25 Feb 2019


The aim of an open door policy is to enable, and indeed encourage, everyone in the organisation to share any issues or views they have with their manager. But how do you make it work?


The open door concept is wasted if people in the organisation don’t understand what it is and what it is for. In its strictest sense, an open door policy means anyone is free to talk to any manager at any time, but most organisations will have their own versions of this written into their employee handbooks. The main aim is to help employees feel at ease sharing their concerns, making suggestions and asking questions. This builds trust and helps managers to understand the needs and views of the people they’re leading.


If poorly communicated, an open door policy can make people think it’s OK to knock on your door whenever there’s an issue, or to believe that only managers have the ability to solve problems. Empower and encourage people to look for solutions before they come to you and, when they do ask for your advice, steer the conversation towards problem solving. Get them to question what’s going on and think about what possible solutions there might be.


If someone opens up to you, but then senses they’re not being heard, they won’t bother again. A successful open door policy requires that you really listen to what’s being said, without interruptions or distractions. Repeating what you’ve heard back to the other person is a good way to show that you’ve taken it in and ensures you’ll leave with the right messages.


Open door policies tend to foster good feelings among team members, because people know what to do and where to go when they have a problem. However, such a culture only works if there is trust between everyone involved. When a team member comes to you, both you and they need to feel comfortable that what is said in the room is confidential, unless it’s agreed that the help of a third party is needed to resolve a problem. Be careful not to break that valuable bond of trust.


While they are valuable, private tête-à-têtes are an inefficient substitute for team meetings and, indeed, if a number of your team members come to you with a similar issue it’s a sign that you need stronger communication with the group as a whole. Where issues raised are not personal or private, log them and address them with the team so that everyone can see their views are being taken seriously.


While you want people to feel free to drop in, there have to be limits and it’s important to communicate the rules clearly. For example, you might say that if your door is open anyone is welcome to pop in for a chat, but if the door is closed they’ll need to make an appointment, barring emergencies of course. Alternatively, you could choose certain hours in the day when you are free to talk things through, perhaps immediately after team meetings or first thing in the morning.