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How to Manage a Large Team Every Day – Without Unnecessary Team Meetings

By Bruce Tulgan:

In an ideal world, you would talk with every single person who calls you his boss – reviewing their work and setting them up for success – every single day. You would take that management walk every day with every person.

Some managers favor team meetings instead of daily one-on-one talks, but team meetings are no substitute. When you meet with an employee, and look them in the eye, talk about expectations, ask for an account of their performance, review their work results, or provide feedback, there’s no place to hide. In a team meeting, however, it’s easy to hide- for both the manager and the employees. Managers often feel more comfortable sharing difficult news or providing feedback to the whole team than talking directly to one person. The problem is, the difficult news or feedback is often aimed at only one or two people. So the rest of the team is confused and insulted. Meanwhile, the very people you are trying to “manage” in that team setting might not even realize that you are talking to them! Managers tell me all the time about that team meeting in which they meant to shine a bright light on Mr. Blue, the employee who has been coming in late and taking too many long breaks. They announce at the meeting, “We have to stop coming in late. And we have to stop taking so many long breaks. Remember, you get two ten-minute breaks – and ten minutes means ten minutes.” Most of their employees are sitting there, puzzles: “What is he talking about? I come on early every day, and I hardly ever take breaks.” But the only employee the manager is really talking to is looking at his watch thinking, “Come on already. Wrap it up. I’ve got to take my break.”

It’s also a whole lot harder to tune in to each employee in a team meeting and focus on that person’s work in a way that will be meaningful and helpful. Often, team meetings feel pro forma and include lots of discussion about things that most of the people in the room don’t need to know and don’t care about. Meanwhile, details critical to one employee or another are inevitably omitted. Sometimes the best things to come out of a team meeting are the spontaneous one-on-one huddles that typically follow the meeting, because the meeting has made it clear that they are necessary.

Team meetings do have a place in good management, of course. Team meetings are ideal when you need to share information that is relevant to the whole team. And they are often necessary when many people are working interdependently and might benefit from listening to what others are doing, what issues are coming up in their projects, and so on. Yes, team meetings have their place. Just don’t fool yourself: the team meeting is a totally different animal from the one-on-one conversation.

How can you manage a large team of people every day?

Managerial spans of control have gotten wider and wider, and, thus, most managers are responsible for too many people. Without a doubt, this has contributed to the undermanagement epidemic. Face with managing sixteen, sixty, or even more employees, managers throw their hands up in frustration. They say to me, “How can I possibly talk one-on-one with every single employee, every single day, in just one hour a day?!” Instead, they hide in their offices, complete the required management paperwork, and do little “managing” beyond that. No wonder there is so much “management by special occasion.”

Reality check: do you really have sixteen or sixty people – or whatever number of people- who directly report to you? Or do you have a ‘chain of command,” that is, employees who are actually managers or supervisors or team leaders who are supposed to be managing some of the other employees in your group?

If you have a chain of command, you must use it effectively. Make a habit of talking to these supervisors or team leaders every day and focus intensely on helping then play the role you need them to play. Teach them how to manage on an ongoing basis, and manage how they manage every step of the way. Just as you are working hard to be a great boss, they need to do the same.

If you don’t have a chain of command, maybe you should establish one. Although it’s best to avoid unnecessary layers of management, if you have sixteen or sixty people, you simply cannot afford to the be the only leader on the team. Cultivate and develop high performers who are in your inner circle, who share your priorities and help you keep the team focused on the work at hand. Developing new leaders, even informally, will help you extend your reach: you can use them as temporary project managers and deputize them when you are not available. But don’t give anyone management responsibilities of any kind – formal or informal – unless you are prepared to focus on that leaders intensely and personally manage that leader’s management practices very closely.

Developing new leaders, even informally, will help you extend your reach to manage your larger team – Every Day.

This is Part 2 of a 4 Part series – Part 1 or Continue to Part 3

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.

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