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  • Writer's pictureAnya Smirnova

Close your open door policy and do this instead

As the world prepares for a more hybrid way of working in the wake of the pandemic, I want to offer you this brilliant article by Frank Contrepois, author of "How to build a team" manager training, Head of Customer Ops in a fintech company and my husband. As a manager, you probably said something around the lines of “If you need me, just contact me, or come to my office or drop by my desk”. You are creating what is known as an open door policy. When your office door (or instance messaging status) is open, people in your team can come over and have a conversation with you. Imagine this: I’m sitting at my desk, fully immersed in a report that needs to get out today. I have finally got the latest information I need to make it a great report. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Then suddenly, Jon pops in asking for a meeting. My first thought is, “Arggg, why did I leave the door open?” while out loud I say: “Please sit”. My brain is running in circles, trying to put some context around Jon. What is his role? What is the project we are working on? What did we talk about last time? And many other random thoughts. All while I have a billboard in the back of my head with written on it “SEND THE REPORT”. In summary, I am not 100% or even 50% present for Jon, and that is wrong. Another inconvenience of the open door policy is that it ends up being abused by some and ignored by others. Shy people would never show up, and over time you might even forget about them. Others might show up too often, using you as a sounding board; that is not your role. So, while I love the idea of a manager being available for team members, I disagree with the open-door approach. My proposed approach is called the “one-to-one approach”. In a nutshell, it is a systematic and structured approach to the open-door policy. It allows both you and your team members to prepare, have 100% focus on the other person and generate positive results.

Here is how to make it work

Rules of the game:

  • A one-to-one is when the manager listens and does not lead. The initiative is left to the person having the one to one.

  • Have one weekly one-to-one with each of your direct reports

  • Set the timer to 30-60 uninterrupted minutes (very hard)

The one to one:

  • Always start with "How are you?" and pay attention to body language too

    • If body language and what is said do not match, follow with a sentence starting with "it feels like ..."

  • Make it clear that this time is for them to talk.

  • Say, "Do you have something you want to talk about?"

  • If yes, then let them go and only speak when invited to. Do not interrupt.

    • Sometimes a rant will follow; listen, do no solve.

  • If the conversation stops (or does not start), try one of the following questions.

    • What did you do last week?

    • What bothered you last week?

    • What is your main project?

    • Is there anything blocking you?

    • What can I do for you?

  • At least each quarter, ask the following questions:

    • What am I doing right that you would like me to do more?

    • What am I doing that you would like me to do less?

    • The answers provide valuable feedback for you as a manager.

This topic is part of an (almost done) training on “How to build a team”, a training helping new managers (or managers with new teams) to start with the right approach. You can show your interest (and accelerate the delivery) by going to




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