How to Stay "in the Loop"
Avoiding Nasty Surprises on Your Team
Do you ever get that nagging feeling that you don't know what's really going on with people on your team? Maybe you feel like they're talking about you behind your back. Or, worse, deliberately leaving you out of important decisions.
No one likes to be left out. It can make you feel anxious, and might even cause you to question your ability as a manager. After all, how can you do your job if you don't know what’s going on? Don't people trust you? Have you done something wrong? And is the team on course to meet its objectives?
Your priorities, decision-making, working relationships, stress levels, and professional reputation all depend on your ability to stay "in the loop" with your people. So, when communication breaks down, it's vital that you fix it as soon as possible.
In this article, we examine the impact of being "out of the loop," and look at some strategies you can use to avoid it, and to reconnect with your team.
Why Does Being Out of the Loop Matter?
When you're out of the loop, it can feel as though other people know something that you don't. Most of us have experienced the uneasy sensation that arises when we're not included, even unintentionally.
You may be tempted to dismiss this feeling as paranoia, but research from Purdue University, Indiana, shows that it's a very real sensation, and one that can have a number of negative implications.
According to the authors, being out of the loop can make you feel that your status within the group is falling and it can undermine your self-esteem and your fundamental need for connection. This can make you feel sad, or lead to feelings of anger toward your co-workers.
You'll also be forced to "firefight" crises if you have no warning of them, instead of being able to plan calmly and effectively. This will likely threaten morale and productivity.
So, if you or anyone else in your team feels left out, it's important that you take the situation seriously. Treat it as a warning sign that there are unresolved issues within your team, particularly if it occurs alongside other "red flags" such as bad behavior, harmful rumors, or increased absenteeism.
How to Reconnect With Your Team and Its Work
In this section, we look at three main strategies that you can use to re-engage with your team when you feel out of the loop:
1. Get Back in Touch
As your level of responsibility increases, you may feel as though you are becoming more disconnected from your people's concerns at "ground level." They, in turn, might see you as being out of touch or disinterested, causing them to become less inclined to share personal or practical problems with you.
If this is the case, make brushing up on your interpersonal skills your first action. These involve paying attention to how you ask questions, how you listen, and how you use body language. Simple things, such as good eye contact and adopting an open posture (hands uncrossed, leaning forward), for example, will show that you are receptive to what people are telling you.
A good strategy for re-establishing a connection with your team members is to go Back to the Shop Floor. Spending time working alongside them can build rapport and respect. It may give you a fresh insight into the challenges that they are facing, and give you some ideas about how processes can be improved.
Consider Management by Wandering Around. This habit helps you to stay present and visible to team members day to day, and is a great way of engaging with them on a personal level, too. You'll likely find that this also helps to build trust and encourages a more natural exchange of information.
Showing support for your team is essential. When you stand up for your people against unfair criticism, and avoid blame when they make honest mistakes, you demonstrate your loyalty and boost trust. However, don't make excuses for poor performance, as this may undermine your credibility as a professional leader.
If you do decide to use these strategies, it's important that you give your people fair warning of what you plan to do. Descending on them "out of the blue" may lead to concerns that they're being watched, or could cause rumors to spread about why you're doing it.
To find out how easy others find it to talk to and confide in you, take our quiz, How Approachable Are You?
2. Encourage Openness and Collaboration
It's important to foster a safe and collaborative culture, if you want to ensure that you're getting all of the information that you need from your team.
This requires trust in both directions. You need to trust your people to do the best job that they can, and they must feel confident that you have their best interests at heart.
It's also essential that you remain open and honest with each other. In their 2014 book, "Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity," authors Steven D'Souza and Diana Renner concluded that, "Allowing room for doubt opens up space for learning, growth, and creativity."
Remember, it's OK for people to admit to not knowing something – including you! Doing this will encourage people to ask for help when they need it, and you'll be able to plan and support their development.
3. Be Clear About What You Need
You may feel that your team members aren't giving you all the answers that you want. But this could be because you're asking them the wrong questions. So, make sure that they understand exactly what you need from them. Be clear about the goals and objectives that you set them, and put systems in place that track their performance effectively.
Assign specific roles and tasks to each team member, so that everyone knows exactly what they need to do, and ensure that they report on their progress regularly. Leadership development expert Ken Wells calls this process "making work visible."
There are several other tools you can use to make your team's work more visible. These are:
- POSDCORB is a useful administrative framework for defining objectives and allocating tasks and resources.
- OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) for each person are measured against two or three key metrics that are made public across the team and contribute to the overall organization's strategy.
- DILO analysis helps people to see and re-balance what they do in the course of their working day. The aim is not to “check up” on colleagues, but to understand which tasks and processes add value.
- Team charters are a great way to agree who is doing what and how. They can help people to commit to their goals, because everyone is involved in creating the charter.
- Agile project management can apply to almost any team or organization. One of its key features is the "scrum meeting" – a brief, daily opportunity for team members to note what they accomplished the previous day, what they'll be working on today, and how they can help their co-workers to achieve their goals.
Feeling out of the loop with your team can lead to anxiety, anger and frustration, which may negatively affect your performance, and that of your team. It may also be a warning sign that there are underlying problems within your team that need to be addressed.
You can address any issues and avoid feeling "out of the loop" by using strategies that help you to reconnect with your team and the work that it's doing day to day.
For instance, develop your interpersonal skills, work alongside team members, model openness and collaboration, and make everyone's work visible by introducing appropriate processes.
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