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How to Lead Impactful One-on-One Meetings

The idea that “people leave managers, not companies'' has become common knowledge in today’s workplace. This sad truth is that employees often leave their positions not solely due to the job itself, but because of poor and unsupportive leadership. As a manager, it's crucial to develop a leadership style that nurtures a sense of being valued.


One of the most significant ways managers can demonstrate their commitment to their team is through one-on-one meetings. These regular interactions allow you to connect meaningfully with each team member, understand their perspectives, and provide them with the necessary support. Done correctly, one-on-one meetings emphasize the human connection and elevate empathy within the team.


To learn how to lead impactful one-on-ones, I spoke with Dr. Steven Rogelberg, one of the world’s leading experts on meetings. He is an organizational psychologist and author of Glad We Met: The Art and Science of 1:1 Meetings. 


THIS IS NOT A STATUS UPDATE


A common mistake managers make during one-on-one meetings is focusing too much on status updates. The heart of these meetings lies in understanding and supporting your team members. Instead of asking for a rundown of ongoing projects, managers should aim for meaningful discussions that encourage employee growth and nurture a productive work environment. As Steven says, the one-on-one is for the direct report’s benefit, not the managers.


LISTEN MORE, TALK LESS


The manager's role in a one-on-one is mostly to listen and learn. According to Steven, research indicates that one-on-one effectiveness decreases the more a manager dominates the discussion. Prioritize asking questions and active listening. Phrases like “help me understand,” “tell me more,” or “how can I assist?" show your willingness to comprehend and provide support.


LET THE INDIVIDUAL SHAPE THE AGENDA


Although it may feel like a casual conversation, it's important to have a clear agenda for the one-on-one. It should be developed collaboratively with both the manager and direct report suggesting questions or topics for discussion.  It helps to have a mix of consistent questions and rotating questions in order to keep the conversation fresh. For example, one of my favorite questions is, “what from the past month are you most proud of?” It provides you insight into what is important to the other person as well as an opportunity to celebrate together.


HOLD ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS EVERY WEEK


Based on the research findings, one-on-one meetings should ideally be weekly. However, the quality of the conversation is far more important than the frequency or length of the meetings. Even a 25-minute high-quality discussion every other week can yield more benefits than an hour-long disorganized one-on-one meeting once per month. The best approach is to be flexible and tailor interactions to team members' needs and preferences.


Once you’ve identified the optimal structure, be consistent. Steven noted that everything we do as managers is signaling to our team members. When we don’t hold them regularly or cancel them, it implies that we don’t care about our people. As a manager, it's your unique role to develop and support your people. That’s what happens in a one-on-one.


ONE-ON-ONES ARE A WIN-WIN


One-on-one meetings are more than just a nice thing to do; they are an investment in your people and your organization. Managers who allocate dedicated time for these interactions experience fewer interruptions during the week and enhanced productivity. According to Gallup, employees who regularly engage in one-on-one meetings are three times more engaged than those who don't. Even though they consume a lot of time each week, the benefits far outweigh the costs.


One-on-one meetings serve as an essential tool for managers to foster a supportive work environment, encourage growth, and boost performance. Nurturing these meaningful moments of connection can make all the difference in your effectiveness as a manager.


Listen to the entire episode HERE to learn more about conflict management.




Keep up with Steven

- Follow Steven on LinkedIn here

- Grab a copy of Steven’s book here


FREE Guide Questions to Ask During One-on-One Meetings


In lieu of this week’s guest bonus, Mamie is providing members of Podcast+ with a list of more than 30 questions to ask during your one-on-one meetings.


To get this bonus and many other member benefits, become a member of The Modern Manager Podcast+ Community.

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The Modern Manager is a leadership podcast for rockstar managers who want to create a working environment where people thrive, and great work gets done.


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