How to be an ‘open book’ manager

Monday 17 February 2020
Your team may have good ideas for improvements in how your team is managed – but do they share them? Here’s how to create a culture of collaboration
Someone writing in a book having a coffee

Lizzie Benton has spent her career encouraging collaboration. She’s a culture consultant, and her company Liberty Mind works predominantly with creative agencies. While creating better business cultures is her bread and butter, she knows how difficult meaningful change can be.

“It’s quite a daunting task, especially as a manager, because so much of it is driven from the top down,” she says. “If you’ve got a positive outlook on the benefits of culture and your boss does not, you almost have to protect your department or team from cultural habits that you don’t want to replicate.”

Cultural change doesn’t happen overnight; if you want to cultivate a more open, collaborative culture, in which your team members are comfortable sharing ideas and feedback, you need to lay the groundwork. Here are three techniques you can use to encourage a more open culture:

Create an ideas process

If you don’t have a good way to deal with people’s suggestions in the first place, you will not be able to cultivate an open culture. For example, if you’re using a suggestion box, you’re more likely to stifle collaboration and openness than encourage it. “It takes away ownership of the idea,” Benton explains. “It’s like a black hole where ideas disappear.”

A better approach is to create a clear suggestion process; a step-by-step approach that makes it clear that suggestions and ideas need to be carefully considered, and will be taken seriously.

Benton cites the example of an Australian agency called Quirk, which has a suggestions and feedback process on the wall in its office. If a member of staff has an idea for an improvement, they must get at least three colleagues on board with it before they can present it to their boss. It makes sure that the idea has diverse appeal, and that any idea that comes through the process has been carefully considered.

Once three people are on board, the suggestion is delivered in a five-minute presentation, after which their boss will help them take it further.

They have a bit of time to work out if it’s an idea worth taking forward, or whether it goes into the ‘idea graveyard’. And there will be a very clear reason why it ended up in the graveyard. Maybe the resource isn’t available to make it happen, or it doesn’t quite fit the strategy. That way the team understands the process better.

Be authentic

No-one on your team will take your claims of openness seriously unless you are open in your day-to-day communications with them. That means owning your mistakes and failures and communicating them to the team. If you make it clear that you are as open to taking feedback as your team is, they will in turn find you more approachable and bring new ideas and approaches to you. “It’s very much about stepping away from the old stereotype of managers that we’ve seen in the past and stepping into something that is seen as authentic by your team,” says Benton.

‘Open up’ your meetings

Meetings, when structured wrong, can also stifle creativity. Often, they’re just a stage for the loudest people in the room to project over everyone else. You want to make sure your ideas meetings are well-structured, that people know what to prepare, and that everyone has the space to talk.

The best method for opening up your meetings is to run a tactical meeting, which is popular in companies with open, collaborative and autonomous cultures. Tactical meetings are structured into rounds, starting with a check-in, where everyone gets a chance to speak and become present for the meeting – “a mindful check-in that gets everyone into the right headspace,” says Benton.

The next round is where people get a chance to present their ideas, and everybody gets to give feedback on that idea. “It allows everybody to have a voice, rather than just constantly giving the loudest voices in the room another chance to speak.”

By using these three techniques, you’ll have the foundation of a more open and collaborative relationship with your team – a chance for you to learn and develop as much as they do.

When creating a collaborative culture, you need to understand how to manage the different personality types on your team – that way, you can make sure you’re getting the best from them. Members can sign into ManagementDirect and search ‘Personality’ to find many resources – book chapters, pearls of wisdom, and leader videos – that deep-dive into this nuanced topic.

Image: Unsplash