If there is one area that is universal to teams and is in constant need of improvement, it is communication. Whether it is extending clearly defined deliverables, or requesting help to overcome obstacles we have bad habits of vagueness, hesitancy, or unfortunate timing. Additionally, our listening skills are used to identify pauses in the dialogue so that we can interject rather than to interpret the message of the speaker. These habits have an impact on the effectiveness of the team and directly translate into the manager’s ability to lead and serve the organization. The Play Card Methodology takes this ubiquitous challenge with communication to heart and offers elements which pursue the breaking of our bad habits and offers a model for healthy communication habits.
The Touch Base
One feature that we are focusing on in this blog post is the “touch base.” It may be tempting to call this element a “meeting.” Meetings are often dreaded by the team, they are often viewed as disruptions of their workflow, and more often than not, the team is spoken to rather than listened to in a meeting. This impression affects the team’s participation and the perceived value of the gathering.
The “touch base” is an opportunity for the manager to review the Play Card with the team, assess its progress, and identify obstacles which delay progress toward the weekly goal. At its most basic level, the “touch base” is a check-in with the team. The manager’s primary role is to prompt engagement for each member of the team, listen, explore any obstacles presented and aid in their mitigation. In cases where there is a sense of frustration or dropping morale, the manager is to offer encouragement.
The touch base has some basic guidelines which are designed to heighten its effectiveness and brevity.
The duration of the touch base should last no longer than 15 minutes. The optimal length of the touch base will depend on the breadth of projects to review and the size of the team. The purpose of the brevity of the meeting is to minimize disruption of the progress of the day and to maintain the focus of the touch base. However, it is important for the manager understanding that brevity is not king; the touch base must provide value.
The touch base should occur within the workspace of the team. There is a method to this approach. First, the Play Card (dry-erase whiteboard) is located in the workspace of the team. The location of the touch base further emphasizes that it is part of their workflow, not a disruption of it. Second, the entire team is engaged in the meeting by default. It is conducted in familiar territory. The temptation for a team member to dismiss the touch base in favor of punching through some tasks is mitigated. Third, the very fact that the manager is coming to the team rather than the team coming to the manager shifts the mindset of the touch base from a hierarchical engagement to a collaborative visit.
The timing of the touch base should occur approximately 6-7 hours into the standard workday. In doing so, the assessment of the project’s progress will freshly reflect the current day’s contribution. Also, since the team will be in the midst of the day’s work, any obstacles or frustrations will be top of mind and more likely to be verbalized. If the touch base were to occur at the end of the day, the team would have already mentally checked out, and their contribution to the touch base will be diluted.
When obstacles are presented by the team members, the most impactful contribution that a manager has to offer in the touch base is to listen and ask questions to better understand and assess the obstacle. Once the obstacle is clearly communicated, the manager must do everything within their power to mitigate the obstacle so that the team member can focus and deliver their weekly goal. If the team member is left to mitigate the obstacle, time and energy are lost to the situation, and the goal is threatened. If the manager chooses not to seek clarification of the issue it is a clear signal to the team that the manager is not engaged. As such, trust and confidence in the manager are lost, and so goes the team.
In Times of High Pressure
During periods of intense target date pressure, an occurrence which is called an “All Hands On Deck” (AHOD) situation, employing a variant of the touch base called a “temperature check” is valuable. These would often occur first thing in the morning and just before lunch. Where the touch base is brief, the temperature check is succinct. The manager’s objective in these temperature checks is to assess the team’s morale, draw out any obstacles, and offer encouragement. It will be tempting for the manager to use this opportunity to emphasize the urgency of the moment when the reality is that the team is already very aware of the urgency and need to know that the manager is in it with them and are in need of encouragement.
While the touch base may not be the silver bullet for all of our communication werewolves, it certainly provides a framework which can improve the experience significantly. Most importantly, the model of the touch base is designed to clear out the impediments to collaboration that are generated by traditional hierarchical team structures and meetings. It also further fosters servant leadership for the entire team, which boosts the team’s productivity and morale like spinach to Popeye.