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How to stop being asked incessant questions

(42 Posts)
ThomasRichard Wed 01-Mar-17 19:22:03

I manage a small team (6 people at the moment). From the moment I walk into the office to the moment I leave, they're coming at me one after the other with question after question after question. I told them this morning that I was just about to phone my own boss and two of them literally jumped out of their chairs because they were so anxious to ask me just one more thing.

It's all work-related but it's driving me nuts. I'm so far behind with my own work and can't sit down for 10 minutes at a time without someone wanting something. I've booked a weekly one-to-one catch-up with each of them and blocked out a day where I work from home so I can be free of interruptions but it's not enough. It's getting to the point where I can feel my temper rising because it's utterly relentless.

What do I do?

ImperialBlether Wed 01-Mar-17 19:23:54

Could you have a policy where, when your door is closed, they don't disturb you unless it's an emergency?

Could you talk to them about responsibility and how they will never progress if they can't make a decision?

Could you ask them to send you one email per day with a list of questions that you can quickly answer? (Much quicker than individual emails or conversations.)

ImperialBlether Wed 01-Mar-17 19:24:46

Or is this showing gaps in training? Could you arrange training days for them?

IrenetheQuaint Wed 01-Mar-17 19:27:40

Ask them to note their questions down and ask them once a day, unless super-urgent. It is good they want to talk to you and find your input useful, though!

user1471453601 Wed 01-Mar-17 19:32:07

This is why you are called a manager, because you are expected to manage. I can guarantee that no member of your team will ever come to you to tell you that everything they are doing is fine. They will only come to you if they have a problem.

If you think there are too many problems then either your staff need training or your processes are too complex.

Maybe keep a log of the problems and see if you can see a pattern

ThomasRichard Wed 01-Mar-17 19:35:27

It's a fairly new team but they have enough to be getting on with and several of them have considerably more experience in the industry than I do. I understand that they need to have things clarified sometimes and they're small questions but by the time all 6 of them have had half an hour of my time every day and then come round for more, I can't get enough time to concentrate on my own tasks. It's an open-plan office, which doesn't help.

Tomorrow I have a single office booked and have told them that I need to concentrate and not have them disturb me, but then they email me the questions anyway and then get miffed when I don't reply, so my inbox is clogged and they're still chasing me. I've already turned off the company IM system and my mobile phone so that people off-site can't demand my instant attention but my emails are ridiculous. I go through them and clear them out and then have to start again. I feel like I'm hiding from everyone.

I begged for - and got - an administrator, which has helped enormously, but there is a horrendous amount that can only be answered at my level. If they don't get an immediate reaction from me then they book a meeting with me or, even worse, call my boss to ask them the answer.

Having time-slots where I can and can't be disturbed is a good idea.

AyeAmarok Wed 01-Mar-17 19:37:37

Is there a member of the team, one of the six, who is more senior or experienced than the others? Could you get them to act as a buffer? That will encourage their development too.

venusinscorpio Wed 01-Mar-17 19:38:21

If they're all doing it I think realistically you need to consider your own behaviour. It may be that they don't feel empowered to make decisions, and this is often down to management style IMO. Do you generally adopt a hands off style or do you interfere and micromanage? Are you expecting to know everything that is happening, be copied into all communications? Do you have confidence in your staff? Be honest with yourself.

uncoolnn Wed 01-Mar-17 19:41:39

I don't have any advice but I totally get this. I manage a medium-ish size team and oh god, the questions. Some of them are so ridiculous I can barely bring myself to answer them. Obviously, I am professional in my manner but inside I just want to scream.

ThomasRichard Wed 01-Mar-17 19:42:16

It's a huge company spread over multiple sites with several systems, layers of people and a vast portfolio of products with complex histories. You have to know exactly who to ask or where to look and all the history behind the various products to find what you need and that knowledge only comes with experience. I've trained as much as I can but these thousands of details have been learned over several years working for this company and it's not something I can fix on my own or in the short-term.

It's not an ideal situation and with with a new-ish team I have to strike a balance between coaching them and dealing with my own enormous workload. At the moment I'm failing badly at what feels like both.

AcrossthePond55 Wed 01-Mar-17 19:43:38

Be sure that your team feel that you respect their decision-making skills and that you have given them the maximum autonomy to make those decisions.

I had a manager who complained that we were always 'bothering her' with questions. But it was because no matter what we did she second-guessed our decisions and crossed questioned us to the nth degree about why we did what we did. Not that she said we were wrong, just that she went over everything with a fine toothed comb when it was already a fait accompli. It was just easier to run everything by her ahead of time rather than get the third degree afterwards.

Violetcharlotte Wed 01-Mar-17 19:56:11

Have you ever done a coaching course? It sounds like your team are too dependant in you and need to be 'trained'. When you coach someone, you get them to own the problem and ask open questions to get them to get them to come up with the answers themselves. This will be more time consuming in the short term, but in the long term it'll benefit both you and them.

HackAttack Wed 01-Mar-17 20:01:17

Don't apply to manage if you don't want to do it

ToffeeForEveryone Wed 01-Mar-17 20:17:20

If they don't get an immediate reaction from me then they book a meeting with me or, even worse, call my boss to ask them the answer.

Is an immediate response required in order for them to do their job? If so, and they don't have the experience / seniority / autonomy to continue without your input, YABU. You have to accept supervision is a big part of your day to day and factor it in, otherwise you are impacting your team's efficiency. As pp have said, you need to skill one or two of them up to deal in your stead. What happens when you are on leave?

If an immediate response isn't actually needed, it's just what they are used to, you could ask them to add timescales for response to help manage supervision requests. E.g. "sign off this report by next Monday, needs to go to X on Tuesday", versus "review this email right now, needs to be sent by 4.00".

As much as it must be annoying you, it's got to annoy them too. It's incredibly frustrating to have a manager who isn't available to manage.

Autumnchill Wed 01-Mar-17 20:32:59

In exactly the same position as you and I'm learning now to just sit back and say 'what would you do?' And when I get a dunno, I tell them to try harder.

It's hard as you have your own work to do but I'm also guilty of something someone else put earlier which is questioning their decision making so I guess that's why they come and ask plus it's easier for them to use my brain and not theirs so I make them use their brain.

Took 15 minutes the other day for one of them to work through the problem and come up with a reasonable action. Luckily one of them is learning quickly and now comes in with the problem and a solution and asks if it's ok which requires a yes or no answer on my behalf but God, it takes a lot to get to that point with a new team.

Good luck!

ColdFeetinWinter Wed 01-Mar-17 20:40:18

I totally agree with violet. I had a new team and was overwhelmed with questions. I spent a lot of time creating a 'bible' of how to do everything, held regular meetings for all with reminders over every question that had come up and every time I was asked a question I didn't answer it without asking them questions getting them to think through the problem so they realised they could sort things themself. I also moved into an office with a door....

Time consuming but I'm really proud of how the team developed.

Crankycunt Wed 01-Mar-17 20:47:20

Doesn't sound like a good situation, however you are paid to manage the team.

If they can't do their job without having to ask you questions constantly them they need additional training.

If they see you get frustrated with them asking questions, then they will go to someone else and that will reflect badly on you.

It sounds like all the team including you need more training. It's your job to identify that and put processes In place to ensure that it happens.

Being a manager isn't just about telling people what to do, it's constant training and development.

Read the one minute manager, catch people doing it wrong and lead them to the right answer, but also praise when a job is done well.

You need to find the balance between your work load and your responsibility as a manager.

londonloves Wed 01-Mar-17 20:54:02

I like what Autumn says. I used to have this a lot when I was in a junior management role, I used to ask them what they would do if I wasn't here, and coach them through to the right answer. This gives them confidence to take the right decision by themselves next time. Obviously this will only work in the case of decisions that are appropriate at their level. If it's budget sign offs etc that only you can do, can you ask them to batch them up and come and see you at the end of the day? Or have 'open house' for an hour first thing? I like what previous reply says about writing a bible as well. If you have standard procedures for everything, people feel a lot safer making decisions.

StealthPolarBear Wed 01-Mar-17 20:54:38

If you go off sick something wpuld need to happen . Work out what that would be and try to implement it now.

Autumnchill Wed 01-Mar-17 21:14:53

I'm currently writing 'an idiots guide' for all the little things I do as it was pointed out I was a single point of failure. If I leave, go sick etc then the department is buggered and its my fault as I haven't shown them and used the excuse that's it's just bloody quicker if I do it.

Can you start planning and writing out the smaller tasks as guides so they can refer to them and then as you get more free time from not answering questions you can write the more complex ones?

Glitterkitten24 Wed 01-Mar-17 21:20:04

I was just going to suggest coaching but someone beat me to it- the premise is that you ask questions to help the asker (?) come up with their own answers.

So instead of answering, you could ask them 'what do you think you should do?' 'What options so you have?' Etc.
Google the grow model.

HecateAntaia Wed 01-Mar-17 21:27:33

what alternative do they have? where is the information that they need? how is it made available to them?

if the only way they can get information is to ask you, thats a system failure. what happens if you fall under a bus? 😁

the organisation needs to ensure that information that people need in order to do their job is available to them.

if it is available and they are being lazy- stop answering and direct them to the resource.

ImperialBlether Wed 01-Mar-17 21:40:59

Could you create a FAQ, where you answer everything by email but can refer them eg "See 1387771 of the FAQ."

PidgeyfinderGeneral Wed 01-Mar-17 21:45:53

Reading this with interest as DH has the same problem.

ThomasRichard Wed 01-Mar-17 21:50:30

There's a great mix of responses here, thanks.

I have asked myself whether I micromanage and I don't think I do. I have specifically asked everyone not to CC me into any emails unless they are doing it to 'scare' someone and if that's the case, to discuss with me beforehand. Everyone has their own area of responsibility with their own list of tasks to do and as long as they're done legally, within our SOPs, to the appropriate timelines and with a usable document at the end I don't mind how they do it. We have a weekly catch-up meeting so we have a broad idea of what everyone else is doing but if I want details I'll look on our task tracking spreadsheet or just ask them directly, but that's rare.

I think a large part of the issue is that I was doing the work that my whole team does now either by myself or with one other much less experienced person until about 18 months ago. Then my team suddenly got the budget approval to add headcount and so I have a team made up of people with 1 x 18 months' experience, who isn't based in our office, 1 x 12 months' experience, 1 x 4 months, 3 x 3 months and 1 x 1 month. The guy who's been here for a year does help out but his knowledge is also limited because of the complexity of the company. So I haven't finished training one person before I get a sudden intake of new people and all of them need my time. So much so that I forgot that I now have 7 people blush I was told today that I'm getting 2 more people in April and 5 shortly after that, which is good news because we have a lot to do but there's no one else at a level who can train them. I'm handing off my tasks onto the team as fast as I can but that means I need to spend time going over them and coaching them through the various quirks before they build up the confidence to do it alone. That's normal and I'm ok with that, it's just the number of people.

I went off sick for two days this week and I came back to 700 emails, none of which I've been able to respond to as people who had emailed me and got my out of office booked in meetings with me to go over their queries. When I wasn't in meetings, I was answering my own team's questions. So tomorrow I'll have more meeting requests from people who tried emailing me. Ahhhhhhhhhh! Because it's a new team, the resilience is going to take a while to build but the question is how to manage my time now because the workload hasn't suddenly decreased to give me time with the new folks. There have been some good ideas about having open-question times and I think that would help me to be able to redirect people when they have 'a quick question' multiple times a day. Getting them to reflect more would also be helpful.

I wrote an idiot's guide and that does help with many of the simpler queries. Deciphering data and styles from multiple historic sources is more difficult to write down.

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