This post was submitted to us and asked to run as Anon.
The best manager I ever had like to take walks.
I worked for her as a technical writer at one of my first jobs in the software industry. She walked with me from the kitchen to her office or my cubicle, or around the office, past all the cubicles, the entrance, the admin station, and we talked. The two of us talked.
On one occasion she asked me about my current project, updating a user manual for the company’s word processing application. By the time we finished our conversation, at my office door or hers, I agreed to make more substantial revisions.
On another walk, we agreed that the manuals needed more screen captures and that I would do some samples. On yet another walk, I once decided to rewrite the entire manual – in British English – for British customers.
Never once in our conversations, during our walks, did she actually ask me to do these things.
As the years went by and I gained more experience and expertise with the software, the projects became more advanced. During one walk, I advocated changing our approach to user documentation. She agreed, and later I came up with a plan. We quickly worked out deadlines and priorities after the walks. I worked for her for 6 years and can’t remember a meeting where we sat down and charted out a work agenda or plans before we talked it through first. During a walk.
She was the best manager I’ve ever had. She hardly ever needed to have formal “catch up” meetings with her team members because she always made a point to catch me and the rest of us in the hallway, or in the kitchen. Sometimes we didn’t walk. We drank tea, ate lunch or chatted about our weekends. Our conversations always turned to work, to our projects, any problems, which software projects were on time, which ones weren’t.
She never made up work assignments to keep her superiors happy. She cleared the brush, put out the fires, swept the porch so that I could do my work. I can’t remember ever writing her an email about a problem I had. We talked about every work issue — organically.
When I started with my current company, I realized that most of my time was spent on the phone in meetings with clients or contacts who had information I needed to do my work. Most of the coworkers I spoke to and worked with worked out of offices hundreds or thousands of miles away, in the US, Europe, and Asia. So, when I wanted to get to know a coworker better, I couldn’t just walk by an office and start a conversation. I had to pick up the phone or use instant messaging. Just to talk, say hi, see how work was going. I started talking with several co-workers this way. We rarely met in person, usually at company events where we had many time-consuming obligations that prevented casual conversation. But over the weeks and months, we used these conversations to start joint work projects, help each other with work problems.
I thought about my former manager lately because recently I got an email from my current manager with a task that is essentially made up work. On the face, it looks like an effort to facilitate communication and collaboration within our team. We work in every corner of the globe and if someone is on one continent, he or she is about to make a trip to a different one. Someone found a website that lets a team put in calendar items and share the calendar. Now, each of us already has an Outlook calendar. My manager and our team admin have access to all of our calendars. His email asked each of us to copy our Outlook calendars into this new calendar. I get tired just thinking about this request. It’s not only the work involved copying and pasting between calendars, figuring out how to use the new calendar, messing up a few times and finally getting things right. It’s the knowledge that this is a very important to-do item.
He needs to know what we are doing and to show his manager that he is facilitating collaboration and communication. Whether or not we are actually doing either. Regardless of the fact that we have been doing both quite well on our own without his “help” for years. So, it’s made up work.
He has no idea of how to take a walk.