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A Manager's Guide to Better One-on-One Meetings

Are you having regular one-on-one meetings with your employees?

  • Yes? Great! As a good manager, you probably want to make them better.

  • No? Don't worry, now's the perfect time to start.

In a previous post, An Employee’s Guide to Better One-on-One Meetings, we explained how employees can make the most of their one-on-one meetings. Today, we look at how managers can do the same.

One-on-One Meetings with Your Employees Are Not Optional

As a manager, 'one-on-ones' is a fundamental strategy to developing a successful and engaged team. The best one-on-one meetings center around the growth of the employee, not the completion of their tasks. This is your opportunity to have personal, clear, and specific communication with each individual about their professional growth and work concerns. These meetings build trust between you and the employee and establish alignment between the employee and the company’s objectives.

The ultimate goal of the one-on-one meeting is to help the employee succeed in the organization. If they succeed, you succeed. Here’s what you should be doing with team members in your one-on-ones:

  • Providing guidance. Speak to performance, expectations, and career advancement, and brainstorm ways to improve.

  • Removing roadblocks. Address challenges and strategize possible solutions.

  • Setting goals. Set both short-term and long-term professional development goals.

  • Building relationships. Build rapport, develop confidence, and increase positive associations with the team.

These four activities describe the goals of one-on-one meetings, but there's more that a manager must do in order to have productive conversations.

4 Principles to Successful One-on-Ones

1. Short one-on-ones are better than no one-on-ones.

Former CEO and co-founder of Intel, Andy Grove, said,

“Ninety minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinate’s work for two weeks, or for some eighty-plus hours, and also upgrade your understanding of what he’s doing.”

Ninety minutes might be too much for most of us, but regardless, the point is well taken. Canceling a one-on-one will cost you, even if you don't realize it. These meetings save you time and energy in the long run, increase employee engagement, and raise the accuracy and quality of work. Cancel a one-on-one, and employees might feel ignored or disrespected. Or, a concern might go unresolved, and negatively affect an employee’s work performance. It’s better to have a short one-on-meeting meeting than to cancel it entirely. The point is to respect each other’s time and commit to shared time together.

What you can do:

There is no agreed upon perfect length or frequency of one-on-ones. At Meeteor, we have them monthly for an hour and supplement them with shorter touchbases as needed. Some experts argue that one-on-ones should happen more than once a month. Whatever you decide, schedule regular one-on-one meetings in a repeating fashion, such as the first Friday of every month at 10am.

If you haven't yet shared our post An Employee’s Guide to Better One-on-One Meetings with your team, this is a great way to introduce the concept of one-on-ones if it’s new, and to help them improve their preparation overall.

2. Difficult conversations are part of the deal.

Difficult conversations can be positive turning points if handled well. If an employee brings up a challenging topic, such as conflict with a colleague, acknowledge and appreciate their openness. You might not have an immediate solution to the problem and that’s OK. Don’t rush to hasty recommendations or promise something you can’t deliver.

What you can do:

Allow time and space for employees to raise topics that are important to them but that they haven’t or won’t bring up in group settings. Let them know you're a resource they can turn to. Raise the topic yourself by asking if anything is challenging or bothering them. When they do open up, listen first to make sure you understand their concern. Then partner with them to solve the problem. Say something like, “I know it must be challenging to bring this up. Thank you for trusting me. Let’s brainstorm a way to solve this.”

3. Consider yourself a coach.

Often, what your employees need is not your answer, but a way to discover an answer for themselves. As a manager, active listening and asking questions helps others to understand themselves better and find their own solutions. Your role is to let the person know they were heard and then guide them to think through the issue critically. This will help them develop critical problem solving skills for use in the future.

What you can do:

If you’re unsure what to ask, consult this list compiled by Jason Evanish, founder of Lighthouse. You can also apply the four types of questions technique in your one-on-ones. After the employee is done sharing, paraphrase back what you have heard to check for accuracy and demonstrate that you 'get it'. Of course you can share your ideas and advice too, but wait until they've shared theirs before jumping in with your opinion.

4. The conversation is only the beginning.

There is great value to just having the one-on-one conversation, but if there's no follow-through, you and the employee are missing out. Both people must be willing and committed to taking action after the one-on-one has ended. Without taking steps to address a challenge that was raised or develop an identified skill, you and the employee may find yourselves discussing the same issues over and over.

What you can do:

Allow time to summarize, discuss decisions, and determine actions. Use a system like Meeteor to record, organize, and share your meeting conclusions. If the meeting involves sensitive subject matter, make sure the information stays private. As Evanish suggests, wrap up the meeting by asking, “What can each of us do to make progress on what we talked about today?”

At the beginning of your next one-on-one meeting, revisit the action items. Did you both do what you said you would do? If not, discuss why and figure out next steps that are more appropriate given any constraints and other priorities.

One-on-Ones Help You, the Manager, Develop Leadership Skills, Too.

The one-on-one meeting can also be a learning opportunity for you, if you're ready for it. Get feedback from your employees so you can continue to grow your managerial and leadership skills. At the end of the meeting, ask your employee, “How else can I help you succeed?” and “What can I do better as a manager?” If you create a safe environment, you will enjoy honest and helpful feedback that can fuel your growth.

What challenges have you encountered in your one-on-one meetings as a manager? Do you have advice to share with our readers?


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