A touch base meeting is designed to help the employee - here are some things you can do to make sure you get the most of out them.
As an employee, the touch base meeting has long been my favorite type of meeting for one single reason - they are designed to focus on and benefit the employee. Forget lectures about deadlines, TPS reports, and the new ergonomic water bottles HR is ordering for everyone, a touch base meeting is all about y-o-u.
There is only one problem - if you’ve never been in a touch base meeting before, you likely have no clue on what to ask or say since most ‘traditional’ meetings just involve listening to someone else talk. I’m not saying it’s up to you to dictate how this meeting runs as even the most inept managers will have a few go-to questions they always ask, but there are some things you can do and prepare for if you want to take full advantage of this special and unique type of meeting.
Note: If you’re a manager and looking to better prepare yourself, check out our other post on Touch Base Meetings for Managers.
What Is A Touch Base Meeting?
A touch base meeting is just what it sounds like - an opportunity for an employee to catch up with their manager. There should be no structure, no talking points, and best of all no agenda. After all, according to Ben Horowitz, a touch base meeting is a:
So, as an employee, let’s see what you can say in order to stand out while making sure all of your issues get addressed.
What to Bring Up in A Touch Base Meeting
Things You Need Help With
I put this at the top for a reason - if there is anything that you need in order to perform your job better, this is the time to ask.
Need access to a program? Ask.
Need to shift some of your responsibilities around? Ask.
Need help in order to meet a deadline? Ask.
As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a bad question and if you fail to ask for help when you need it then an astute manager is going to wonder why if something goes wrong. Touch base meetings are not the time to be shy so grab your problem by the horns and ask for what you need.
Where to Start: Don’t phrase it as a demand, instead mention the project you are working on and ask if it would be possible to get X or suspend Y so that you can focus better.
Issues with Coworkers
If you are having issues with a colleague (assuming it’s not your manager), then this is the time to put it on the table. One of a manager’s responsibilities is to make ensure everyone is working well together and unless he’s a mind-reader you’re going to need to tell him if you’re having a problem.
This doesn’t have to be a negative conversation, either. Maybe you feel a teammate’s skills could be better utilized elsewhere or they achieved something worth mentioning. Touch base meetings are the perfect time to bring all of this up without embarrassing or singling out anyone in a group setting.
Where to Start: Do not go out of your way to attack a person; instead state the issue, how it’s impacting your work, and what you’d like to see changed. A good manager will take it from there and it will save you from putting your foot in your mouth by attacking their character.
Ask for Feedback
This was the hardest one for me to grasp when I was new to touch base meetings, it seemed to go against the status quo of employee reviews and evaluations. However, once I got in the habit of doing it, I found it to yield tremendous amounts of opportunities for me to improve upon and reinforced the things that I was doing right.
This might come as a surprise to some, but a lot of managers don’t enjoy giving feedback, even if it’s good. As a result, those same managers tend to appreciate you bringing it up first and are even more impressed that you cared enough to do it.
Where to Start: If you completed a task or project recently, ask for feedback on it and let it naturally progress from there.
Things You Have Accomplished
One of the quintessential questions for managers to ask during a touch base meeting is “what have you accomplished lately?”. If your manager doesn’t ask this, then it is your responsibility to bring it up because it is an incredibly important topic and addressing it will benefit both of you.
This also might be the best opportunity that you have to stand out, especially if you are just one of many employees with which your manager is meeting.
So go all out and turn the humble brag up to 100% - give them the details of your projects including milestones, progress, and setbacks (if you encountered setbacks, make sure to mention how you overcame them or what you need to do so). Answers to this question tend to make their way up the food chain so the more prepared you are the better.
Where to Start: If your manager doesn’t ask about your progress then you can say something like “I just want to go over what I’ve been working on” or “I just want to mention project X real fast” and then you’re off to the races!
This goes hand in hand with feedback - if you feel there is a course, book, webinar or resource that would improve your skillset, do not hesitate to bring it up. It’s in employers best interests to keep you happy, engaged, and interested in growing your skills but all too often it’s up to you to bring it up.
There are countless resources out there, both free and paid, designed to help you grow personally and professionally. Make it a habit to keep your ear to the ground and keep track of any book, webinar, course, or program that interests you. Make sure they are also relevant to your position or you are going to have an uphill battle selling it to your manager.
Where to Start: Make sure to explain the benefits of what you are asking for and do your best to tie it directly into your job. It’s even better if multiple people can benefit, so consider suggesting that it will help the entire team or volunteer to do a presentation on what you learn.
For a long time I considered questions about corporate strategy, product roadmaps, etc to be above my pay grade. While some of that may be true, you’d be surprised what you can learn about your company just by asking.
Many companies (usually the bigger ones) are notorious for keeping their employees uninformed, not because they want to, but because there is no clear way to distribute every decision they make. It falls on the employee to ask about what’s going on with X or when will we see the next iteration of Y?
Don’t worry if your manager doesn’t know the answer, if you impress upon them your desire to get an answer there is a good chance they will do their best to find out and let you know.
Where to Start: You can literally start anywhere - if you hear something in the break room or by the water cooler than you want to know more about, ask. If you are curious about the new VP that was hired, ask. Most managers won’t hesitate to tell you that they don’t know or that you are not supposed to know, but none of them should fault you for asking. After all, you work there, so why not know as much as you can about your employer?
I get it, meetings can be intimidating, but the beautiful thing about the touch base meeting is that it is supposed to be as laid back as a conversation. Nothing formal and the tone of the meeting is dictated by you, what could be better (as far as meetings go), right?
Even if you aren’t comfortable doing all the things that I suggested above, just having a better understanding of the employee’s role in touch base meetings will put you at an advantage. As soon as you stop worrying about the stress and start focusing on how these meetings can work in your favor, you’re golden.