Get the Most from Your One-on-One Meetings

Communication constantly swirls around us in a barrage of text, slack, chat, social and email.  While these can be quite useful and quick, none will substitute for the powerful impact of a one-on-one meeting a leader or manager has with team member.  Yet too many of these meetings fail to make an impact and may come across as just another appointment on the calendar.  Each one-on-one meeting presents a stellar opportunity for alignment and impact.  

The most impactful one-on-one meetings embrace a dual purpose around the person AND the work.  They provide opportunities to solve problems, engage in strategic discussions and check in on key projects.  From a person-centered perspective, they also show team members that you care about them and are supportive of their career and development goals.  

Here are some tips for making these meetings most impactful for you, the employee and the organization:

1. Schedule regular meetings and respect this time.   

Determine a frequency that works best based on the size of your team, the roles and how often it makes sense for individual meetings.   Knowing there is regular time on the calendar may prevent some daily interruptions.  Show up on time and stay the full time.  If you must cancel, provide advance notice and reschedule in the very near term.  

2. Determine priority topics.   

While a formal agenda might not be necessary, you may get in the habit of sharing topics to discuss in advance important to either of you.  Some may be recurring themes while allowing time for other pressing topics.  At the start of your meeting, you can compare topics and perhaps even agree on time for each.  “Let’s go through these two items in the first 10 minutes so we can spend the rest of the time doing a deeper dive on the third topic.” 

3. Be present and create positive energy.  

Focus fully during the meeting to make the most of the time together and demonstrate you value the individual and their time.  Turn off the phone and alerts coming from your email, calendar and data-generating watch.  Start on a positive note with a compliment or acknowledgement of a recent win or effort.  Beginning with positive energy helps to open the dialogue and put the person at ease.

4. Solve problems and surface solutions.  

One-on-one meetings can be useful to dig deeper into challenges and collaborate on potential solutions.  You may ask the employee in advance to come up with ideas on a challenge the department faces or to describe the challenges they are facing and come up with ideas for solutions.  You’ll discover how the employee solves problems and will learn more about what’s happening a level or two deeper in the organization.  You can use this discussion to offer input and feedback and to identify road blocks that you can remove at your level.   

5. Dig deeper on strategic questions.  

Too many meetings cover issues at a surface, fire-fighting level. When grappling with more strategic issues, you may want to pose a question or topic in advance to allow the person time to gather thoughts.  These could be questions about a product or service, opportunities the company may be missing, a key customer or planning for the leadership offsite.  

6. Be a person talking with a person.  

Engaging as one person to another brings humanity to the discussion.  Everyone has personal challenges and celebrations.  Taking time to share something about you and asking about their life can encourage them to be open if they are facing a stressful situation.  People want to feel a sense of psychological safety and be vulnerable from time to time.  When you as the leader express vulnerability, you provide unspoken permission for your employees to do the same.

7. Engage on career goals and professional development.  

While coaching, feedback and learning often happen in moments of interaction, it’s important to also devote some focused time on development conversations.  This may be every meeting, or every other or in certain sessions.  Provide the individual with a heads up if the topic will be about development.  These personal conversations often require a bit of reflection by the individual to feel prepared.  During the meeting, ask focused, open-ended questions to encourage the employee to express their goals, experiences and challenges.  Ask what you can do to assist.  Offer up ideas after the individual has had a chance to speak to avoid shutting down the dialogue.  Express your confidence in their ability to continue to learn and grow.

8. Align, summarize, and clarify.  

It’s helpful to summarize any agreements you’ve made to ensure you are on the same page.  Include any action items each of you agreed to and clarify the timeframe and follow up.  Referring to commitments from the last meeting encourages accountability for the employee and for your own actions.

9. Acknowledge and appreciate.  

Leave a few minutes at the end of the meeting to express appreciation and acknowledge ideas and efforts.  Avoid generic or inauthentic phrases.  If there’s something specific to recognize, say it.  “I appreciate what you’ve done to ….”   In any case, simply pausing for a few seconds and saying “Thank you” shows you value the person and the interaction you’ve just had.  

Recognizing that the greatest threats to an organization’s success often come from a lack of alignment, the one-on-one meeting provides a venue to get aligned around the work and set up an environment for the individual to thriveLeadership requires balancing numerous paradoxes.  Aligning the human and results-driven factors may be among the most critical and the most rewarding.

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