So, I’m Together, but My Boss is. . . Not? Six Tips To Adapt and Thrive

Mar 8, 2024

We assume good intent around here, and that everyone is generally doing the best they can with the work and the life on their plates. That said, it can feel challenging to have gotten yourself Together, and then feel like it is all for naught when your manager is perhaps, well, a little less than Together. While we won’t diagnose the cause of other people’s Together challenges, we are here to find ways to keep YOU thriving – and perhaps help someone else along the way.

So, how can you handle things, start to finish, with a boss that is a little less organized? All of these ideas are, of course, dependent on your relationship, your role, and your organization’s culture. We trust your judgement to take what is useful and leave what is not.

  • Forecast Forward. This comes from interviews I conducted for The Together Teammate, where it really crystallized for me that the most effective employees are the people who help others pick their heads up and look into the future for the next few months. Do you observe your manager scrambling to prep for a board meeting? Or perhaps fail to hit that looming grant deadline? Well, maybe in a standing meeting with your manager you could offer to look ahead on the calendar 2-3 months together to identify items that are coming.
  • Offer Co-Working Time. Sometimes your manager or colleagues just have plain old too much to do! In the case where you have assigned tasks you need to have completed, you could offer up co-working time to do the work in the moment. I once coached the CEO of a larger urban school district, and he asked that his secretary give him daily “study hall” time where he could complete some seemingly small, but incredibly important tasks. I have also seen teams end meetings 10 minutes early so everyone can complete their next steps right away.
  • Determine Best Assignment Method. Let’s assume your boss (and you) have a lot coming at you in different directions. . . email, Slack, Teams, meeting notes, and so on. And you have a lot you need to have your manager sign off on. Observe, or better yet, ask directly: how do they wish to have you assign them work? For example, you might need feedback on a retreat agenda. Well, maybe you have observed your boss take home a folder of items to read each night. Offer to print that agenda, pop a post-it note on it with what you want input on, and ask them to snap a picture when done – and you are off and running. Or are your emails not getting returned? Offer a 10-minute end-of-day check-in where you can walk through anything that could have been an email.
  • Use Sentence Starters. Maybe your manager’s lack of organization impacts your previously set priorities for the week. All your Togetherness goes out the window when your manager blows up your weekly plan. When those last-minute scrambles come up, it can be helpful to have a set of questions at the tip of your tongue to help actually assess the level of emergency. For example, you may say, “Is this a right-now problem, a by end-of-day problem, or a by end-of-week problem?” or “What is the key information you are trying to convey with this data request?” By asking thoughtful questions, you can be a co-determinant of the level of priority of the task.
  • Make the Most of Your Meetings. Assuming you have a 1:1 meeting with your manager (if not, please see below), take the time to prepare a detailed agenda, have a mechanism to take actionable notes, ensure relevant documents are open or printed, and comb through all of the items you have asked him / her to take action on since you last met, to discover any that still need to be addressed. This may seem a little “extra,” but since you are in charge of moving the work ahead, this preparation will make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
  • Have a Courageous Conversation. Sometimes people simply do not realize the weight or lift of their request until shared with them. It could be a request for a report is a 10-hour project, and your boss doesn’t realize the amount of time it will take (because you are great at making things look effortless!). It could be helpful to share the impact of the request (oh, well, this other item may get delayed) or share thoughts on the delivery mechanism (hey, if we have a last-minute change, could it come via phone call?). This one may not always be easy, which is why I have it listed last, but it could ward off some the larger challenges.

So, without naming names, any other ways you have helped a boss stay Together? Or at least, helped their lack of Togetherness have a minimal impact on your own Togetherness?