As managers, we are expected to provide an exceptional level of support to our teams. And this support could cover both technical and non-technical, even emotional support. This is extremely hard work and requires plenty of patience, trust and understanding on both sides.
There are many ways to build this A-grade level of support. 1-on-1s are great and widely used as the personal connection definitely helps to make a difference. Most managers have more than one direct report and their attention is spread across all their direct reports. Some need more attention than the others, while some demand more attention. This subsequently leads to leaving others with less support.
Your model looks like a triangle where everyone depends on you with every person needing a different amount of attention at any given point of time.
Every person reporting to you is unique in their own way and more importantly all of your direct reports may not have the same level of skills. Add the different complexities of the projects they are on, some have crazy weeks while others are pretty relaxed.
What could go wrong?
- Neglecting Talent: You may miss out on focusing on talent that may need more attention than you are giving.
- Blind Spots: In the middle of your busy schedule, you may miss catching on a few non-verbal cues from your team that will help throw light on why they may not be performing well enough.
- Out of your League: You may have to deal with an issue that you may feel less competent to deal with, for example a new technology that you haven’t had the time to explore.
So what can you do? How can you provide such comprehensive support without spreading so thin that it will impact your other responsibilities?
The Cone Model
The essence of the Cone Model is to minimize your dependencies while maximising the network between your team members. Instead of letting all your team depend on you for their growth, you should create a connection between people, leveraging the different strengths and weaknesses.
Continue with your 1-on-1s and while you do that identify a need that someone else on your team can assist with. At the same time ensuring expectations are set so that your team and network is fully aligned to what you have in mind.
How can a good network look?
- Linda supports Henry: Coding in our tech stack
- Paul supports Linda: On software architecture and system design
- Paul also supports Denny: Coding in our tech stack
- Denny supports Henry: Team collaboration and communication
- And you support everyone 🙂
How do you know if your cone model is working? Here is the answer:
Managers should build strong networks and create an environment where they are not critical components. They should be able to stay away for a few weeks without impacting the team.