It seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? When visiting with your team, listen to their pain points, dig into what they have done to heal their own pain, and finally take action to help them with those areas that continue to fester. Fester is kind of a nasty word but I felt it was fitting to describe just how long some employees deal with the same pain when no action has been taken either by them or by their manager. This may be a simple concept but it does not happen as often as it should because everyone is just so busy so discussing pain points can take a back seat!
In the years I have been managing teams at the bank, the number of direct reports I lead has gone from one in my first years up to my current sixteen direct reports. I don’t think this is uncommon, but it can be a challenge to connect with each person on a regular basis to build and maintain trust with an expanded team. One of the things I have found works well to build and maintain trust is to listen. Well, that was anticlimactic. Stick with me though, it gets better! As you are listening, take notes, watch body language and listen for changes in tone. If you haven’t had the opportunity to build trust and your team member isn’t being candid about what may be bothering them, their body language will indicate for you to dig deeper. I am not talking about putting a couch in your office and pretending to be a psychologist, but don’t allow passive remarks to get swept under that new couch you are still envisioning in your office.
The biggest challenge for a manager when there is pain involved surrounds weeding out what the team member’s part is in causing the pain to go unhealed and what action(s) they may or may not have taken to proactively address the situation. Building trust isn’t about jumping in every time to fix things and constantly putting out their fires. We want our teams to feel empowered to use their resources and take appropriate action to overcome obstacles. A very basic example of this is a misunderstanding between two team members. Each person has their side but when you ask each of them, individually, if they have taken the time to speak to the other person, they will both answer no. Awesome. This passive anger and aggression toward each other will not heal until one or both of them decide to have a personal conversation with the other. Not everyone is comfortable being uncomfortable so there may be times a mediator is needed to help broker the conversation. In this situation a manager can’t heal that pain but could step in to bring both sides to the table.
Another common area of pain is interactions with other teams within the bank. These situations involve a lot of pronoun dropping because “they” should understand how you are feeling and “they” should have taken care of their piece of the project more quickly. I am sure “they”, these awful nameless, faceless people are lurking at your institution as well. How do we flush them out? First let’s find out who in the world “they” are because they have names. If a team member is working on a project and get to the point where they are waiting on one department to provide some sort of deliverable but find themselves waiting longer than they wanted, they may come to you for advice. If this was a member of my team my first question, if I don’t know who “they” are, is to ask “Who are you referring to?” If I already know then I will start using that person’s name since using pronouns tends to make it easier to gossip or complain. My follow up question may be “Did you provide them with a timeline of when you needed that deliverable and did Joe acknowledge that timeline was attainable?” If the team member’s answer is that they did not share the timeline or they did but are expecting it to be delivered before the agreed upon timeline, this is not my pain to heal.
Sometimes the little things are truly little but they are obstacles we as managers can help our teams overcome. During monthly meetings I have with each team member I have one, sometimes two, takeaways of little things I can do to improve how each team member does their job and I follow through on what I say I am going to do. This is not rocket science. All of those little pain points can add up to frustration and disengagement because those items may seem little to us but add all of them up and they become pretty impactful to our team members.
The more you meet with your team members one on one, listen to their pain and do not allow things to fester, the more satisfied each member will be which leads to a more stable work environment for all, reduced gossip, more collaboration, and world peace. Just making sure you were paying attention.
Christy Baker is currently the Chief Operations Officer with TS Banking Group which is comprised of three banking charters. She has been in banking for 18 years and has held various positions including Assistant Cashier, Branch Manager, Controller, Director of Internal Audit and, most recently, COO. Christy and her husband Eric live on an acreage near Oakland, Iowa, along with their two sons John and Alex. This blog series, “Making This Up as I Go” is focused on lessons learned in leadership over her years in banking and how that has led to personal growth and a passion for leading teams.