This article was based on episode 45 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide at Patreon.
You could say a manager’s most important responsibility is to enable the team to achieve its goals. From that perspective, one of the most impactful but often overlooked tool a manager can use is the One-on-One meeting.
One-on-Ones are a type of meeting that put’s the person, not the work, at the center. Unlike check-ins or touch-bases or other meetings you might have with a team member, these meetings are specifically about the team member.
The purpose of a One-on-One is to help the employee succeed. You do so by:
Strengthening your relationship and building trust
Sharing praise and gratitude
Providing critical and constructive feedback
Helping the team member reflect on their own performance
Discovering how you can better support them
One-on-ones have shown to save time and energy, increase employee engagement, raise the quality of work, and more. If you aren’t currently holding them, now’s the time to start.
USE A STRUCTURED APPROACH TO YOUR ONE-ON-ONES
The typical flow of a One-on-One goes something like this:
Spend a few minutes just chatting and building rapport.
Dive into what’s going well with the team member. Celebrate successes and improvements.
Have an honest conversation about what’s not working or where the team member is falling short of expectations.
Brainstorm how the team member can adjust, improve or grow.
Identify any roadblocks or frustrations that the manager may be able to help with.
Provide feedback for how the manager might better support the team member.
Recap next steps and capture them in writing.
Throughout the meeting, your role is to start with questions so the individual can share their self reflections first. Then, you can agree or enhance their understanding. These conversations are much more productive and enjoyable when the employee offers thoughts first and the manager builds from there.
Part One: Relationship Building
This may seem like a waste of time, but trust me, it’s not. We don’t often get time alone with our team members during which we can get to know them as full people. Use the first few minutes of the meeting to just talk to each other.
How is your family? Do anything fun this past weekend? What plans do you have for the upcoming holiday?
Privacy is of varying degrees of importance. Don’t pry, and shift to more generic topics like books, movies or restaurants if you find the other person seems uncomfortable with your line of questioning. It also helps to be open and sharing about your own life.
Part Two: Positive Performance
After a few minutes of sharing, transition into positive feedback. First, ask the individual to share what they see as wins since you last met. What are they proud of? Where have the seen themselves grow?
Use this opportunity to say thank you, offer praise, and celebrate accomplishments. Hopefully you’ve been sharing positive (and critical) feedback in real time, but this is a great time to reinforce those positive behaviors by sharing it again.
Part Three: Areas of Growth
We all have areas in which we could do better. It’s not always easy to talk about them, but the more often you talk about growth areas with your team members, the easier and more natural it becomes.
Encourage the individual to first share where they believe they could do better. Be honest and direct when adding your own thinking. You may offer guidance for what to do differently right now or identify skills or competencies they’ll need to develop in order to advance in their career.
Rather than assuming you know their career aspirations, talk to them about it. Every 6-12 months, have a conversation about where they see themselves headed in 1 year, 3 years and beyond. This gives you insight into what’s important to them, when they might be outgrowing their current role, and what internal opportunities or stretch assignments might be a good fit for them.
Part Four: Plan for Growth
As you develop a regular rhythm of One-on-Ones, it’s helpful to establish growth goals. Check in on progress since the last meeting. How have they improved in this specific area? What new approaches do they want to try? How can you help them on this journey?
For any new areas of opportunity for growth, brainstorm together how the individual might approach learning and developing. Perhaps they will find a book, a mentor, or a class. Maybe they will try using a new process or app. Or maybe you’ll encourage them to find potential solutions first before coming to you with problems.
Whatever the next step, it’s critical they leave the meeting knowing exactly what they’re going to do to begin the growth process. Remember, you should not be telling them what to do, but instead supporting them to design a growth plan appropriate to them.
Part Five: Remove Roadblocks
In a perfect world, any time a team member hit a roadblock or got frustrated, we’d know about it and be ready to help them overcome the obstacle. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. That’s why I prefer to spend time during the One-on-One to surface anything standing in the way of the individual’s ability to do their best work
Questions like “What’s going on that you’d like to problem solve with me?” Or “what else is on your mind that I might be able to help you with?” can open up their thinking. You may discover the need to advocate to your manager or brainstorm approaches for dealing with a difficult vendor or something else entirely.
Part Six: Ask What You Can Do
Sadly, sometimes we’re the roadblocks or source of frustration to our team members. Ask what you can do differently as a manager in general or related to something you’re working on developing. For example, “How might I better support you going forward?” or “I’m working on making our meetings more efficient. Any suggestions for how I could better facilitate our team meetings?”
If you don’t ask, you’ll never know what you’re doing, or not doing, that isn’t working for them. Even when you do ask, at first, you might not get any response, but keep asking each time anyways.
If you do receive any feedback, say thank you even if you don’t agree. They took a risk in giving you feedback and it’s important to honor that if you ever want feedback again. Take time to process what they’ve shared and find ways to implement any changes. If you ultimately disagree with their assessment, close the loop by speaking with them about it so they don’t feel you ignored their input.
Part Seven: Recap Next Steps
The final phase of the meeting is reviewing any decisions and next steps. Be specific about what each of you are going to do to move forward. This brings closure and a sense of accomplishment to the meeting. Try asking “What action steps do we want to take to move forward with what we’ve discussed today?” If you haven’t yet checked in on the action steps from previous one-on-ones, use this recap time to revisit previous action items and agree on next steps related to each of those.
Capture the decisions and next steps in a digital document during the wrap up. Many managers use a single document which they add to in order to easily keep track of next steps for each team member.
MAKE THESE MEETINGS WORK FOR YOU AND THEM
There is no ideal frequency or length to One-on-Ones. Many managers find an hour per month to work well. You can always start there and decide to shift to more or less frequent or adjust the time after a few sessions if you find you are consistently ending early or running over.
Encourage your team members to take ownership over their One-on-Ones. It’s all about their success and how you can help them, so they need to come prepared to share reflections and ask for help.
You also need to come prepared. Yes its their meeting, but if you walk in without having prepared your own thoughts, you won’t inspire much confidence. Write yourself notes throughout the month of things you want to mention in your upcoming One-on-Ones.
PRIORITIZE ONE-ON-ONES EVEN WHEN TIME IS SHORT
It’s easy to reschedule or cancel One-on-Ones when things get busy or work is going well. Avoid this temptation. A short one-on-one is better than no one-on-one. When you cancel or postpone, it signals your investment in the person isn’t a priority. They may also have topics on their mind which they want to discuss that you don’t know about.
Have a 15 min check in instead of an hour if needed. Acknowledge its not ideal but that you want to make sure they have what they need from you. Hit the critical points you need to make, but most importantly make sure they feel supported.
To help you implement One-on-One meetings with your team members, check out the free miniguide for todays episode. It contains a the template I use with my team members. The full guide for this episode, available to members of the Modern Manager community on Patreon contains tips for how to introduce One-on-Ones, plus a Manager's Guide and Team Member's Guide with reflection questions and other tips to support productive conversations.
This article was based on episode 45 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.