Brilliant one-to-one meetings with your team or line manager - The Big Bang Partnership

Brilliant one-to-one meetings with your team or line manager

Top tips on how to get the most from your one-to-one meetings

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:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the equipment and material I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. In the last six months, have I talked to someone about my progress?
  11. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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:

  1. Review the decisions and actions you’ve made to make sure you’re both on the same page.
  2. 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.

Summary of the Benefits of One-on-One Meetings

One-on-one meetings are a great way to connect with your team members on a personal level, provide constructive feedback, and track their progress. They are also a great way to identify and resolve any problems early on.

Round-up: How to Run Effective One-on-One Meetings

Here is a round-up of tips for running effective one-on-one meetings:

  • Set clear expectations. Before the meeting, let your team member know what you hope to achieve. This could include discussing their goals, providing feedback, or simply catching up.
  • Be an active listener. Really listen to what your team member has to say, and ask open-ended questions to get them talking.
  • Give and receive feedback. Constructive feedback is essential for employee growth. Be sure to give your team member specific feedback on their work, and be open to receiving feedback yourself.
  • Celebrate successes. Take some time to celebrate your team member’s successes, big or small. This will help them stay motivated and engaged.
  • Follow up. After the meeting, take some time to write down the key takeaways and next steps. This will help you stay on track and make sure that the meeting was productive.
  • Use a meeting template. A meeting template can help you stay organized and ensure that you cover all of the important topics.
  • Be flexible. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the agenda if needed. The most important thing is to have a productive conversation.
  • Make time for one-on-one meetings. One-on-one meetings are a valuable investment in your team members’ success. Make sure to schedule them regularly and stick to the time slots.

Reminder: The Importance of Regular One-on-One Meetings

Regular one-on-one meetings are essential for building strong relationships with your team members and ensuring their success. Aim to have one-on-one meetings with each of your team members at least once a month.

One-on-one meetings are a great way to improve employee engagement, performance, and development. By following the tips above, you can run effective one-on-one meetings that benefit both you and your team members. Remember that one-on-one meetings can:

  • Be used to discuss difficult conversations, such as performance reviews or feedback on personal behavior.
  • Help to identify and resolve problems early on, before they become major issues.
  • A great way to build trust and rapport with your team members.
  • Used to gather feedback on your management style and the employee experience.
  • An opportunity to discuss career goals and development opportunities.
  • A good time to celebrate successes and provide encouragement.

Today’s Fast-paced Work Environment

In today’s fast-paced work environment, the importance of regular meetings cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to one-on-one conversations between an employee and a line manager. These are not just any meetings; they’re some of the most important meetings in any professional setting. The article delves deep into the best way to conduct these regular check-ins, offering a perspective from both the employee and the manager.

For employees, the first one-on-one meeting can be daunting, but with the right meeting agenda and talking points, it becomes the perfect opportunity to discuss career development, long-term goals, and pressing issues. Reflecting on the previous meeting can provide continuity, ensuring that key topics are addressed and progress is made.

Strike the Right Balance

For line managers, especially new managers, it’s crucial to strike the right balance. Great managers know the significance of dedicated time to understand an individual contributor’s day-to-day work challenges and career path. Embracing best practices and utilizing my one-on-one meeting template can pave the way for productive meetings. Moreover, managers should consider the nonverbal cues and be prepared to handle negative feedback, understanding that open communication goes a long way.

Remote employees present a unique challenge. While face-to-face meetings in a conference room might be the gold standard, regular 1-on-1s via digital platforms can still foster a strong relationship, as long as the meeting questions are well-thought-out and there’s a shared agenda.

Regular, Direct Feedback and Listening are Crucial

“Andy Grove had a mantra at Intel that we borrowed to describe leadership at Apple: Listen, Challenge, Commit. A strong leader has the humility to listen, the confidence to challenge, and the wisdom to know when to quit arguing and to get on board.”

Kim scott, Radical Candor

Consistent with Gallup’s latest State of the Workplace research, this article emphasizes the need for regular feedback, addressing both individual and team performance. Whether it’s making small talk about personal life or diving deep into professional development, achieving the right balance makes all the difference.

It Starts from Onboarding

Furthermore, a great place for managers to initiate these regular check-ins is during the onboarding process for new hires. It sets the tone for open communication, ensuring that the employee feels valued right from the outset. And as they transition from the past week’s tasks to the next meeting’s discussion points, the continuity of regular check-ins keeps the conversation flowing.

Keep Notes and Build Continuity

My article also suggests it’s a good idea to maintain meeting notes for future reference. With the recurrent nature of these meetings, reflecting on the last time you met can offer better insight into the pressing issues at hand and help set common goals. Whether you’re having a hard time in your personal life or seeking clarity on your professional development, the dedicated one-on-one time provides the perfect setting to address these and more.

Make sure you track action items from one-on-one meetings. Followed up on them to ensure that you’re making progress.

So, whether you’re an individual team member aiming to produce your best work or a manager striving to improve the work environment and relationships, embracing the principles and best practices of a successful one-on-one conversation will undoubtedly lead you to a great place at work.

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