How to spy on your team

The corporate spies are out there

How to spy on your team

The corporate spies are out there. Monitoring emails. Tracking phone calls. Even peeking into your computer. What is this covert operation? It is the company — the one you work for. I once even had an employer start backing up my computer automatically without telling me. Why were they afraid? There was no reason to be. I already backed my computer up regularly (per the company policy). 

I am definitely not a conspiracy theorist. So here is the evidence: One survey found that at least 66 percent of U.S. companies monitor their employees’ internet use — 45 percent log keystrokes and 43 percent track employee emails.   

As a leader, you need to understand how the team is doing — but this should not require covert operations. 

Having clear goals and helping people reach them is what matters — not every detail of how they got there. Great leaders know this, and so they do not lurk. They do not puppeteer. Instead, they start by presenting a clear purpose and stay in the forefront — accessible and openly invested in the team’s success

Of course, this presents a challenge. If you are in a leadership position, you are not likely active in all of the team’s day-to-day tasks anymore. Your priority is steering the broader focus and eliminating any drama so people can be their best. 

It can be easy to lose track of how the team is actually doing and feeling about the work. But if you want to lead the team to success, you need to make the effort to stay close. 

Here is how leaders stay close to the team without smothering them — no matter how busy you are: 

Onboard new hires 
Get involved in onboarding new hires. This could be as simple as scheduling a welcome meeting or personally introducing them to the team on day one. I hold a kickoff presentation with new employees at Aha! during their first week. It is a great chance to share our company’s values, while also getting to know more about the new teammate. 

Share plans widely 
You need exceptional clarity in terms of what you want your team to achieve. So once you have the plan in place, share the goals and initiatives openly with your team. It is your job to ensure that the plan is communicated widely. This way, everyone understands what they are working towards — before they get started on the actual work.   

Drive self-accountability 
This step should be easy if you have shared a clear plan, given people the chance to provide feedback, and have made changes based on that feedback. Now the team is responsible for executing on the plan. Your job is to give them the space to do it. Everyone at Aha! documents “progress, planned, and problems” each week — sharing with leaders to show how work is progressing and what they might need help with. It keeps teammates accountable for their work while also providing total transparency across the organization. 

Be available 
You likely do not have time to meet 1:1 with everyone on the team — but an oversubscribed schedule should not equal zero accessibility. Make it easy for each person to reach out to you with questions or concerns whenever they have them. Maybe you have regular office hours or you encourage people to email you with ideas. Leaders stay accessible at Aha! by encouraging direct communication regardless of the reporting structure. And we regularly hold “ask us anything” sessions on the weekly all-company meeting. 

Act on feedback 
If you have been listening hard to your team — you must take action. Listening with no action is a waste of your and everyone else’s time. Plus, it breeds frustration. Do your best to act on any items that are aligned with the company’s values and goals. For example, if you regularly hear frustrations about a lack of learning opportunities, consider increasing the opportunities for learning by funding outside training programs. 

You are not meant to be the team’s spy — you are meant to be the team’s champion. 

So, take meaningful steps to understand the team and what they need. Spying might give you a glimpse into this, but it is a very small glimpse. 

The best way to see the big picture is to be out front and in the open. 

How do you stay connected to the team without spying?