Operating cadence: support your people across time and space

It can be a little daunting: you vaguely know there are multiple ways to engage with your reports, and you’re doing some of them. But what’s the whole list? And which ones should you use for what?

Here I’ll share the cadence that’s worked well for me with my teams. Of course, there’s no one perfect way of organizing things, and your circumstances will influence what works best for you. Treat this as a starting list!

The ultimate objective of a well thought-out cadence is, I think, to help create a feeling of “I know my manager is there for me.” This feeling, of course, should be based in reality.

Team operating cadence

Different types of activities will naturally lend themselves to different timelines and formats. I included an abbreviated description of this cadence in every new teammate’s onboarding document so they’d know from the start what to expect and how to prep.

Yearly and quarterly planning

In companies beyond series A or ~50 people, planning becomes a thing. My claim to you is that even if your company doesn’t have a standard planning process, you’ll find value in having it at least at the team level, if not at the individual contributor level. Without some sense of where y’all are going, any road will lead there!

Get your team together for a few hours ahead of every quarter (and year) and map out some big rocks you want to accomplish. It’ll help everyone on the team to feel like they’re moving in the right direction.

Quarterly offsite

The benefits of socializing outside of the office just can’t be had in any other way. Even if you don’t have a budget, there’s plenty of free activities you can do as a team from volunteering for the day to going on a hike together to eating lunch outside in nice weather. Do this, and get a teammate to own this and other fun team things like birthday celebrations. Experience shows there’s always someone who’d like to be the team fun captain for a quarter or two.

Weekly (or fortnightly) team meeting

This is the time for you to bring the whole team together. Create a structured agenda so you don’t waste everybody’s time. Team meeting agendas are always in flux, as they should be: the meeting should serve the needs of your specific team at that specific moment in time. Ask your folks what sections the meeting should have! Here’s one version of a team meeting agenda that I’ve liked (based on a 60-min fortnightly meeting for a team of ~15):

  • Shoutouts (could be people on the team or others in the company) – 10 min. This is a great way to start the meeting on a positive note. It’s a mandatory activity – everyone has to say something.
  • Facepalms – 10 min. This is an amazing activity but will work best in smaller, more intimate teams that already have a high level of psychological safety. The idea is to discuss mistakes and blunders, serving two goals: 1) put facepalm moments in their right place – they are something to note, something to learn from and not something to beat yourself over, 2) create a safe space for folks to be vulnerable, further improving psychological safety. This is a strictly voluntary activity, and only the person who made the mistake can talk about it. You as the manager should absolutely share facepalms once in a while, and to kick the first one off.
  • Context sharing – 15 min. This is your time as a manager to share what you’re hearing from your chain of command and elsewhere, give a heads up on any company-wide activities like planning and performance reviews, and also perhaps share what’s top of mind for you. People crave context because it helps them make dozens of tradeoffs they need to make every day. Whenever I’ve not done this with teams, folks would ask for it.
  • Other important things to share – 10 min. This is the time for anyone is the room to yell out something they think the whole group should know.
  • Life story – 15 min. This is a fantastic activity that you’d kick off as a manager, and then people would volunteer to present in future team meetings. It’s a chance for each person on the team to tell everyone about where they’re from, what’s important to them and how they’ve processed pivotal moments in their lives. It’s also a great way to end the meeting on a positive note – I’ve yet to see a group of people who don’t start smiling when seeing baby photos of a person they know in a professional context.

Weekly 1:1s

Hold weekly 30-min 1:1s with every report. Ask the report what day of week and time they prefer, but avoid Mondays (it’s always crazy) and Fridays (people often take those off, plus the whole week has gone). There’s plenty of material out there on how to run a productive 1:1. I try to make sure the meeting is for the report, not for me. This doesn’t mean that I can’t ask questions or bring something up, of course.

To make the 1:1 more meaty, move the status update from it to an email. I asked all my reports to send me their weekly update by Monday night, which included their progress on their OKRs (incl. personal OKRs), where they needed my help, what was going super well / not super well and anything else they wanted to include. I sent one myself to my whole team and my peers.

I believe 1:1s should be a mandatory activity. If you have more than 6-8 reports (why?), make these fortnightly, but don’t go without them.

Office hours

I’ve stumbled upon this voluntary activity when I had too many direct reports and had to move our 1:1s to fortnightly from weekly. To compensate and to maintain easy access to me for questions (unblocking wouldn’t happen magically on its own just because I had a larger-than-ideal team!), I borrowed from the college concept of office hours. It was a smashing success! When I later asked my team what formats they found the most valuable, the vast majority said “Keep office hours, even if you need to cancel 1:1s.” I didn’t of course cancel 1:1s, taking my own advice from above. 🤪

I did office hours twice a week for an hour each. Anyone from the team (and later, when the news spread, also from the company) could show up with anything. If nobody showed, I just sat in the room and did work. After a bit of experimentation, we found that a sign-up sheet helps reduce the ridiculous line of people out the door and respect everyone’s time. So we added a Google spreadsheet to the invite with 15-min increments, asking people not to take more than two at a time.

Try it – you won’t know how you’ve lived without!

Ad-hoc meetings

I make super clear to my reports that I’m generally always available to them for ad-hoc questions, meetings, etc. If they need time with me and the issue can’t wait until our 1:1 and/or doesn’t fit into office hours, just ask; it’s that simple. Because of regular 1:1s and office hours, my teams never abused this option. The meetings we did have outside of our usual cadence were on point.

Structured check-ins every 6 weeks

I believe this should be a mandatory activity for every manager-report pair. Of course, it’s your job as a manager to set these up. See a detailed guide in this post.

Career Conversations

You don’t see a lot of career conversations being had that actually result in clarity for the recipient. When done right, they take time and focused effort, but the benefit to both your report and you is tremendous. Attempt only when you’re bought into the concept and committed to putting in the time, and only if you have a trust-based relationship with your report. The worst two things you can do here is force it or half-ass it; it’ll lower the trust you have with a report. See a detailed guide in this post.

I hope you’ve found some useful nuggets in this team operating cadence description. What additional approaches have worked well for you? Please share in comments!

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