The Art of the 1:1 Meeting


17 Jul
17Jul

I started this week with 23 items on my to-do list, and while I’ve worked diligently to hack away at those tasks, it seems that the number of items that require my attention continues to grow. The last thing I want to do is add one more thing to my list, especially when that one thing is a meeting.  You too? 

Leaders in every arena of business are incredibly busy, and many of us are verging on overwhelm.  That’s why so many managers choose to forgo one-on-one (1:1) meetings with their direct reports in order to save time. But when executed well, 1:1s have the power to boost morale, engagement, and overall productivity significantly.

A 1:1 is a confidential space for your employee to ask important questions, receive feedback, and be coached on their strengths and weaknesses. It's the perfect opportunity for an in-depth conversation about priorities, team issues, or potential roadblocks that aren’t appropriate topics during larger meetings. Ultimately, 1:1 meetings help you stay connected with each person reporting to you. 

They are vital to a healthy organization.  Kim Scott, a former leader at YouTube, Google, and Apple, tells us in the book Radical Candor that 1:1s are the most important thing a manager can do to build a culture of trust: 

“Holding regular 1:1s in which your direct report sets the agenda, and you ask questions is a good way to begin building trust. 1:1s are your must-do meetings, your single best opportunity to listen, really listen, to the people on your team to make sure you understand their perspective on what’s working and what’s not working.” 

1:1 meetings are as individual as the folks having them, but there are few best practices you should be aware of: 

Set an agenda. This is your employee’s meeting; let them set the tone.  I like to use a series of questions that are the same for each of my 1:1s. Questions like “What do you want to discuss in our next one-on-one meeting?” or “What challenges are you facing?” are great prompts to use to develop the agenda. We each have our homework to do before the meeting and a deadline to submit agenda items 24 hours before our meeting time. 

Make it personal.  A 1:1 meeting is meant to be a scheduled opportunity to connect. Build trust by starting with a simple check-in.  One of my favorite questions to start with is “How are you feeling today?” followed by “How is life outside of work?” Remember that 1:1s are about connection, trust, and relationship with your employee.  Allowing them to bring their whole selves to work and have a safe space to be seen as people with value outside their work product is at the core of the 1:1 meeting. 

Avoid status updates It’s tempting to use this dedicated time to get caught up on task lists, but save the status updates for your workflow management software, emails, or team meetings.  The 1:1 should be about the growth, development, and support of the employee.  Discussion of overall goals and objectives, especially ones for personal growth, is within bounds, but a daily status report should be off-limits for this meeting. 

Make it a priority Constantly pushing off 1:1 meetings sends a message that tasks are more important than your people. So email, other meetings, etc., can wait.  Studies show that managers who consistently conduct 1:1s are 56% more productive than those who don’t, so these meetings could save you time and energy in the long run. 

Listen, Listen, Listen Listening is an essential skill for managers to develop, even more so during 1:1s. Listening attentively and taking in feedback can help you be a better manager because your employees will feel that they have been heard and respected. In addition, showing recognition of another person’s opinion or perspective helps build trust with your team members, increasing their commitment to work toward achieving goals together as equals. 

Unlike larger team meetings, a 1:1 offers an opportunity for both parties to be open, vulnerable, and build connections with one another.  It is a collaborative, personal environment that invites an employee to share issues, roadblocks, and feedback that can make the organization a better place to work and an essential tool for today’s leader.