Why they are so important
One-to-one meetings for leaders with direct reports can often be rushed, disorganised and often just cancelled as more seemingly urgent things crop up. However, employees will feel more engaged and more valued if you put in the time and effort to participate in effective one-to-one meetings.
So what makes for an effective one-to-one meeting?
These meetings should mainly be about support and about how you or the company can better support the employee with their performance and wellbeing. They should be more future-oriented than dwelling on what has past. They should be a chance to get to know the other person and build good rapport and a better connection. Leadership influence comes from good relationships . . . good relationships take time, effort and energy - but are worth it for you both and will reap huge benefits if done well and done with integrity.
Key practical and logistical things to consider:
Frequency: once per month usually works well and block the time in schedules
Duration: 1 hour should be enough.
Scheduling: Best not to schedule several back-to-back meetings as you won’t be able to give the later ones your full attention.
On time: Try to start the meeting on time to show that your employee and their time are important. Being late could set the meeting off on the back foot to start with; particularly if punctuality is a strong value for your employee.
Rhythm: work out the frequency and duration that works for you both. It doesn't have to be set in stone from the very start.
Venue: somewhere you can talk without interruption and so you are not sitting behind your desk.
Attention: This is their meeting and they need your full attention. Do what is necessary to ensure you can give this to them.
Cancellation: Do not cancel the meeting, particularly at short notice, unless no other option, as this will go against exactly what you are trying to achieve.
Communication: Communicate collectively to your team members who will be involved that you will be starting to have the one-to-one meetings so they all get a consistent message.
Key aspects of the meeting to consider:
Agenda: Set a structured agenda that is consistent across all your one-to-ones.
Flexibility: Even though you have an agenda ensure you leave enough time for other topics to be discussed that may be relevant from time to time depending on how your team member is doing. You need structure but not too much.
Preparation: Prepare for the meeting with additional discussion points from what is already on the agenda, particularly if there is something specific you want to discuss.
Be fully present: These meetings are a great opportunity to build a good connection so don't waste it by being disrespectful as you will make them feel they are not valued. They will sense it if you are just pretending. Devote your full attention to your employee.
Start positively: Starting on a positive note can set the right tone for the rest of the meeting.
Problem solving: These meeting are a good chance to problem-solve together. If there is specific challenges you could ask the employee to consider these before the meeting and come with suggested solutions that you can both discuss.
Career development: Ask open questions related to their career ambitions and professional development and their desire for self-improvement. You don't have to discuss this at every meeting but it is worth having on the agenda to discuss frequently enough or when is relevant. If you do plan on discussing this in a specific meeting you should give advance notice to the employee, as they will need time for reflection and thought.
Personal life: Give opportunity for the employee to discuss anything from their personal life. Even if it is just some general stuff that they are interested in are that they have been doing or about their friends or family. This will show them that you care about them as a person and not just an employee. And again . . . be genuine as they will sense it if not!
Coaching: Approach the meeting from a coaching perspective. Coaching involves asking the right questions at the right time - then actively listening to what the other person is really saying.
Past: Ask open questions about what has been happening since the last meeting
Present: Ask how they are currently feeling about things.
Future: More emphasis should be given on the future and how you or the organisation can better support the employee’s performance, enjoyment and fulfilment at work.
Performance: Discuss strategic objectives, targets and challenges etc. and any actions set at previous meetings for either of you.
Actions: Discuss and record any actions set at the meeting and make sure you send them out to the employee with target dates etc. It is worth clarifying to ensure any actions set are very clear to you both, in terms of what, who and when.
Listen: Pretty much the most important of all. Listen to understand - not just to work out how to respond. Ask clarifying questions to help understand and to show you care. Give plenty opportunity just to listen to the other person. This will also help you to get to know them, understand them and be better positioned to support them and their challenges.
Express gratitude: Make sure you thank them for their time and input and close the meeting as you started it, with positivity.
Style: Be yourself and you will set the tone for the meeting with your own style. You will feel much more comfortable doing this in the meeting and in turn make your employee feel more at ease too.
Download a recommended 1 - 2 -1 template here and you could amend to suit your own style and preferences. You can also download the template from Tribero website and the 'Templates' folder in the 'file share' area in the members area.
Article by Trevor Norman
Trevor is a leadership coach and cognitive behavioural therapist and specialises in organisational behavioural analytics and team dynamics