What are you doing?

4th August 2022 · Matteo Merola

Communication plays a vital role in the workplace, especially in today’s growing remote setup. Knowing what every team member is busy with definitely helps managers be better at estimating the current status and anticipating delivery. In fact, one of the most important moments for every team is the daily standup.

With more and more managers leading transversal cross-functional squads, with members working on different products, each with their own ceremonies, it becomes more complex to conduct daily standups and to be on top of what everyone is doing.

This creates a rather obscure environment where managers, not knowing what exactly is going on with each direct report, tend to rely on third-person feedback. With experience and practice, it’s of course possible to have a pretty good picture of both outstanding and poor performances relying mostly on this kind of feedback.

Working in the dark

While managers can rely on indirect feedback, an extremely common issue is that direct reports don’t have that many options to understand what their manager is up to. This inevitably creates an obfuscated environment where people don’t feel understood and where issues only bubble up when it’s too late.

As managers we tend to work in bursts of effort, often interleaved between each other as we are pulled in different directions. Because our decisions affect directly and indirectly the people that we care for, we tend to assume that everybody knows what we are doing at any given time. This cannot be more wrong. We are totally absorbed by our current task the same exact way our direct reports are.

Moreover, sometimes our tasks are particularly sensitive and we feel the need to protect our reports from all the noise. Think about situations such as acquisition or major re-organization. In such scenarios it is easy to plow away and spend (too much) time away from the teams.

They want to know

Why is it that you’re more distant lately? What’s going on in the company? How’s that going to affect me? Can I help you?

These are just a few of the questions people have when you spend time away from them. Less experienced managers often underestimate how their actions influence others, thinking they are screening them for their good without realizing they are instead just neglecting them.

People appreciate when you are always present but really notice when you are not there for them.

How to keep them informed

More experienced leaders know this well. They resort to different ways to keep their followers informed on what they are up to, about their wins, and their losses. Some institute ad hoc meetings to inform their reports about their work, while some others use existing aligners or similar events. It very much depends on personal style and company culture.

Depending on the number of reports, some leaders send a weekly email in which they focus on the three main dimensions of their work: company, team, and personal. Writing this kind of email is easier said than done. Striking the right balance of information is almost an art. Too little and you won’t be making sense, too much and people won’t read it.

However, as discussed in our previous article “Write things down”, composing such an email will be of tremendous benefit, and not just for yourself.


At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you come up with as long as you keep people informed about what you are doing. People seek information, they want to be in the know. As servant leaders, we have an obligation to communicate clearly and openly our daily struggles especially if we strive to build a culture in which we expect our reports to share their struggles with us.

It requires discipline and exercise to hit the sweet spot in terms of how much we should share, but in our job, we rarely encounter a more powerful way to avoid ambiguity and misalignment.