As a manager, it can be incredibly frustrating when your team is not achieving the work you expect from them. This is especially so when you are unable to understand the reasons why.

Perhaps you have really good people on your team – people who should be nailing their goals and getting things done. But instead of delivering on outcomes you agreed with them, they give you reasons why they could not deliver – why the target was missed or the outcome not reached. When you have limited visibility into the real problems, all you can do is accept what you are being told and hope for better news next time.

This is no way to manage. As a manager, you need information so that you can make informed decisions to help your team uncover problems, overcome obstacles, change priorities and get access to the resources they need. If you have little or no insight into what’s going on in your team, you are not in control and you will be ineffective as a leader.

Ultimately, the reason your visibility into the team is limited is due to a lack of communication. Managers and employees quite often struggle to communicate well. Some also tend to shy away from regular communication. These days, very few managers are just managers. More often than not, they are also contributors to the business in other ways. This is particularly common in small and mid-size companies. Setting aside time for one on one meetings is often a neglected task. If a manager has more than 5 employees, it can take an enormous amount of time to plan for and conduct regular effective face to face meetings. Contributing managers can find it difficult to maintain the discipline required to adhere to such a schedule. From an employee’s perspective, they see little value in meetings that they feel do nothing other than hold them accountable to task and require them to answer awkward probing questions. Both employees and managers can often feel uncomfortable in seemingly contrived meetings, particularly where there is little structure or input to such meetings.

So, what’s the answer? How do you gain the visibility into your team that you need in order to manage the team well? How do you communicate effectively with every member of the team so that you have the information you need to make decisions or help others to make decisions that will have an impact on the success of the team? And how do you do this without spending all your time in meetings?

One solution, that a growing number of small and mid-size companies are starting to use, is to introduce a software check-in tool into the team. Tools like this allow a manager to customise a set of questions that are put to each member of the team on a weekly basis. If these questions include things like “What big things did you achieve this week?” and “What obstacles did you encounter and how do you plan to overcome them?” and “What is your plan for next week?” then these are great questions designed to engage manager and employee in a coaching conversation.

The idea is that each employee spends 10-15 minutes every week completing the check-in and then the manager will spend a few minutes reviewing each check-in, asking follow-up questions, praising achievements, coaching each employee through any issues they are facing and bringing other members of staff into the conversation around a particular issue, obstacle or achievement.

Involving other members of staff in this way can be a very powerful way of encouraging more collaboration within the team and can be an effective way of bringing more visibility and resolve to an issue within the team, making a positive outcome more likely.

Getting regular feedback in this way gives managers a better insight into the problems the team are facing and the progress the team are making. It also gives them a platform to help their team make more informed decisions in good time before problems can arise.

From an employees perspective, check-ins can be really beneficial. Some employees will feel that it gives them a voice that they previously didn’t have. Others might feel more empowered to make bolder decisions, under the more regular guidance of their manager. Others will be motivated by the improved recency of the recognition and praise they get for their accomplishments.

Undoubtedly, there will be those employees that see little or no value in a regular check-in, instead seeing the process as another obstacle to them “getting on with their work”. These same employees would also see little value in a face to face meeting with their manager and are often less likely to communicate in a way that benefits the employee-manager relationship. Managers need to put more thought into how to motivate these types of personality. Everyone has different things that motivate them and it is part of the managers job to understand the different ways they must interface with each team member in order to get the best out of them. This cannot be done, however, without regular communication and a healthy mixture of online and face to face interactions can help a manager understand the best ways to motivate different individuals.

An increasing shift to remote workers is also throwing up challenges for managers. The line of communication is more difficult to maintain and remote workers can find themselves easily neglected. The challenge is to ensure that remote workers feel as much a part of the team as office-based team members. Remote workers are often autonomous members of the team, who are great contributors, but if not nurtured correctly can easily become disengaged with the team and the organisation. Including them on a weekly check-in can help overcome many of the problems that both manager and worker experience as a result of the employee’s remote location. Not only does it encourage a regular cadence of communication, it also helps make the remote employee feel more part of the team contribution, particularly if the manager can include the remote employee in check-in based conversations with office-based employees.

So establishing a regular check-in process within the team can be beneficial for a number of reasons:

  • It can provide managers with a much clearer insight into their team
  • It provides a platform to enable managers to coach their employees
  • It can improve team collaboration around achieving outcomes
  • It can help engage your team members
  • It can help managers better understand the motivators of individuals within the team
  • It can help managers communicate more effectively with remote workers
  • It can help make remote workers feel more part of the team and therefore less likely to become disengaged.

A check-in can, in many cases, be an alternative to a regular face to face meeting. It is less time consuming and aids effective dialog. There are times when a face to face meeting is required, and in this case a check-in can be the perfect input into such a meeting, serving as the basis of any work-related discussions.

It is simple to introduce a check-in process into your team. A number of cloud-based solutions exist (Workteam has one). You’ll be surprised what valuable insights you can gain within just one week of giving your users access.