The biggest problem managers and business owners experience with their admin teams is one of basic trust. Trust that people are managing their workloads, team priorities are on track, due dates are properly anticipated, and status reports are accurate as well as understood; the list goes on and on. The bottom line is, if trust hasn’t been earned between management and the team, you have a problem.
The solution? Effective communication and a few simple tools to augment it.
Here’s what you need to do:
From the beginning, when you on-board a team member, let them know what the policies are for communication as well as your personal style. It may sound like a no-brainer, but communication can make or break a business relationship and will most definitely impact a project. Take the time to discuss various ways in which you expect to communicate so your new hire has a guideline to trust when they need to reach you.
Situations to cover might include:
- Status reports – Do you prefer these updates to be in writing or an oral presentation? What details do you want included in the report?
- Method of communication – Do you prefer an email, text, phone call, or video chat? Do you require others to be included or copied on this communication?
- Frequency – How often do you want to be updated? Daily (and at what time), weekly, or monthly? Only upon emergency – and what constitutes an emergency? Also, are there times/days that you prefer not to in contact?
- Subject lines – How do you want your team to use the subject line of email or memos? Do you review or organize your documentation by project, by urgency, or by the task?
Have this information available in a policy document that your team members can keep, and be sure to discuss it with each new report to ensure a mutual understanding.
Chart the Workload
There are myriad ways to chart ongoing projects, including incredibly expensive software, and what you need will depend on the type of industry in which your business competes. That said, internal and small team communication regarding tasks and projects may only require a simple list with some static subjects. Often a document table, .PDF form or tabbed spreadsheet is best for your admins to use when their work impacts other staff members. In turn, you will be able to see a thumbnail sketch of where your team is at and how much trust you can put in their ability to communicate up the chain as well as laterally.
- Don’t make recording activity with this tool a time consuming or intensive exercise.
- Give your team a tool that can provide a “quick and dirty” snapshot of what is happening now and what needs to happen 2 or 3 steps ahead.
- If you can refer to this tool and understand (or explain) where you are right now, your team will also be able to ascertain how their work is impacting the overall flow in your business.
- Keep it quick, keep it clean, and keep it centrally located or distributed by one specific person, on a frequent and regular basis.
An administrative team is not unlike a project management team. Each individual contributes to the overall success of every project, and their performance reflects on the business as well as you, the leader. Charting tools allow for immediate feedback so that everyone involved can trust the team is on course.
Schedule Regular Meetings
Your admin team needs to communicate with you even – or especially – when you don’t know it. Supporting them in regular information exchange is crucial. This helps forecast problems, creates an opportunity to build strategy, and encourages creative ideas concerning process improvement. If your team can show you your blind spots, you can trust them to provide you with critical information.
- Project review – Be sure the entire team knows that participation is expected and that discussion surrounding the various workloads will be a priority. The meetings can be brief yet active, and participants should have tasks and takeaways to guide them until the next meeting.
- Inject the 35,000-foot view as you see it – It’s easy for members of your team to lose sight of the big picture when they are working on the details needed to reach a goal. As the leader, what have to offer them are the details about the path to get there. Your team performs the work which fulfills the “how”; you need to provide the picture that inspires the “why.” Remind your team what success looks and feels like, then encourage them on the journey.
Knowing how, what, and when to communicate, as well as what tools to use, creates an environment of transparency. This strategy also produces responsiveness from all parties and sets the groundwork for exchanging information. Making your communication process as straight forward and pleasant as possible is key when building a cohesive and empowered administrative team.
It truly does “take teamwork to make the dream-work,” and you can achieve greater goals when your team is clear about the expectations you have for them. When people feel secure that they have a road-map for success as well as the ability to express themselves, many of the challenges you face together can potentially become trust-building exercises, if not full-fledged wins.