How to Make the Best of One-On-One Meetings as a Leader
Updated: Mar 6
One-on-ones are one of the most powerful productivity tools for employees and their leaders. When executed correctly, these sessions help provide a significant boost to the performance of the whole team.
In my decade and a half years of experience in the IT industry, I have seen very few leaders understand the value of one-on-one meetings.
Every leader has a style of connecting with their employees. If your way is helping your team to grow and connect — then continue with the techniques working great for you.
However, if you are feeling a bit lost and do not understand why your team members seem indifferent towards you — then here are six tried and tested steps to assist you in becoming an inspiring leader with the help of your one-on-one meetings.
1. Stick to the Schedule
The first and foremost rule for effective one-on-ones is to conduct the meetings regularly and sincerely.
Way too many times, managers cancel the meetings or don’t even set up a recurring event for the discussions. Frequent cancellation sends a signal to the team members that you are not interested.
Once the team member feels that the meetings are just formality, they will not take it seriously.
Hence, work out a mutually convenient schedule for the one-on-ones and then stick to it. The sessions do not have to be weekly or monthly. Define the frequency based on what works out best for your employee and you.
Inform the employee beforehand in case you cannot make it to the scheduled meeting. Provide appropriate reasons for why you cannot make it.
Instead of just canceling the event, reschedule it for another time. Also, let the employee know that they can reach out to you anytime if they have an urgent issue that needs your attention.
2. Prepare for the Meeting
I have seen managers starting the discussions with generic statements like ‘So, what do you want to talk about today?’.
This opening line does not instill confidence in the employee. It shows that you have come to the meeting unprepared and expecting the employee to lead the discussions.
It is better to start with specific questions about the employee’s well-being and how their family is doing. Ask them whether they need any help to tide over the ongoing pandemic.
Showing concerns about their overall wellbeing will help the employee feel comfortable and supported.
Always prepare before the meeting to know how you want to guide the discussions. Every employee is a unique human being. So, have a handy checklist item specific to the employee’s aspirations or concerns. Ask them how you can help them in those areas.
Do a little research online, and you will find many checklist items and questions to help with your one-on-ones. Don’t just lift and shift them to your discussions. Put some effort and customize the questions to each of your employees.
Personalized topics and guided discussions make the employee feel that you are focused on them and not just shooting generic management BS.
Looking at the customized and specific questionnaires, your employee will thank you for your sincerity in making the connection with them.
3. Listen; Speak When Required
One-on-one meetings are for employees to open up to their leaders about their concerns and aspirations. Make the employee comfortable enough to speak up.
Many managers assume that if the employee is quiet, everything is alright with them — they don’t have any concerns or queries to discuss. But it is the opposite.
Employees go silent when they feel their interests are not understood or well-received.
Therefore, it is crucial to encourage employees to speak up.
You can easily find out if employees really have no issue or don’t trust you to solve their challenges.
Ask inquisitive questions to the employees. Are they continuously providing monosyllabic answers? It is a good indication that they probably do not trust your capability as a leader.
Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say — Andy Stanley
Listen intently and pay attention to what the employee has to say.
This is even more important in these days of remote working. It is pretty easy for you to get distracted by a blinking chat window or an email popping up on the corner of your laptop screen.
Better to have the communication apps put on silent mode or closed altogether to focus on the ongoing discussion.
It is equally essential for you to speak when it is required. Acknowledge the concerns that the employee is sharing with you. Don’t just keep quiet and nod your head. That will make the employee feel like you are not interested in the discussion.
Respond to the employee’s questions with confidence. If you need some time to collect facts before getting back to them, let the employee know about it. They will be more than happy to wait for an honest response.
4. Focus on Employee
Dedicate the one-on-one meetings to focus on the employee and their career planning. Don’t use this time for project updates and discussion on severity defects.
Many years ago, I had set up a skip level 1:1 meeting with a manager who recently moved into our org. The said manager was only interested in knowing about a couple of projects. I did not get any time to discuss my concerns or career goals.
After a few months, I set up another 1:1 expecting it to be better than my previous experience — unfortunately, it went in similar lines as before.
After the second meeting, I stopped setting up any more 1:1s with him. During skip-level meetings, I did not see value in explaining projects and not focusing on my growth areas.
Hence, it is imperative to keep the focus of 1:1 meetings to be on the employee. Ask pertinent questions about their aspirations. Enquire how you can help in their professional growth.
Try to learn if the employee is facing any challenge in the team or outside. See if they need any help navigating the team dynamics. Enquire about improving any process that they feel is not working well for the team's overall growth.
Show empathy to the cause and concern of each employee.
Make the discussion all about the employee. This will help you gather valuable information about what is going on in the team and help them perform better.
5. Take Notes
The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory — Chinese Proverb
Taking notes is essential for the success of not just one-on-one meetings but any meeting you attend.
Among so many topics discussed in the 1:1, you cannot remember everything necessary. Notes help you remember the important points and any action items you need to follow up on after the session.
Furthermore, the act of taking notes indicates to the employee that you are not going to forget about their concerns after the meeting is over. You are sincere about the outcome of the discussions.
It gives a sense of validity to the employee that their queries or concerns are important enough for you to note them down.
This will help in building trust between the employee and you.
6. Follow up After the Meeting
Following up on the action items of the previous meeting is as vital as taking notes. Just taking notes and not acting upon them makes the whole process unproductive.
Meetings without action items and follow-ups are a waste of time for both parties in the discussion. Employees can easily see through this sham and will deduce that you are not sincere about the sessions.
Not only the sessions, but it can also quickly erode the confidence they have in you as a leader.
Therefore, after every 1:1 session, please go through your meeting notes. Start working on the action items you promised the employee.
You may not be able to complete all your action items before your next 1:1 meeting but at least put your sincere effort into working on them. If you need further clarification on specific notes, proactively reach out to the employee to understand them better.
In your subsequent sessions, update the employee about the status of the action items from previous discussions. Help them understand the challenges if something is taking more time to resolve than expected.
You will be surprised how the simple act of following up builds trust among the employees and their leaders. Be honest and sincere towards the cause of your employees — that will propel you to be an exceptional leader.
Your team members will admire you for your accountable leadership.
Kudos to you for making this far in the article. This shows that you are eager to learn and grow as a leader in all possible ways.
As a manager, you must make the best of every potential mechanism available to connect with your employees. Keep these simple methods in your mind when you run your future one-on-one meetings.
These techniques will help you run your meetings efficiently and empower your team members.
By adhering to these simple steps, I can assure you that you will start seeing the difference in the team's productivity. Your team members will begin to bond with you better.
Communicating and conveying your thought process will become more convenient.
Having open communication will lead to the overall growth of individuals and the entire team.
In turn, this will help you grow as an effective leader.
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