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Ask Our Coaches: Managers Learning about Their Teams

A woman smiling with a pen up to her face next to the text "Ask Our Coaches: How can we get managers to learn more about their teams?"

Q: “How can we get managers to learn more about their teamssuch as their interests, motivations, and passions?”

One of our Curiouser readers, Jose Santiago, asked us this question, and we proposed it to our community of coaches. Our introductory letter for Curiouser No.3 includes all of the responses at a high level, but we wanted you to see the full quotes here.

 

Coaches’ recommendations for managers looking to learn more about their teams:

Our coaches recommended that managers carve out more opportunities to connect beyond work, ask more non-work related questions, leverage their 1:1s with team members, and strengthen the manager-employee connection to best learn about their team members. Read more about these recommendations below:

Create more opportunities to connect beyond work

  • Managers can learn more about their teams by creating more opportunities to bond with them beyond work related transactions, such as arranging for outbound activities, events, or luncheons – these are great opportunities to have conversations in a very non intrusive way.
  • They could also hold group meetings to explicitly discuss their motivations, interests, and passions and then assign them projects or tasks that align with these.
  • Finally, managers can show more empathy and understanding. It’s about building trust, establishing rapport, and deepening their connection with their teams to know them as they want to be known.

Ranjini Rao, Torch Executive Coach

Get to know your team members through effective 1:1s

  • Managers tend to underestimate the power of an effective 1:1. These are usually used for status updates or dealing with emergencies, but they are also a great space to get to know their team members’ interests and discuss career development.
  • The intrinsic motivation of each team member should then be used to create a unique path for them. While managers often think about promotion as the next step, for some people, this path could be allowing more flexibility and autonomy in their job, or supporting learning opportunities within the company.

Serena Martino, Torch Executive Coach

Encourage multiple team members to ask non work-related questions

There are many ways to do this. A client of mine starts their team meeting asking a question that is not work related, such as: what did you do this weekend, what is your favorite ice cream flavor and why, what do you do to recharge, etc? There is rotation between those who ask the question, and there are different kinds of questions that are asked that offer insights into the team.

Bego Lozano, Torch Executive Coach

Establish a stronger manager-employee connection

What is the connection like between the manager and employee? This is where to focus.

  • If the connection is real and honest and has developed over time then further conversation about strengths, motivation, and passions makes sense, and it is likely already occurring. Being vulnerable and sharing personal information is the result of connection.
  • If the connection is weak or fragile, then the conversations about strengths will come across disingenuous and judgmental. In this case, there is no shared belief that one person cares about the other. Most people who are feeling like this also feel judged and will protect and withdraw, the opposite of what you want. Helping managers work on what it means to connect with another human in a hierarchy is point number one.

David Dunnington, Torch Executive Coach

 

Coaches’ recommendations for leaders looking to support their managers in learning more about their teams:

While managers are responsible for getting to know their teams, leaders can play a significant role in supporting them in these efforts. Coaches recommended that leaders create buy-in from managers by making the case for why team motivation and morale matters, creating structures to support them, and role modeling curiosity and open communication for managers to follow suit.  Read more about these recommendations below:

Gain buy-in from managers and then create structures to support them

  • First, I would change the word ‘get’ to ‘inspire’, because this is how we create organizational change! If managers perceive this as extra work, if they don’t see the benefit, and feel like they are being ‘forced’ to learn more about their teams, they are less likely to do it.
  • We also need to take into consideration two things: education/training and supportive structures. If it hasn’t been done already, I’d first recommend that the managers attend a training where they can discover the positive impact of learning more about their teams (i.e. improving morale & performance). This is where you can inspire them as they begin to understand how new behaviors can benefit themselves and their team.
  • The next step is to support managers in having structures that make it easy to execute on these actions. This could look like including time in their 1:1s to ask deeper questions about their DRs outside of work, or it could look like having fun icebreakers (provided by HR if possible) in team meetings where each person gets the opportunity to share something new about themselves.

Stephanie Staidle, Torch Executive Coach

Role model curiosity and open communication

Learning about others is about curiosity and communication. Managers can foster a culture of belonging and learn about their teams by role modeling curiosity about others. Simply showing up and sharing about themselves and then enquiring about others, often communicating openly their intention behind the curiosity. Active listening, authentic curiosity, and making people feel seen will strengthen rapport and offer a manager a real insight into their teams.

Rafal Szaniawski, Torch Executive Coach

Make the case for why team motivation matters

  • Support them with identifying the benefits for getting to know their team members, (i.e., leaders who are genuinely interested in their team members as people and employees, create employees who are engaged, connected, feel a sense of belonging and have higher performance.)
  • Suggest that the leaders start small with shifting their 1:1 meeting framework to enable the employees to share more about themselves and their development goals. They can also implement a “I’m proud of myself this week for …” (personal or professional achievement in the prior week) at team meetings. Leaders can make the learning fun for the whole team.

Veronica Matthews, Torch Executive Coach

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This article was featured in the Torch People Development newsletter, Curiouser. Each month, we deliver the latest research, stories, questions, and insights about the art and science of people development to your inbox. Sign-up and join a community of people passionate about growth, learning and leadership.