If you are doing what you should as a supervisor or a team leader, then you should be meeting regularly, one-on-one with the people on your team. It is simply impossible to communicate vision, let alone basic day-to-day expectations, if you are not talking with your team regularly. First on the checklist is having regular meetings. If the meetings are happening, the next question that needs examining is if there is actual communication happening.  What makes up the sum of the meeting? Are you talking more than your team members? This is the trap for leaders. The 1:1 time with the team or direct reports can simply become a time for the leader to walk through the to-do list. While this may be helpful in conveying expectations and keeping projects moving, it is accomplishing nothing in the way of communication. To be an effective leader one must hear ABOUT the work, not simply direct it.

Doing this effectively means simply asking a few, easy, open-ended questions and then listening for what is being said. Look for consistent challenges you hear and don’t see them as excuses, see them as opportunities to help them improve the work. This will have a cyclical effect; the more they see you helping, the more freedom they will feel to talk openly about the successes and challenges in their work. Here are 10 questions that can help you improve communication with a team or an individual:

  • What’s the biggest current challenge you face in getting your work done?
  • If you were in my role what would you be paying attention to?
  • What in our work processes works really well?
  • Who can we celebrate for always being willing to help you?
  • If you could change one thing in our processes what would it be?
  • What is your opinion about <insert a subject for them>?
  • What do you mean when you say <repeat a key phrase they used>?
  • Do you see things we could stop doing that wouldn’t affect the work?
  • Do you need more input from me than you are getting?
  • Do you feel like you understand how you contribute to the work?

Try a few of these out. They are non-threatening and non-invasive. You will find a few who really respond, take the ball, and run with it. Remember, some people naturally outwardly process things with ease and others struggle more to get thoughts out of their heads. This does not mean they have nothing to contribute. On the contrary, they likely are your deep thinkers who just need a beat to process. It’s OK to allow silence and acknowledge you are letting them think. It’s been my experience if you wait long enough you will eventually start getting input.

It takes a few extra minutes in your one-on-one meetings to make time for this exercise, but the return on it is unquestionable. Investing in the opinions of your team will lead you to a few things you can’t solve, but will overall strengthen both the work and your relationship with key team members.

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