As a Manager, I Always Ask My Team This Unique Question

I need a reliable pulse on how things are going.

Anna Burgess Yang

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an aerial view of two laptops on a desk, pop art
Image created via Midjourney

Only a fraction of a manager’s job is managing work. The larger (perhaps most important) aspect is managing people. And by “manage” I don’t mean “micromanage” — I mean caring for the wellbeing of one’s team so that they can do their best work.

I was the product manager and director of a customer success team at a fintech for many years. I managed seven people whose responsibilities ranged from customer onboarding to customer support. Like a good manager, I met with each team member 1:1 on a regular basis.

But it can be tempting for managers and employees to go through a list of the work that got done. That is not the purpose of a 1:1. Understanding the work and results can come through email, Slack updates, or tools dedicated to project/task management.

During a 1:1, I was trying to assess the less objective parts of the job. What challenges are being faced? What clients were being problematic? And how could I help?

I learned to ask, “Has anything weird or unusual happened to you lately?”

It may seem like an odd question, but it ended up being the most telling and often the most constructive.

Helped me understand challenges and roadblocks

At a very basic level, asking if anything unusual had come up helped me understand how employees were spending their time. And I don’t mean that in an overbearing time-tracking kind of way. I mean things out of the ordinary that might be pulling their focus from other responsibilities or causing a lot of distractions for the team.

For example, as a fintech, it was common that new product releases would cause an influx of calls and emails to the customer support line. Some of these were quick to resolve. Others were difficult and time-consuming. The support team expected this with new releases, but if a lot of strange issues were arising, it was problematic.

Some employees got stressed or frustrated when the customer support volume was high. Talking about things that detracted from day-to-day work allowed me to assure them that other responsibilities could…

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Anna Burgess Yang

Productivity geek + solopreneur. Niche freelance writer. #5amwritersclub frequent flyer. • https://start.annabyang.com/