Basics of one-to-one meetings. What you need to know to make them effective.

At the beginning of my career, one-to-one meetings were not a thing, at least formal. Hence, when I moved to manage other people, this was one of the points that I had to learn from the perspective of being a manager. Still, it was something that I didn’t experience myself much as an individual contributor at all.

In this blog post, we will explore what one-to-one meetings are, some of the do’s and don’t do’s, in addition to some tips about how to make them as effective as possible.

Let’s start…

What are one-to-ones?

One-to-ones are regular meetings between managers and their team members, but they can also sometimes be with coaches, mentors, or peers.

The primary purpose of one-to-one meetings is to create open and meaningful communication between employees and managers. This is one of the tools you should use to help improve the job satisfaction and motivation of your team members.

What not to do in one-to-ones?

Before talking about what to do in one-to-one meetings, let me tell you some of the main things that you should avoid regarding having one-to-ones with your team members:

1) Talk about specifics of current projects or “status updates” – This is, in my experience, the number one mistake that makes one-to-one meetings deviate from their primary objectives. It’s easy to start discussing the details of the current projects in one-to-one meetings but always keep in mind that these meetings focus on your team member, not your projects.

2) Don’t cancel your one-to-one meetings, re-schedule at most – It’s easy after a few sessions to start to feel that these meetings are not needed, but that is a sign that they are not focusing on the right things, not that they are not needed.

3) Not a clear agenda or purpose – Like almost anything in life, if you don’t have an agenda or plan for what you are doing, there is a high probability of procrastination, so set an agenda for each of your one-to-ones and stick with it – this doesn’t mean that you can get feedback or direction from your team members or that you need to be strict with the agenda all the time. Still, it helps to guide the conversation to get meaningful results.

4) You didn’t prepare ahead of the meeting – Review the previous meeting notes, ensure you have followed up with what you promised in the last meeting, and prepare for what you need to discuss in the next meeting. It is essential to ensure that your team members appreciate that you care about them.

What to do in a one-to-one?

1) Don’t forget that a one-to-one meeting is about the employee, not the manager – be flexible and ask for feedback and contributions from your team members. Remember that these meetings are all about them, so you want to ensure that they are tailored for them and in a format that they feel comfortable speaking about anything.

2) Keep it flexible but set an agenda for your one-to-one meetings (and ask for feedback or ideas from the person with that you have the one-to-one). In particular, for more introverted team members, you want to ensure they feel comfortable with how the meeting is conducted.

2) Set a recurring schedule – Consistency is a fundamental value that applies to successful one-to-one meetings. The main reason for that is that if you consistently meet and prove that you listen and act or support when your team members ask for help is a basic setup to build trust and trust make these meetings successful.

3) More importantly, from a manager’s perspective, make sure you have the right mindset – Keep in mind that these meetings are for your team members, and then you should be listening, taking notes and following through more than speaking yourself.

Is there a format or template for a good one-to-one?

Each one-to-one should be personalized with the agenda items that are more important for each employee, but there are a few agenda topics that you might want to make sure are in your one-to-ones:

  1. Well-being check-in
    • What has been on your mind in the last few days?
    • Is there anything in your work impacting your mental health or happiness?
    • How are you feeling at work in the last week?
  2. Progress on priorities
    • What are your highest priorities this week?
    • What has happened since we last connected?
    • What priorities you have put on hold?
  3. Goals
    • How is your career progression towards the goals set?
    • What do you need to meet these goals?
  4. Company
    • What is your feeling about the support that the company is providing to you?
    • How well do you understand how your work connects to the larger company goals?
  5. Gratitude
    • Who are your most active supporters?
    • What did you feel well about since we last connected?
    • What are you thankful for?

How long should a one-to-one meeting take?

Usually, the one-to-one meetings take from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on their frequency and the number of topics to cover.

How frequently I should have one-to-ones?

One-to-ones should be regularly and typically on a weekly or biweekly basis when they are with direct team members that report to you or work directly with your scope but they can also be more on a monthly or quarterly basis for cases like peers or other stakeholders that you have less frequent involvement or not directly working with you and your teams.

Why consistency is important?

The main reason why consistency is essential to make one-to-ones effective is that making these meetings consistent regularly creates the environment to build a relationship of trust between the manager and the team members as it creates regular time to discuss important topics for the team member to have great job satisfaction and progression, where you as a manager can listen and follow up accordingly to support that trust between both.

Should I only have one-to-ones with my organization structure reports?

The format is probably not the same as you not being a manager of the person with that you have a one-to-one you might not be able to fully support that person’s growth in an organization as there are steps that are the responsibility of a manager in such organizations. One example is the case of promotions, where the manager usually has the responsibility to build up the case for a person to be promoted and approve or at least partially approve it.

There are still cases where you should have one-to-ones with other members of the organization, like peers and other stakeholders. Those can be more focused on sharing feedback personally or across the team, for instance, regarding well-being in general across teams, how other teams are alight with the company goals and how the company is supporting other members that can apply to your team members one-to-ones.

Closing thoughts about one-to-ones…

Lastly, next to ensure that you have one-to-ones consistently is to make sure that you take notes and follow up accordingly. Building strong relationships takes time, so it is essential to make sure you have one-to-ones regularly. Still, nothing can hurt more than building a solid relationship that does not have a connection with the person you are meeting, and they start to feel these meetings are a waste of time because you are not doing your part.

What are your tips for great one-to-ones? Leave in the comments down below…

If you would like to read more, check out all my articles. In particular about leadership, management, strategic thinking, decision making and self-improvement.

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