Getting to know their employees personally can be a challenge for leaders—especially in larger organizations—but it’s important for establishing two-way trust. Staff who don’t know the leadership team well are unlikely to come to them with problems or ideas, and if leaders don’t know their team members, they can’t make needed workplace improvements or informed decisions about promotions and assignments.
So what are some ways business leaders can get to know their employees—and let their employees get to know them? Below, 16 members of Forbes Human Resources Council discuss simple strategies leaders can use to develop that vital connection with their team members.
Members of Forbes Human Resources Council offer simple, practical ways for company leaders to get to know their team members.
1. Ask meaningful questions.
The biggest tip I have is to be genuinely curious, be present and be human. Ask them questions that lead somewhere meaningful. Instead of asking, “How are you?” try “How are you feeling?” Get to know what they like to do outside of work and the life experiences that have shaped them. Get a level deeper, and chances are you will remember this conversation more than where they went to school. – Priya Priyadarshini, Microsoft
2. Make consistent efforts.
There is no one magic move—it’s always a combination of many repeated small measures. It’s the consistency of efforts that creates the success pattern. No matter the size of the organization, as long as there is a repeated and sincere effort to know a few employees at a time, very soon any leader can know most, if not all, employees to some extent. – Ruchi Kulhari, NIIT-Technologies
3. Start meetings with a check-in.
In busy times, one-on-ones can become very transactional. At Black Girls CODE we start meetings and one-on-ones with a check-in. That could mean a question not related to work that all team members answer, an opportunity to learn something new about each other or just setting aside time at the beginning of the meeting to chat about how we are doing, especially during the pandemic. – Trenae Forman, Black Girls CODE
4. Schedule ‘corridor talks’ calls.
Schedule regular virtual “corridor talks” calls. Don’t set any agenda—be authentic, listen and relax. You will be amazed at what you learn and how the conversations flow during those talks. – Mofoluwaso Ilevbare, Procter and Gamble
5. Actively listen to your team members.
Actively listening to our people is essential—really listening, not waiting for your turn to speak or thinking how you will respond. Learning who our team members truly are, what motivates them and what they do to relax and recharge paints a full picture of the whole being. What a gift to learn about the passions, ambitions and challenges our teams have! It’s always about the moments that matter. – Maria Miletic, Blue Prism Software
6. Meet your team where they are.
Make yourself visible and meet the team where they spend their time. In software, this isn’t in the hallway or the cafeteria but in a collaboration center such as Slack. Let them see your life and likes, and they will offer you theirs. Once you know each other, there’s a level of trust and openness that is invaluable. – Carol MacKinlay, UserTesting
7. Share personal details about yourself.
Let staff members get to know you and each other. Be willing to share personal information about yourself. At social work events, I ask “table questions” such as, “If you wrote a book, what would the title be?” You learn a lot about people! Some people feel uncomfortable sharing at first, but once we get started they really get into it and it opens up topics for further conversation. – Lynne Marie Finn, Broadleaf Results
8. Set up birthday alerts as a chance to chat.
I like to get an alert every day about which employee’s birthday it is. I use the moment not only to live-call/chat with that employee to wish them “Happy birthday,” but also to ask them their opinions on how we can improve their job and the company in general. The recognition seems to be appreciated, and I get to learn what’s happening on the company’s periphery. – Eric Friedman, eSkill
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9. Leverage skip-level meetings.
I have found success with skip-level meetings, in which your boss has a one-to-one or small focus group meeting with your direct reports but without you. Although this could sound threatening, good leaders welcome the opportunity for their team to meet the senior leaders, who in turn gain great insights. – Tammy Kelley, Rukes Search Group
10. Play fun ‘get to know you’ games.
There are a few things that leadership can do to ensure they know their employees even in a new, virtual work world. One of my favorites is virtual “two truths and a lie.” This is a fun game where an employee tells the group three personal things about them, two of which are true while the other is a lie. The group now has to guess which one is the lie. It’s a fun way to get to know a bit about your employees. – Dawn Taylor, Pinnacle Talent Acquisition
11. Get out of your office and make connections.
Leaders who get out of their offices and take time to connect with employees always have a greater connection with their teams. I encourage leaders to have skip-level meetings or breakfast meetings. They not only get to learn more about their employees, but they also learn what is working or not working by hearing it from the people who are closest to the work. – Susie Long, Bridgestone Americas, Inc.
12. Pick up the phone.
Take a Zoom break and pick up the phone. It’s important to check in with employees individually, especially in today’s remote work reality. I recommend calling those on your direct team at least once a month. This level of employee listening will not only help you get to know your employees better but will also foster stronger relationships that engage and retain talent. – Neha Mirchandani, BrightPlan
13. Look for areas of common ground.
It’s easier to develop trusting relationships with those who share your values, interests or working style. Studies show that leaders are more comfortable and prefer to spend time with those with whom they’ve found common ground and a mutually comfortable way of working. Leaders should probe for areas of common ground by asking their employees questions about their values, interests and work styles. – Heide Abelli, Skillsoft
14. Organize virtual coffee or tea chats.
One-on-one virtual coffee or tea chats are a great way to connect with more employees. Leaders can schedule these once or twice a year with each employee or do them in small groups if the organization is large. These chats give leaders time to learn more about their team beyond the day-to-day work that they do. I also love imposing one rule: no discussions about work. – Dynasti Hunt, ThirdSector Capital Partners Inc.
15. Take questions in group meetings.
A willingness to take questions in group meetings can help bridge the gap between leaders and employees in large organizations. Designing purposeful gatherings that include an informal component also goes a long way toward bringing leaders and employees together on a human level. If leaders are introverts, they may have to get out of their comfort zone to do it—it’s part of the job! – Tracy Cote, Zenefits
16. Start a mutual teaching program.
Initiate a “teach me, teach you” program with leaders. We have found this can successfully “humanize” leaders to employees. It just takes 30 minutes, a leader and an employee. Each participant is given 15 minutes to teach the other person something new. It could be a tech hack, a new approach to project management—anything. This is a great level-set and relationship builder. – Cat Colella-Graham, Cheer Partners
Successful HR executives from Forbes Human Resources Council offer leadership and management insights.