In almost any workplace, too much communication gets in the way of productivity.
Many teams – or even full organizations – face setbacks when employees ask the boss every little question, relay too much information or seek constant feedback.
While leaders want – and need – to help sometimes, they also need to guide employees to autonomy.
“Managers need to facilitate their team members’ independence,” says Maura Thomas, a trainer and author of the Empowered Productivity™ Book Series. “This is especially important if your team is not physically together, because ‘quick questions’ sent through team chat channels can otherwise be endless.”
Here are Thomas’ four strategies to help employees step up so everyone can all move on.
‘Close’ the door for a bit
An “open door policy” sounds kind and welcoming … and can quickly become cruel and ineffective.
Yes, managers need to be available to work with employees in-person and online. But an open door policy opens you to interruptions all day, every day, putting communication at odds with productivity. Plus, it discourages employees from at least trying to work out their problems or find solutions.
Instead, Thomas suggests you “be clear that everyone in your organization should be considered accessible, but not necessarily constantly available.”
On-site, you might hang a sign that says, “My open office hours today are …”
In a virtual setting, you might set (and post) hours when you shut down the email app, put your phone on silence and keep it out of sight, and set your chat tools on “do not disturb.”
Confident people usually charge ahead, doing what needs to be done. They believe they’re doing it right and well – and most likely are.
Encourage employees to charge ahead by getting behind them first.
Make “sure they understand the responsibilities of their role, the types of decisions they can and should make on their own, and the general limits of their authority,” Thomas says. “Then, encourage them to find their own solutions to day-to-day problems. Instead of answering questions, try using the phrase, ‘I trust your judgment.’”
That’s not a one-time conversation, either. Regularly review – and expand – their role, decision-making authority and responsibilities so you balance communication with productivity.
Look for opportunities to up skills
Leaders’ encouragement and trust alone won’t take some employees to the next level. But training might.
Look for training opportunities, if you:
- don’t trust an employee’s judgment
- recognize a skills gap, or
- see opportunity for development.
Then direct those employees toward training (in-person, online, self-guided or events) that will help build the right skills. If they aren’t interested, you might need to realign their duties with their skills level.
Make mistakes safe
Fear might be the culprit behind some employees’ reluctance to charge ahead. They’re afraid to disappoint, fail or cause bigger issues.
Try to remove unpleasant consequences associated with failure. And when they do fail, talk about the lessons learned. Give employees small risk ventures at first so failures are small. As they realize more success, they gain confidence to do more without asking questions or for approval.