One-to-one meetings from both perspectives
This week, my blog about how to get the most out of your one-to-one meetings is inspired by two people I am coaching, each from a different business.
I have been working with the first client to develop their leadership skills, informed by feedback from the 360 activity that we had completed. There was a clear theme in the feedback that the one-to-one meetings they’ve been having with direct reports are not working as well as they could.
The second coaching client feels that she’s not getting the outcomes that she wants or needs from her one-to-one meetings with her line manager, and really doesn’t look forward to her fortnightly sessions.
In this article, I will give you my top tips for making the most of your one-to-one meetings, whether you are the direct report or the line manager. You can also click on this link to download your free one-to-one meeting plan.
What is a one-to-one meeting?
A one-to-one meeting is a regular opportunity for a line manager and direct report to discuss progress, key projects, development needs and opportunities and how the employee is feeling at work. It’s an important opportunity for the line manager and direct report to connect. The line manager can provide feedback, coaching, mentoring and support. The direct report can share successes, concerns and gain insights and fresh perspectives on their work.
In a one-to-one meeting, the focus should be on the employee rather than on a specific project or set of tasks.
One-to-one meetings and successful employees
In the classic management book, First, Break All the Rules, by Buckingham and Coffman, research by the Gallup Organization shows that the most successful and productive employees can answer ‘yes’ to these questions:
- Do I know what is expected of me at work?
- Do I have the equipment and material I need to do my work right?
- At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
- Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
- At work, do my opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my work is important?
- Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
- In the last six months, have I talked to someone about my progress?
- This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?
One-to-one meetings are a great opportunity to help generate a resounding “yes” to these questions and build a strong workplace capable of attracting and keeping top performers at every level.
How effective are your one-to-one meetings?
One-to-one meetings can be really valuable, for both the line manager and the direct report. Yet, in so many cases, I hear from both sides that the experience is less than ideal. There is too much focus on the immediate workload, and neither party does much preparation or planning for the meeting in advance. Plus, there is often very little guidance or training given by organizations on how to make the most from the potentially precious one-to-one meeting time.
But before we dive in, take a few moments now to think about your own one-to-one meetings. Give each statement below a score between 1 to 5, with 1 being strongly disagree, and 5 strongly agree.
- My one-to-one meetings are usually collaborative and productive.
- We actively listen to each other and take each other’s perspectives into account.
- Both of us seem to enjoy our one-to-one meetings, most of the time.
- Both of us are always well-prepared for our one-to-one meeting.
- We usually agree clear, specific actions and next steps in the meeting.
- We’ll often discuss development needs and opportunities, as well as the day job.
- We show appropriate concern and interest in each other’s wellbeing.
Why one-to-one meetings are important
When one-to-ones are done well, they bring mutual benefits.
From the line manager’s perspective, they offer a great opportunity to motivate, coach, develop, enhance productivity and loyalty, and gain feedback and insight into how things are going. The goal for the line manager is to connect the direct report’s work to the wider business and team strategy, provide appropriate situational leadership, develop a highly effective working relationship, help their colleague develop and make sure that their ideas are heard and considered.
From the direct report’s point of view, one-to-ones provide precious, valuable time with their manager, create the chance to discuss challenges, opportunities and options, get guidance and clarity where it is required, and receive feedback on their work on an ongoing basis. The goal for the direct report is to showcase their work appropriately, develop a great rapport with their boss, provide ideas and potential solutions for problems and risks, and align their activities to what the business, and their boss, need.
One to one meetings and organizational culture
One-to-one meetings can be a really effective part of how you create and nurture a culture of innovation in your business. My own doctoral research shows that a dynamic environment in which people feel their ideas are welcomed and heard, even if they are not ultimately acted upon, can contribute to a more entrepreneurial approach from employees.
One-to-ones are essential for high-performance.
Hybrid working and one-to-ones
If your organizations is either going completely virtual, or introducing hybrid working following the pandemic, it’s important that you continue to invest time in one-to-one meetings. I’ve created a Guide to Hybrid Working for Teams here and an article on Leading Collaboration in Remote Teams which you’ll also find useful.
With back-to-back meetings on line, it’s all to easy to let one-to-one meetings slide, but they should be one of the most important activities that you do.
8 top tips for getting the most from your one-to-one meetings
Here are my 8 top tips for getting the most out of your one-to-one meetings, whether you are in the seat of the line manager or the direct report.
Schedule your meetings as a regular event – and stick to the schedule, unless there’s a real emergency
You can review the frequency of your sessions together, and adjust to more or less often as needed. But, only on rare, exceptional occasions should you cancel the one-to-one, especially at the last minute. Nor should it be rushed.
Prepare the things you want to discuss in advance
Jot things down in the days or week before your one-to-one as they occur to you, so that you don’t forget anything.
When you’re in the meeting, start with the most important things first, so that if the discussions take longer than you think they will, you will have at least covered the priorities.
Make sure the discussions go beyond the immediate day-job issues
Simple status updates are a waste of face-to-face time, and can be done outside the meeting. Use the one-to-one for higher value discussion that will enhance performance and contribution, as well as building your working relationship.
Consider using a simple actions list
Committing to take action as a result of your conversation is really important to generate momentum. It turns your discussions into meaningful progress. Making sure that you visibly write these actions down, do what you promise and then update each other once you’ve completed your actions, by email, for example. This supports mutual support, collaboration and respect.
Be fully engaged
Really listen to each other, rather than just waiting for the other person to finish talking so that you can say your piece.
Be aware of your body language, and use an open and interested posture.
Put your phone or laptop away and eliminate or at least minimise the potential for interruptions, such as other people coming and going, or the phone ringing.
Say thank you and recognize achievement and great work
Bosses appreciate well-deserved positive feedback and thanks too, so this one if definitely for both of you.
Look for opportunities to say a sincere thank you or well done in the meeting. Don’t overdo it, though, or be insincere, or the words lose their significance and impact.
Appreciating each other and recognising each other’s achievements appropriately will help you strengthen your rapport.
Seek to understand and be curious
This tip is especially useful if you find that you are not agreeing with each other on something. Aiming to understand and empathise with your colleague’s point of view will empower you with insight that can help to influence a better outcome for both of you.
Curiosity is a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something. It allows you to embrace unfamiliar circumstances or perspectives. Studies such as the one here by the University at Buffalo finds that the degree to which people are curious directly relates to personal growth opportunities. It also determines how deeply people become connected.
Make sure your one-to-one meeting ends well
At the end of your meeting, make sure that you end well by doing these 2 things:
- Review the decisions and actions you’ve made to make sure you’re both on the same page.
- Reflect on the experience and on whether the time was well spent. Identify anything you think would help you make it better next time, if that’s relevant.
More challenging relationships and situations
These 8 top tips will help take an ok or positive relationship to the next level, and enhance the productivity of both the line manager and the direct report. Sometimes, though, relationships, discussion topics or performance issues mean that robust and challenging conversations are necessary. I will give you some approaches for dealing effectively with these more challenging relationships and situations in an upcoming article.
How to prepare for your one-to-one meeting
I’ve created a free, downloadable one-to-one single page planner for you to use. Just click here for your one-to-one meeting template.
• Use the discussion theme prompts in the one-to-one meeting template to prepare in advance:
- General update on how things are going, how the direct report is feeling
- Key priorities for discussion
- Feedback on important projects
- Team and company goals – check in
- Identifying and resolving any roadblocks
- Successes and milestones
- Questions / items needing clarification
You don’t have to include every theme at every meeting, of course, just the ones that are most useful
to you at the time.
Use the one-to-one meeting template both as a prompt to make sure you cover everything you want to, and
also to capture your notes, actions and the key decisions that are taken in the right hand column.