Running an organization can be hard work. From supporting a board to interacting with donors to representing your brand — being a successful leader takes commitment.

One of the greatest responsibilities of an Executive Director is being a strong manager. And one way you can improve your management skills is through interactions with staff.

At the Federation, staff is dispersed across multiples states and time zones, so scheduling the time to check-in about priorities and projects can be challenging, but necessary.

Whether your staff shares the same office, or is in a different location, it is important to create a weekly check-in one-on-one with individual staff members outside of larger staff meetings. These check-ins allow you to track progress toward goals, get aligned on priorities, push through roadblocks, seek/share feedback, and connect personally.

Thanks to a training with The Management Center, I learned about a new template for checking in with staff that allows for a fixed, but flexible structure for our check-in meetings each week that leaves both parties feeling certain about expectations and deadlines.

Here’s how I’ve made my weekly check-ins with staff better:

Staff Member Leads

Where is it written in stone that the Executive Director has to run every meeting? During these weekly check-ins, the staff member drives the conversation. By allowing staff to lead the content of the meeting, I can provide feedback and ask probing questions, but still reinforce their ownership during problem solving.

Meeting Structure
The staff member fills in a check-in meeting agenda, and sends it to me weekly before our meeting so I can prepare my own notes for what we will discuss.

Somewhere during the meeting, whether at the beginning or the end, we do a personal check-in to see how things are going in our lives outside of work. This allows us to build a stronger relationship and bond, and is less formal than the rest of our discussion.

Manager/Staff Member Weekly Check-in: 9/27 template

Big Rocks for the Week
The staff member starts off by listing a few top priorities for the week (about 2-4). By only listing the “big rocks” for the week, we focus on the most important areas and tasks that need to be completed. Usually, these priorities are presented as outcomes so that it is clear at the end of the week if they’ve been achieved.

Key updates
Here they list any progress on long-term, ongoing projects, and briefly lets me know of any updates that don’t necessarily require a longer problem solving discussion.

Items for your input
This is where the staff member lists the topics that require a deeper conversation and exploration. During this time, we discuss and work through questions where both of our insight is needed.

This is really the bulk of our conversation, and is devoted to problem solving, and obtaining my advice or approval to move forward.

Items for my input
After we have worked through the items on the list, we then switch places and I bring up my own list of topics to be discussed, and the purpose of the discussion.

The same process as before is repeated with the roles swapped.

Learning (“One-and-one”)
In the “learning” section, we reflect on progress. This creates a space for regular feedback by inviting both participants to discuss what’s going well and what could go better.

On back burner / not getting to yet (FYI)
This is where items are listed that the staff member may not be getting to this week, and why.

Next steps / repeat-back (fill in during the meeting)
During the meeting, this part is filled in as we make decisions following the items for input section. Then at the end of the meeting, we can reflect on next steps and delegate tasks to complete before our next check-in.

You can view this template here.

That’s it! This agenda isn’t the only tool out there, but I have found that most of the time, my staff and I leave feeling like we’ve gotten some real work done and enjoyed the time we spent together in an individualized setting.

What’s right for our team may not be for yours, but hopefully this post will inspire you to try some new approaches to weekly check-in meetings to stay engaged with your staff.

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Rebecca Isaacs

Executive Director at Equality Federation
Since 2011, Rebecca Isaacs has been the Executive Director of the Equality Federation, the strategic partner to state-based organizations winning equality in the communities we call home.

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