Tips to help leaders keep informed of their team's projects/results

Dear Joan,
I am a senior manager in a large organization. I’ve been promoted into a “stretch assignment” that includes a much larger staff than I had before. It has been challenging and enjoyable so far and I am starting to understand why it is called a “stretch”! I have been an individual contributor for most of my career and in my last job I only had a few employees. Now I manage a department of fifty people and seven managers. 

My team develops different products that the company sells and I’m getting a little uncomfortable lately about keeping track of it all. I am expected to know a fair amount of detail when I’m in meetings with my manager and peers. And I am discovering, in other meetings I attend, that I’m being caught off guard about directions and decisions I didn’t know about…some of it I don’t even agree with. 

I don’t want to come down on my team and expect them to tell me everything they do, and I certainly don’t want to be a micromanager. At the same time, I have to find a way to keep track of everything that is going on, so I can influence it and direct it. 

We meet weekly and I have one-on-ones with my staff but those often get cancelled because we are all so busy. Any ideas?

There are some unspoken rules for career success in organizations. Here are a few that apply to you and your team:
  1. A leader should never be surprised.
  2. Employees should always make the leader look good.
  3. A leader should “fly cover” for his/her team when they need it.
  4. A manager should give team members visibility and credit with others.
  5. Managers should be “nose in and hands out” of the team’s work, unless rule number one is broken.
You have every right to expect your team members to keep you fully briefed, and in turn, you can support their work and advocate for their projects when they need it. If they don’t keep you looped in, they run the risk of losing sponsorship, resources and autonomy. In other words, you have every right to meddle in their business if they don’t keep you informed.

Since you already have a one-on-one meeting scheduled, I recommend setting some standing agenda items that always get discussed. For example, Progress reports on key projects. Who is involved, what decisions are being made, who might be impacted and how you can help. Since you are new to the area, it is fair to ask for as much detail as you need, until you are fully familiar with their projects. 

Because your meetings are cancelled frequently, it might be weeks or even a month before you can meet with an employee one-on-one. These meetings are probably cancelled by you-- and I urge you to make them a higher priority. If that isn't practical, it may make sense to ask for an email briefing each week on key issues/projects from each one of your managers. Not only would this give you a guaranteed way to keep up to date, it would give you a paper trail to help you track progress.

Some managers I know use a paper filing system (or electronic) to store these updates and keep personal notes about what agreements were made and what assignments were delegated. Rather than using sticky notes or keeping a notebook with daily to-do lists and assignments, well-organized project files (or a file on each manager) will allow you to open to action items and help you track who is doing what. 

Electronic files are efficient but not always effective. A paper file is easy to access and carry with you to relevant meetings. As long as there are compartments or tabs, you should be able to put your hands on needed data quickly. 

Ask your managers for their ideas on how to keep you informed. In addition, examine your staff meetings as a means to share information on projects that have an impact on multiple groups. I’d advise you not to use your staff meeting as an “update the boss meeting” since time will be better spent doing group problem solving and planning. 

Another approach is to bring your manager(s) along to key meetings where a lot of detail is required. He or she is closer to the project and can speak in more depth, if questions arise. It also gives them visibility with senior leaders. 

If you have a talented administrative assistant, he or she may have some good ideas for how to get organized and how to keep on top of the issues. Involving your assistant will also enable him or her to schedule your time more effectively when requests come in. 

Ask people who have been in similar jobs for advice. It won’t make you look stupid— they will be flattered that you asked and pleased to see you are eager to learn new ways to stretch.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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