My Open/Closed-Door Policy

At a recent leadership conference sponsored by my company, I received the following anonymous feedback:

“Philip has done an excellent job creating a safe, supportive, and creative environment for his team. This has happened, in no small part, because of Philip’s ‘open door’ policy, which is a philosophy Philip truly stands by. He is always accommodating when it comes to questions, concerns, problems, or just to lend an ear. His willingness to stop what he’s working on, and put his direct reports first, has helped build trust among the team, makes them feel valued, and sets a good example for his direct reports. This is something that all managers can aspire to.”

I was really happy to see this because this confirms pretty much all the things I have been hoping to achieve in terms of leadership: feeling trusted and valued by a manager. So, the question then becomes how to create that atmosphere of trust and value. I do my best to meet with individual team members weekly, and I have a few simple rules that guides my meetings with my team.

  • Meeting time is their time. I have a general framework for an agenda to give the meeting some focus—roadblocks, questions, development, goals review, and administrative topics—but the contents of each section are entirely up to them. There are usually one or two things I have to update on during the meeting, but their weekly update meeting is their meeting to run. This means the meeting can run as short or as long as needed. If they only need 20 minutes and need to get back to a critical project, fine. If they need 2 hours to dive deep into a topic, fine. We can break up the meeting if need be, and they don’t have to wait until the following week’s meeting to pair up again. They can reschedule if they need.
  • Everyone is allowed to make mistakes. This is not a new concept, but I do my best to view a mistake as a learning moment.  One caveat to this is I prefer to hear about the mistake from the team member themselves as opposed to someone from outside the team. When discussing projects, I’m okay with hedging bets. Let me know where you think you need some wiggle room, so there are no surprises. This is because if the team member admits to a mistake up front, or highlighted an area where something could go wrong, and did, then they are being both attentive and learning. This also means I own up to my own mistakes, and team members can call me out on them. I don’t take it personally because everyone makes mistakes. Correct me when I say something incorrect, even in meetings (especially in meetings; I am rarely the smartest person in the room).
  • If you don’t understand something, ask. I’m happy to explain. I love to whiteboard. Just be prepared to return the favor when asked.
  • Decisions are mutually justifiable wherever possible. I like consensus. I like open conversations where everyone understands all the facts revealed to them, and we all kick around what things mean until we all meet somewhere in the middle. I have found when we have worked through not just how things work but also why things work the way they do consensus is far easier and the solution understandable. There are times when my hand is forced by some external influence, or things just go off the rails, and I have to make a top-down decision. But that’s rare when I do I do my best to explain why I am making the decision I am. By that point, there shouldn’t be any surprises in how I think.
  • All meetings are confidential by default. I feel this is the most crucial element to my meetings, and is what makes my Open-Door Policy actually a Closed-Door Policy. There are obviously things we need to discuss with others to move projects along. But the dirty work of working through problems, answering questions in excruciating detail, all stays behind my closed door. It’s that simple.