Over the years, the old “command and control” leadership style has become less common. Many leaders are noticing that employees now demand more respect and autonomy in the workplace.
Thankfully, many organisations have come to realise that employees are people too. They understand that treating people well helps them to remain engaged and productive. If team members don’t like their workplace or role, they will leave because there are often other options.
As a result, in many workplaces the “authority gap” between leaders and team members is decreasing. It’s more common to actually get to know your employees, rather than treat them as work robots who you can order around.
No matter the level of leader you are, there are major benefits to be gained from getting to know your employees. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the benefits and then some simple ways you can better understand your people.
Why You Should Get to Know Your Employees
There are a bunch of great reasons to get to know your employees. Here are some of the reasons that I find the most compelling.
1. Know Your Employees to Improve Productivity
Do you know how your team members like to work? Knowing your employees is critical to help you create a work environment that will help them feel more productive and motivated.
You might think that this is all “soft” leadership stuff. But in my experience, taking an interest in the people you lead will help you to build trust, improve performance and lift motivation.
But what things should you know about your employees? Well, here are some examples:
- Autonomy: Does your team member like to be left alone? Or prefer to check in with you frequently about their work?
- Communication: Do your team members prefer email, instant message or face to face communication? Or a combination of all of them?
- Work routine: Is your team member an early starter, or do they come in later? Do they like flexibility with their work hours or do they prefer a tight routine?
- Flexibility: Does your team member like flexibility in their role or work tasks? Or are they more comfortable just doing the work they know best?
- Uncertainty: Do your team members cope well with uncertainty, being able to “roll with the punches”? Or are they risk-averse, enjoying planning and a more certain work environment?
- Attention: Does your team member like to be the centre of attention, or to be more of a support player in the background?
- Social style: Is your team member a talkative social butterfly? Or are they a more introverted or private type?
- Goals: What does your team member want to achieve? Are they career-driven, or do they enjoy their hobbies outside of work more?
All of these aspects can help you to arrange the work environment to better suit your team members. It can also help you to delegate tasks when you understand the working style of each team member.
Importantly, it can also enable you to help your team members work more productively together. The better you understand the different working styles of your people, the more easily you will be able to reduce team conflict and manage the team’s work appropriately.
Of course, you can’t cater for every employee preference, but understanding some of these core aspects is a good starting point.
2. Know Your Employees to Build Rapport
Building rapport with your people is a great way to build trust. It helps to show that you care about more than just the work – you also care about the person.
People are more likely to do the right thing by you and the team if they are personally invested in the workplace and its relationships.
When you ask how the kids are, or chat about how their favourite sporting team went on the weekend, you’ll start to build a personal relationship with each team member. Not only does this make work more interesting, it can help to build a more cohesive team culture.
Of course, some people like their life outside of work to be private, while others love to talk about their family and hobbies. Everybody is different, so it’s important to observe and understand the personal boundaries of the people in your team.
3. Know Your People to Notice Important Changes
Remember the aspects we covered in point 1 above? Well, these are really important because they help you notice when something is wrong.
If your team member always begins work early, and then suddenly starts coming to work late, something might be amiss.
When your team member is usually talking and laughing with colleagues, but is now acting withdrawn, something could be wrong.
If your team member is usually casual and relaxed, but now is stressed and gets angry quickly, there could be a problem.
All of these examples show changes in behaviour that may indicate:
- A team conflict: When your team members aren’t getting along, productivity and performance will suffer.
- Problems at home: It’s not reasonable to expect people to leave their life completely at home. They come to work as a whole person. It’s not your job to fix your team member’s personal issues, but noticing problems can help you to tackle the situation more sensitively.
- Mental health issues: A change in behaviour or routine is one of the warning signs of a potential mental health problem. You don’t need to diagnose and resolve it all by yourself, but noticing the signs can help you start a conversation that may lead to someone getting the help they need.
Most people are creatures of habit and routine. Knowing your employees helps you to spot any changes which may highlight a problem that could impact the team.
Learn More: How Leaders Can Identify Mental Health Issues.
Should You Be Friends With Your Team Members?
As people start to build personal relationships in the workplace, it’s inevitable that friendships will result. Between team members this is generally fine, but it can get a little tricky if you are leading a team member who you consider to be a close friend.
Being friends with a team member can put you in a difficult situation. If there are performance problems or conflicts with that team member, you may feel tempted to look the other way. Or, you may just find it twice as hard to have that difficult work conversation!
At the same time, other people may also perceive you as favouring your friend, which can also create team tension. Some leaders even start to favour other people in the team, so that they don’t appear to be biased towards their friend.
As you can see, the list of potential issues is long, and are best avoided. While hanging out with your team members at the occasional work function is OK, building a strong friendship could be leading you into trouble.
Learn More: Check out this article on the dark side of workplace friendships.
How to Get to Know Your Employees
As with many aspects of leadership, it’s not rocket science. You’re probably getting sick of me writing that but it’s true. Once again, it’s all about being intentional.
Some leaders naturally engage with their team members on a more personal level. Others are more goal-focused, looking more at the work outcomes than the people. Both types of leaders can be very effective, but once again, this is about balance.
A leader who focuses only on the work and deadlines may alienate team members, appearing as a “cold” person. A leader who only worries about the people may be perceived as “soft and fluffy” and take their eye off the work, resulting in poor performance.
The point is, taking a balanced approach and getting to know your people at least a little is likely to provide some benefits. Here are some simple ways you can do it for your team.
1. Ask Questions That Aren’t Related to Work
If you only ask about work related topics all the time, that’s what people think you want to talk about. Instead, try mixing up the work and non-work talk.
You probably have individual meetings with your team members to see how they are doing, check on progress and offer any assistance. As part of these meetings, inject some non-work questions in there too.
“How was your weekend?”
“Are you going away anywhere on your holiday?”
“Did you see the <popular local event> on the weekend?”
Based on the responses to these types of questions, you can start to see what makes your team member tick. If they give short answers and then focus on work, they may not be comfortable opening up. Or, they may be more interested in keeping work and home life separate.
Usually, people will respond with some topics that interest them, which you can follow up on later. Eventually, you’ll build knowledge of your team member, and what makes them tick.
2. Share Personal Information About Yourself
One of the best ways to encourage people to open up is to share your own stories. Tell people what happened on the weekend, or about how you’re learning how to grow your own vegetables.
Sharing makes you seem more personable and likeable. Of course, you aren’t meant to overshare. Extremely intimate personal stories or gory details about a recent fight with your partner are generally not appropriate, so you need to use your discretion.
Share some information, and see what comes back. Often, your team members will start to share stories with you too, which will help you build rapport. This is powerful, because people will more likely go the extra mile if they have a strong rapport with you.
Likewise, team members can benefit from having rapport with their manager. A manager is likely to be more forgiving and understanding when a good personal relationship has developed over time.
3. Get to Know Your Employees By Being Observant
Once again, it sounds obvious, but you need to keep your eyes open to observe how your people behave. Many leaders are busy, in meetings all day and “don’t have time” to engage with their people effectively.
(Note: In my opinion, leaders who “Don’t have time” to do important things are really just using that as an excuse. If leaders are ignoring something important for this reason, they are simply prioritising something else instead).
Here are some aspects you can observe to get to know your employees:
- How do your people react under pressure?
- How about when something unexpected happens?
- What about when there is uncertainty?
- How does your team member react when you praise them in front of the rest of the team? Do they love it, or shy away from the attention?
- Does your team member seem confident, or tentative in their actions?
- How do your team members respond to team conflict?
The list is endless, but you get the idea. When you observe different characteristics of your team members, you’ll be able to work with them more easily.
However, we know it’s not all about work. You might also observe things like interests and hobbies outside of work. Or, whether they have children or a partner, or any pets.
Remembering somebody’s family situation can be a powerful way of building rapport, because you’ve shown a personal interest.
4. Use a Personality or Motivation Assessment Tool
You’ve probably all come across some of the various personality tools during your career. We have the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the DISC assessment as well as many others too numerous to mention!
These tools can be useful ways of understanding how your team members like to work, and how they may respond in different situations. However, many of these tools only show you what is on the surface.
I’ve taken many of these assessments, and my preferred tool of choice is the PRINT® Motivational Profile assessment. The difference with this tool is that it helps you to identify the “Unconscious Motivators” of your team members. That is, what lies underneath.
In other words, it helps you understand the “Why” behind team member behaviour. PRINT® can really raise self-awareness and help you to nail down the root causes of challenges you’re seeing in your team.
Same Behaviour, Different Motivators
Two different team members may show exactly the same behaviour, but for very different reasons. If you’re seeing issues in the team, you can’t fix them properly unless you can address the root cause.
Consider the following example of two team members, Brett and Linda.
Brett missed his deadline last week, failing to turn in some important work. Linda had the same issue, taking too long to deliver. Two different people … with the same problem?
Maybe, but not necessarily. Brett is a career-climber, with a strong goal-orientation. PRINT® tells us that his primary motivator is to “Succeed and achieve”.
The thing is, he only focuses on the goals that are aligned with where he wants to go.
In this case, Brett didn’t really see how meeting this deadline would help him, so instead he focused on something else that he thought was more important.
Linda missed the deadline too. Was she focusing on something else? No, she was working hard, for long hours. PRINT® tells us that Linda’s primary motivator is to “Be perfect, correct and right”. If you want attention to detail, Linda is the right person for you!
But in this case, Linda focused too much on achieving perfection, at the cost of hitting the deadline.
These are simple examples, but you can see how leaders may assume that both team members have the same challenge. When you look beneath at the unconscious motivators, you learn more about the real source of the problem behaviour.
Interested in using the PRINT® assessment for you and your team? Simply contact me to get started.
As you can see, there are many good reasons for getting to know your team members and it isn’t hard to do. Many leaders overlook the power of building personal relationships, instead relying on authority and positional power to do all the work for them.
Why not start getting to know your team members today?