Performance Reviews

The Manager’s Guide to One On One Meeting [+Tips]

By on April 19, 2019

Knowledge workers dread meetings.

With little planning going into them, meetings rarely produce the desired results. Follow Scrum or Kanban for project management & you are already a part of a bunch of other meetings. Then there are town halls, team meetings & and other gatherings specific to your organisation.

But amidst all this noise, one on one meetings lose their importance. Rarely does it get the attention it deserves.

What are one on one meetings?

Healthy relationships are at the core of any great company. One on ones help nurture the relationships between managers & their direct reports.

Get these face to face discussions right to uncover hidden challenges & foster innovation. One cannot overstate their importance whether you are a direct report or a manager.

If you are a manager, understand the background & apply below tips. They will ensure a great one on one meeting every time, for you as well as your direct reports.

Why – Purpose of One on One Meetings

All too often, managers see the 1 on 1 as a routine meeting with little value. Downplaying the meeting’s importance results in missed opportunities.

This is your chance to show direct reports that you value them. Open the door to conversations about their current challenges, career aspirations. Be a good listener. Observe, understand & get feedback on how you can help them achieve their potential.

First, it is helpful to recognize what the these meetings are not

  • not a place to give and receive status updates, daily stand ups are there for this
  • not a discussion focused on providing them project instructions, team meetings cover this aspect
  • not a quick chat to provide non specific feedback

It is a way to find out how things are actually going at their end.

Consider one on ones as a way to know whether the team member is happy or needs a hand. Quickly adjust your approach based on this information.

How frequently should you have one on ones?

The frequency of one on ones depends upon the managers and their team members. While the new members of the team may need regular supervision, guidance and more – things senior pros can excel without. It is prudent to decide on the frequency of the one on one meetings through a mutual discussion between the manager and their team members, and revisit it every quarter or so to make avenues for new requirements.

How to Have a Successful One on One Meeting

1-1 meetings sometimes go in the way of discussions that hardly yield any productive information for managers and their direct reports. Keeping a few important factors in mind while conducting these meetings can help all involved parties get the maximum return. They are:

  • Have an agenda in place
  • Let the team member open
  • Ask about goals, challenges and frustrations
  • Provide feedback and share concerns
  • Offer suggestions, document action items

Have An Agenda

1 on 1 meetings handle sensitive, at times awkward issues. These are discussions, at least a part of which will always be difficult.

Add to it the number of 1 on 1 meetings a manager does. There is a good chance that the conversation will go wayward if not checked with a meeting agenda.

So it is always a good idea to start with an agenda. This agenda can come from your direct report or can be a collaboration between you two. Having a meeting agenda prevents you from wasting time and prepares you for the meeting.

  • Start by planning for about 30 minutes
  • 15 minutes for the team member to talk
  • 10 for you (manager) to share your point of view/suggestions/feedback
  • 5 for the two of you to establish next steps

If you have to review your notes to remember what was last discussed, it’s a bad start already.

Let the Team Member Open

It’s too easy to fall into the top down approach. Managers usually lead most of the meetings. So it may feel a bit odd at first to ask open ended questions to your direct reports. But it’s fundamental to make the team member comfortable in discussing workplace issues. Anything that is a roadblock for them, even personal issues, are not off the agenda.

Few open ended questions that might help you get started

  • Tell me about your week so far
  • What roadblocks prevented you from achieving X ?
  • What are your plans for this week ?
  • Were you able to overcome the challenge X that we discussed last time ?

Some team members engage in more productive conversations when managers pinpoint the issues. But it’s important to avoid pigeon holding the discussion to the manager’s ideas.

Treat this as an opportunity to understand what is going on with the team member’s work life. Be empathetic and respond thoughtfully. Even if you don’t have solutions yet to any of their challenges, assure them you’ll work together to find one.

Ask About Goals, Challenges and Frustrations

In the beginning team members will be away from sharing their challenges, frustrations. Don’t give up. Come prepared with a few targeted questions that can get to the heart of the matter.

1 on 1 meetings are not status update meetings. But make smart use of project discussions to elicit better responses from direct reports. That will get them started in the right direction.

Refer to the goals, see if they are on track or need a nudge. Dive a bit deeper to inquire whether those goals were reasonable to begin with. Some star employees give their all, even when expectations are set too high. As a manager, figure out if these stars are burning out by stretching too much.

It’s also valuable to know what’s going on in your direct report’s life outside of work. Scope of this discussion will vary based on your proximity with the individual. Avoid probing too much into their private matters. Just reiterate that you are always available to assist them, if they need anything. Encourage them to share anything that can affect their performance. And then adjust your expectations.

Before meeting, gather details about the team member. How are they interacting with their colleagues? Are they meeting their targets or struggling to fulfil basic expectations? Are they performing up to their potential? Are they in the right role given their skillset? Do they need any specific training?

Assuming you’ve done enough preparation, you’ll have some specific feedback. Don’t hold it back, be it praise or an opportunity to improve.

Adopt a supportive tone when discussing negative feedback. Direct report has just talked about their perspective. Use that as a starting point.

Adjust your feedback based on their perspective. This is critical while discussing feedback.

For example, a team member has already expressed frustrations. And described reasons why their performance has been up to the mark. Don’t just repeat the same feedback, rather try to offer a solution based on the reasons they shared.

Be proactive. See something the team member working on is falling through? Call it out before the risk materialises. Don’t wait for the 1-1 meetings or performance review process. This will help build trust between direct reports & you. After all, you are investing in making them successful.

Offer Suggestions, Document Action Items

Close the meeting, by asking them if they have noted down any next steps. If they haven’t, share yours & ask them to come up with theirs. Offer any suggestions that you think can help them get better. Better yet, work together and conclude with a mutually beneficial plan.

Document these actions, items & suggestions, so that they are accessible to both of you. By the time the next 1 on 1 meeting comes around, these will serve as handy references.

General Tips for One on One Meeting

Above we’ve looked at the why & how of great 1-1 meetings. Below is a set of generic tips to take you further.

Continuity between meetings

Managers may have several direct reports, but team members usually only have one manager. Key is to maintain the personal, informal nature of these meetings.

Continuity makes the team member feel significant. It demonstrates that each interaction matters to you as a manager. Plus, building upon what happened at the last meeting is a professional way to nurture trust. This shows that the manager invests in the direct report’s continued growth and progression.

If the manager fails to recall what transpired at the last discussion, it sends a wrong signal. Signal that any work the team member may have put in since that time has had little impact. That alone may undercut any positive results that may have come about so far.

Never cancel or reschedule

There is this temptation to put off 1-1 meetings in favor of other priorities. Especially for busy managers. But every strong manager knows that their direct reports are an essential priority. Commitment to this meeting shows your dedication to your team.

While the occasional reschedule may be acceptable, regular movement of the 1 on 1 meetings is bad. Start off the right way. Establish a regular time. It shouldn’t interfere with anything you or the team member has on the agenda.

Do it weekly

A weekly schedule is practical. Think back to a week ago and how different your projects were. Things evolve fast. Weekly frequency offers ample opportunity to identify challenges. You’ll also be able to put in place remedies before challenges become unmanageable. Not to mention that frequent meetings lead to better continuity. It’s easier to think back to a discussion that happened one week ago than one month ago.

Weekly is frequent enough for both to become comfortable with the process. Team members will be less likely to shy away from raising issues if the manager has a history of assisting the team.

Non confrontational approach

There’s an old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” While that’s not a perfect analogy, it does reflect on the modern workplace.

Modern workplace functions more on support and teamwork than on stress and tension. Purpose of one on one meetings is to unravel hidden issues, for team members and the team as a whole. From there, you can work at improving the process and overall outcome.

Don’t turn confrontational. Compassionate dialogue is the best way to identify and remedy challenges. Comfort is essential so that the team members are candid during the discussion. That way, there’s no worry of a potential crisis simmering without resolution.

Potential problems will reveal themselves. They will come out one way or another. Healthy discussions help identify the problem in a timely manner, before they affect the entire team.

Keep it positive

Throughout, we have been talking about ‘identifying issues’, ‘discussing challenges’ & so on. As a manager don’t let the opportunity to compliment your direct report slip past.

Team members crave recognition for their efforts. It is not just a way to make them feel good; it gives them concrete direction. It is a way of telling employees, “this is good, we’d like to see more of this.”

Provide Feedback and Share Concerns

Often, especially in large businesses, team members can feel lost in the crowd. Praise their positive attributes and activities. Help them feel supported and motivated to do their best as part of the team.

Also, positive discussion can help cushion a difficult conversation. When things go wrong, you should be prepared to handle the situation.

One way is to show team members that their participation holds great value. Even if their work has hit some rough spots in recent times, their efforts are still appreciated by the company.

Focus on the team member

Your direct reports are not the only ones who need to share their constructive feedback and concerns. You are also accountable to share information that is relevant for them as well as the overall team. Especially if you are going through a career transition, retraining or something else. Share anything that affects the team. It helps your direct reports know the reasons for changes in your approach or priorities.

But a 1 on 1 meeting ideally should be about the team member, not the manager.

In the majority of workplaces, the nature of manager team member relationships is unbalanced. Individuals in the superior role have the upper hand. These meetings are a chance for the team member to have a voice. They help ensure team member’s comfort within the larger organisation. Giving them this time benefits not just the individual, but the company as a whole. A well functioning team is the basis of a successful workplace.

Checklist for a manager’s one on one meetings                         

To keep the conversation focused on the topic and make the most of the one on one conversation, it’s important to follow a consistent structure. Here are a few points that need to be answered in a one on one meeting.

Listing discussion points beforehand

Managers and employees should each make a list of talking points to be what you would like to cover during the meeting. Then, compare lists and decide which items should be prioritized. Or, you could break down discussion points to fit the following structure:

Recognizing good work

Mentioning wins and successes since the previous one on one gives managers and team members a positive start to the discussion. This way, employees will eagerly look forward to the meetings and ensure all talking points are covered instead of trying to avoid them in favour of day to day work. Also, a Deloitte survey shows that companies that use religious recognition practices have 31% lower voluntary turnover rates when pitted against organizations who aren’t consistent in their employee recognition practices.

Identifying obstacles, challenges, and concerns

Checking the progress of goals also means discussing the progress of your employee’s monthly, quarterly, and/or annual goals. Focusing on the career development of an employee helps managers and organizations to grow along with their employees. This gives managers a clear picture of the hurdles the employee is facing, and provides an opportunity to plan an effective course of action.

Clarifying issues for employees

Managers should aim to only talk 15 to 20% of the time during 1 on 1 meetings. Asking specific questions can help their team members to define their problems better, and some example questions that can be asked are:

  • Do you understand how your targets for the quarter align with the mission, values, strategy, and goals of our organization?
  • How can we collaborate better within the team, and with other teams?
  • What is the most time consuming activity that saps your energy?
  • Is the amount of feedback that you’re receiving appropriate? Do you want to increase/decrease it?
  • What’s the most exciting part of your job? And is there any way to bring it to other aspects of your job?
  • Do you feel overworked or under worked?
  • Do you feel constantly challenged?
  • How can I, your manager, help you get better at your job?
  • Are there any specific talking points you want to bring forward?
  • What’s the one thing you would change if you were the CEO of our company?

The Bottom Line: Make One on Ones a Priority

Offer support & guidance to your direct reports & elevate their performance. That’s where the 1-1 meetings are so important. It’s a chance for the manager to get the best out of their team, the organisational pillar. Make these meetings a priority & give your team the support they need to thrive.

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