A reader writes…
I’m a manager of a fairly small department and really make an effort to be approachable for my staff. In fact, I have established an “open door policy” and make a point of encouraging my colleagues to pop in with questions or stop by as needed. What I’ve noticed, however, is that staff members will stand in my doorway and say, “Can I ask you a quick question?” Then, next thing I know, we’re sitting together in a full-blown meeting (for which I’m totally unprepared and is taking me away from what I was doing). I appreciate my team and want to be there for them… but these impromptu meetings are really starting to frustrate me. Any suggestions?
I can understand your frustration and can sense a feeling of resentment. Maintaining an “open door policy” with your employees is very commendable, but if it’s a practice you have established (and are encouraging), then you need to stick with it and be prepared for these types of situations. On the other hand, you can take the bull by the horns and reestablish some ground rules with your team to prevent this from happening further.
Now, am I suggesting you hang a “No Soliciting” sign on your office door?
But can you gracefully manage these “quick questions gone wild” while still maintaining a supportive and welcoming management style?
Here are some suggestions to consider:
1. The next time an employee comes to you with what appears to be a “quick question,” politely ask what it’s regarding.If, in fact, it’s something simple like, “Which project should I tackle first ‘X’ or ‘Y’?” you can likely give a quick response. If they say something like, “I wanted to share some ideas I had about ABC,” you can let them know you would love to discuss, but that this seems like more than a “quick question” and you’d want to dedicate your full attention to the subject.
- Ask them to shoot you an email with their initial thoughts (so you can digest the information and clearly understand where you’re input is needed).
- Let them know you will schedule a meeting with them to discuss in detail. Doing so will allow you time to prepare and shows your employee that you care enough about them and the matter at hand that you want to block ample time.
2. Address the problem with your entire team (as a group). Rather than singling out someone and potentially making them feel bad, openly share the situation – and the problem it’s creating –
with your entire group. Simply state something like, “You all know that I welcome your input and encourage you to bounce ideas off me, but I’m noticing that certain ‘quick questions’ aren’t actually ‘quick’! I want to give you my undivided attention, but I’m noticing I am unable to do that when I’m heads down on something and get interrupted. Moving forward, please send me a quick email that simply says, ‘Can we talk?’ or ‘Will you please call me when you have a few minutes?’ Giving some sort of head’s up will help tremendously, and I promise that I will set aside the time you need (and deserve!)”
I know, I know, that example is pretty scripted, but hopefully you get the idea.
3. Establish a regular meeting schedule. I’ve said this in previous posts, but it’s worth repeating. Managers MUST make a point of establishing a regular meeting with staff. Not just group or department pow-wows… I’m talking one-on-one. As long as the individuals on your team know they have time scheduled with you, they will get into the habit of tabling a lot of their “quick questions” and loose ends until their set meeting time arrives. For relatively small groups, you should try to have one-on-one meetings once a week.
The bottom line is, people won’t stop popping in if you keep inviting them to do so and actually meet with them for a long period of time. Your employees don’t realize this is bugging you! Be open and honest with your team and simply redefine your expectations (and needs) as the manager. In the end, you’ll feel less aggravated and your team will have a clearer understanding.
Hope this helps!