How I Support My Team When I Can’t Be There

As a Delivery Lead for multiple teams, my calendar is packed with meetings and Zoom calls. While important work is happening in these meetings, I sometimes feel guilty about the lack of face time with my development teams. What if I’m not there to remove a blocker, or I miss a red flag that could indicate project risk? Or worse, will I be out of the loop the next time someone posts an inside joke or meme in the Slack channel? Over the years, I’ve cultivated a few methods for staying in sync with my team even when I’m running from one meeting to the next.

Schedule recurring check-ins.

If I can’t be available for emergent conversations, I create predictability for the team by scheduling recurring check-ins. A daily standup is a great way to stay in sync with the team in addition to regular one-on-ones, lunches, or walks with individual team members.

I also try to block out times on my calendar when I’ll be available to chat and communicate those timeframes to the team. These can be specific office hours or just extending a sprint ceremony by an optional 15 minutes for anyone who wants to stick around and catch up.

I may not always be available at the moment, but my team always knows our next touchpoint.

Turn off your Slack notifications.

Ignoring Slack messages may seem counterintuitive if you’re looking to stay aligned with your team. But constant multitasking and responding to messages during my meetings means I’m never fully present. Both the folks in my meeting as well as the person I’m messaging back are only getting a fraction of my attention and focus.

Instead, I block out three times throughout my day to check my Slack messages. My team also has one dedicated channel for true emergencies so if someone posts a message there, I know it requires an immediate response.

Trust your team.

The best method I’ve found for supporting my team when I’m not present is helping them self-organize. This means the team members decide how best to accomplish the work without my direction. They are empowered (and have the authority) to make decisions.

By providing the appropriate resources and fostering an environment of psychological safety, my team is usually able to unblock their work even without me there. Several team members have also seen a need for more support in a particular area and have stepped up to be the subject matter expert and go-to person for advice on that topic. In this way, the constraints on my availability have actually given others on the team the opportunity to shine.

I also rely on teammates for honest feedback. If there’s ever a time when my absence has been an issue in the moment, they feel comfortable telling me so we can course-correct in the future.

By setting expectations, being fully present, and trusting my team, I’m able to juggle my full schedule while still staying in sync with their day-to-day.


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