More than most, I believe that an open door is an important Work Habit for a successful manager.
In fact there are two open doors. The actual physical door to your office being open and the symbolic open door that means you are always available for your team and you are OK with interrupting what you are doing to give them your full attention. If you are spending a majority of time on your team – meeting with them, getting them resources, hiring, training, going to bat for them with the big boss – then the open door is key to facilitating that flow.
I know that sometimes an open door can be a pain – especially when the person coming through the door is someone that almost always brings you problems. I know when that happens to me and it’s a day when I might not be at my best, my exasperation at being interrupted leaks out. And the person usually knows it and feels bad for coming to see me. Which means in the future they might hesitate to see me when they really should and the company could be facing some major damage.
So when I am having one of those days – too tired, swamped with important, not urgent work on a deadline, whatever – I close the open door.
Until I am clear of what I am working on or in a better frame of mind, it’s better for my relationship with the team to have the door closed a few minutes than for them to sense that I resent their interruption.
You would be surprised how effective you can be in less than 30 minutes without the threat of interruption. Besides how many of us can work in a closed room for more than 30 without a desire to tunnel out through the latrine with a spoon carved out of soap.
And I make sure that at some point the team knows that I close the door infrequently and the reasons why. People are smart – they know if someone is in there with you behind a closed door that it’s personal and they would expect the same consideration. Sometimes you are in there all alone, so you have to touch base after and say “Ross, sorry I couldn’t see you when you came by. I’m working on a revised budget for the big boss he needed changes to this morning.” What team member would not understand that? They know we all report to someone and that sometimes we have to churn out brilliance double quick.
I know – doesn’t all the work that a manger does fit that description? Likely – so be smart and figure out when in your day the door and you have to be open for business. You probably already know the pattern, because all offices and teams have them. Arrival, coffee breaks, lunch, team meetings – it all has a rhythm and a place and so does when your team needs you. You likely have people in your office at the same times every day.
There are also times when they are head down and bum up – working in their personal garden. That’s when it’s time for you to get some work done.