How often is the phrase I have an open door policy really used to its greatest potential? Communication is one if not the most important part of being in a team and or being a leader/supervisor. You’ve probably heard dozens of times from your new boss or supervisor that they have an open door policy. What that means is that their door is open for you to openly communicate about ideas, problems, information, etc. It’s a simple idea and a very important avenue for bringing up issues as well as solutions among other things. Sometimes it may be to make small talk.
I am a firm believer in solving issues at the lowest level possible, but there may be certain cases where the leader/supervisor must be in the know on what’s going on.
In the specific cases of needing to speak to a leader/supervisor anyone should and must feel safe approaching their leadership to discuss matters. In reality, issue or no issue, everyone should feel comfortable approaching their leadership. Here a few ways you, as a leader, can remove the hinges from the door and encourage, build and provide a place for open communication. If you don’t open the door then communication may not happen.
Small talk — If the door was never opened you will need to create the culture in which your team knows they can come speak with you. In order to build an environment for open communication you must initiate in some way the idea that talking is good for the team. Small talk aids connection.
Making small talk builds the comfort level so that everyone is comfortable talking. As a leader, engaging first is important.Topics can be anything. Sports, whether, news, movies, etc. This shows your team that talking with leadership can be quite normal. Often, team members can feel as if talking with their leaders is foreign and unnatural which is usually a sign of a disconnection between leaders and their teams. If you’re building an open door relationship everyone must feel welcome and it must become a normal feeling. Build trust and comfort level with small talk.
Put the Nerf gun away — Plain and simple. Don’t shoot the messenger. If people are fearful of your reaction to their need to speak they’ll never want to speak to you when critical issues come up. Allow members to say what they need to say without putting blame on the person for interrupting you. What they need to say may be critical to the office. The purpose of an open door is to foster and encourage your team members to come to you. Put the Nerf gun away, you won’t need it.
You have two ears and one mouth — I heard this in a church sermon once. You have two ears and one mouth. You should listen twice as much as you speak. If someone is approaching you with any dilemma, you should first listen. Listen intently and with your utmost attention. Perhaps the occasion doesn’t require a lengthy response. It may just require your blessing with a simple, yes or no. Whatever the case, listen first without distraction. Turn to the person speaking whether you’re standing up or sitting down so that they know they have your attention. Put down the electronic devices, perhaps even turn off your computer screen to avoid looking at it. Listening also includes body language. Understanding when a team member needs help may be determined by their lack of speaking or body language. In any instance, listen well.
Everyone’s time is valuable — It is difficult to have an open door every minute of every day. You certainly want open communication, but at the same time you don’t need to be interrupted a hundred times a day. In this case, leave the door open anyway. Let’s face it, as a supervisor and leader of a team, your time matters just as theirs does. You will be busy and there may be times when you may not have a moment to stop what you’re doing. In this case, if you are busy and you can’t provide your undivided attention, set up a time that allows enough time for discussion. Don’t just tell the person no, or you can’t talk, but explain to them why you can’t talk that moment and that it’s not because you don’t want to. Setting specific open hours dedicated to listening to your team may be something you have to do. It’s okay to do that. It will give your team members time to form their thoughts so they can bring it to you in an organized manner.
Encourage your team — It’s probable that not every problem needs immediate elevation to the leader or supervisor. Ensure that your team knows that solving the issues at the lowest level is important. Encourage your team members to make decisions that are within their area of responsibility. An effective team works together. Encourage creativity and information sharing including ideas. The solution may rest within another team member and may not need to be elevated. Fostering open communication between team members is just as important.
When your door is open you can walk out too — Along the line of the team using each other’s skills in the group to resolve issues, you should do the same. Your team matters. Sometimes you may have an issue that you just can’t solve by yourself. Instead of going to your leadership, if any, go to your team. Your team can help you. That’s what they’re there for. Asking for their help ultimately removes the hinges from the door. Imagine how you feel when someone walks into your office and needs your help. You feel good. You feel valuable. Your team needs to feel that as well. When you open the door, the door is open from both sides. Feel free to walk into their area and seek their assistance. This is also reinforces their trust and willingness to talk openly to you.
Know your people — There may be days when no one needs to talk, but as a leader, it’s your responsibility to know if your team members need to talk. Knowing your people will help you see and know if something is up with any of them. If it’s personal most people won’t come forward right away, but an open door policy includes personal issues. You may not be an expert in the problem, but allowing them to vent may be the thing they need. Get to know your team members. Use feedback sessions to talk a bit about them. Use small talk to learn facts about them. The better you know them the better you can lead them.
At the end of the day if your team isn’t coming to you for any reason you need to reassess why. Great leaders are great communicators which means communication should be a fluid action. Ensure that above all, as a leader, you have an open door that fosters an environment for creativity, idea flow, information sharing, trust, and growth.