular approaches to staying informed without calling meetings.
- Status Reports
- Closed Loop Management
- Management by Walking Around
- Management by Exception
They each have their merits and their weaknesses. Consider each and tailor an approach that blends your management style with your work environment.
Status reports may be the most misused tool for getting regular updates. They are often either too open ended or too rigid. A good status report template provides the author with guidance on the type of information and level of detail to report. It should also provide an area to highlight items requiring management attention but not covered elsewhere. Finally, the status report needs to be short enough for you to quickly read it and glean the information of interest.
- Provides information on a regular basis
- Quality of information is consistent
- Easily archived for future reference
- Many people hate writing status report
- Some people wait until they write their status report to bring up important issues
- Takes time to write a good status report
- Takes time to read them. Warning: if you require people to write a status report, read it or they will see it as a waste of time.
Closed Loop Management
The concept of Closed Loop Management can be summed up as follows: when a task or assignment is given, the manager specifies how, when and under what circumstances they would like to be notified. The key to closing the loop is requiring positive confirmation when the activity is complete or a key milestone is reached. As a simple example, assume you’ve asked your assistant to reserve a hotel conference room. You could close the loop by saying something like “I need you to reserve the hotel conference room by 10:00 on Friday. Stop by my office and let me know as soon as the reservation has been confirmed.” By closing the loop, you’ve reduced the possibility of your assistant forgetting to get the job done or not telling you if they get stuck. In this case you will know by 10:00 Friday whether your reservation has been confirmed.
- Builds a culture of personal accountability
- Doesn’t require any previously established, formal reporting process
- Can be easily used in most situations including
- You must set the expectations each time you assign a task
- When a task doesn’t get completed you may not find out until the specified deadline
Management By Walking Around
Because it is so informal, the effectiveness of Management By Walking Around is easy to under estimate. This technique is as simple as it sounds. As the manager, you make it a point to periodically walk around and see firsthand what’s happening in the work place. If you make it a regular habit, you will be surprised at what you learn. At times you will learn about issues you didn’t even know existed. This is also a great tool for building a reputation of being a manager who is approachable and cares.
- Very informal and easy to implement
- Helps establish reputation as an approachable, caring manager
- Uncovers things you might never find out about otherwise
- Very unstructured; used alone this technique will only provide you with ad hoc information
- Can cause interruptions in your teams’ work
Management By Exception
Management By Exception refers to the practice of informing people, ahead of time, when and how you want to be notified if something unexpected or unusual occurs. This technique implies you don’t need to be notified when things are going as expected. After all, why waste people’s time having them tell you everything is going as planned? It works best in environments where work is highly proceduralized or where detailed plans are in place. For example, if you were managing a software support team you might tell them to call your mobile phone at any time of day if the servers unexpectedly shutdown. That way, if the servers crash in the middle of the night the technicians don’t have to worry about whether they should call you. You’ve already let them know under which conditions you want them to call.
- Very efficient; people don’t waste time reporting things that don’t require attention
- Makes it clear how or when to report problems
- Rules on what, when and how to report can be refined until they’re sufficiently mature
- Requires some up front thought about what you want to know when
- Items not specified as exceptions still require the judgment of the people reporting them
- Used alone, you will mostly be receiving bad news from people
What you need to know, how you want to be informed and when you want to be informed will depend on your own style as well as the nature of your work. If you’re not already using the techniques described in this article, consider put two or more of them in place to augment whatever you are already doing. By combining these techniques together you can come up with a system of highly effective communications that don’t require much time to deliver or consume.