Managers: It’s on YOU to improve team relationships

Managers: It’s on YOU to improve team relationships

April 4, 2016 | Rob Catalano

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If you can believe it, there are dozens of sites that curate stories about terrible managers. Websites like and Reddit forums are spewing with terrible stories about managers worldwide.

Here’s one example, “My boss is always right and never wants to hear what anyone else has to say. You can’t even have a normal conversation with her because she constantly interrupts and talks over you. You have to repeat yourself because she didn’t listen the first time.”

Sound terrible? This story on Reddit does too, “Checked out, would not provide any information that I needed to be able to do my job/keep tabs on our funding. He threw his own people under the bus to save his own hide and was completely unconcerned about safety and personnel issues.”

In scouring through hundreds of stories, every single one shared a commonality: poor communication.

Communication is the foundation in any successful relationship, including one between you as a manager and your team. Communication holds the power of influence and positive change: how you share your expectations, celebrate success and coach your team to improve depends on effective communication. Gallup found that consistent communication is connected to higher engagement. For example, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them.

With that said however, an overwhelming two thirds of managers feel uncomfortable communicating with their employees. The result of this extends beyond websites dedicated to terrible manager stories, and reaches to lower employee engagement and productivity rates and higher turnover.

As a manager, it’s on YOU to improve the communication habits on your team. Here are three practices you can implement today.

Find the opportunity to be direct

“I’m too busy.” Nope, that won’t cut it! We’re all busy, but when it comes to finding the opportunity to be direct, creating time to be with your employees 1-on-1 is crucial to improving your communication with the team.

“What will we talk about?” Great question. Opening up the lines of communication to talk about career conversations, personal and professional development, and roadblocks will help you build trust among the team. These conversations will highlight your genuine interest in their career development, while providing you with the opportunity to be direct.

If directness makes you uncomfortable, ask yourself why? Is delivering constructive criticism stressful for you? Does someone on your team take feedback poorly? If so, ask your employees 1-on-1 how they’d like to receive feedback. It will help both you and your direct report feel more comfortable having “coachable moment” conversations.

Performance Check-Ins mark another opportunity where you can be direct with your team. How do you conduct your performance evaluations right now? If you’re relying solely on some sort of system, then you need to look beyond what’s in place. Performance conversations need to be conducted by the manager, not left to technology. Technology doesn’t coach people; people coach people. Schedule time to regularly Sync-up with your team about their performance success: celebrate wins and talk about areas for improvement in person.

Make accountability a priority

Regular talks with your team are important – but these conversations also need to have substance. Herein lies the concept of accountability. Shifting blame, turning a blind eye and being dismissive is easy to do. Being accountable is not.

In your conversations with the team, lead by example and model accountability for your own goals and actions. Share your successes and failures (when appropriate) with the team. Not only does this make you human, but it also increases your transparency, builds trust and exhibits how you expect your team to take ownership as well.

From there, help your team understand how they can be accountable too. Define employees’ responsibilities with them in a 1-on-1 Sync-Up and schedule routine follow-ups. Work with your team to track their progress towards goals and ask the difficult questions. In challenging times, help your team understand that they can accept accountability in a solutions-oriented way.

Listen, listen … then listen again

“Is this thing on?” Your communication with employees will fall flat if you’re not listening. In many situations, as a manager, you need to speak the least, but say the most. What does this mean? It means that you have open ears, an open mind and can effectively summarize what your employees have said.

To be a great listener, you need to get your team talking. Ask the questions that aren’t being asked like, “What can I do to make your job easier?” And, “What are three goals you have, personal and professional, for this week ahead?”

Being a great listener helps you tune in for potential obstacles and deal with roadblocks proactively. Taking notes is important while you’re listening, so that you can keep key points top of mind, and circle back with your team later.

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano

Rob Catalano is WorkTango’s Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer. Rob has spent the last 17 years building HR Technology companies.