He started spending one-on-one meetings talking to his reports about their lives, instead of their tasks, and productivity shot through the roof. “When you sit across a table from someone, ask them ‘What’s going on in your life?’ That will always remove more hurdles than asking them ‘What’s blocking you at work?’” he said. He started taking his reports out to lunch, to drinks, to coffee to see what was up. How was their wife settling into her new job? Did escrow close on their new house? This is the stuff that people bring into work with them but never talk about, Stirman says. As soon as you ask, the pressure starts to dissipate.
This more human approach starting paying off in other, less expected ways too. “I’d hear that someone on my team had a problem with someone on another team that brought everything to a standstill – just because they didn’t like each other. I thought, what if I just got them in a room together and we all talked about everything except the problem at hand? When we did, we got some casual conversation going, they discovered some similarities, and by the end of the hour they were talking about how to solve their issues. This was a conflict that literally kept me up at night, and as soon as there was space for them to connect as people, it was fixed.”