March 15th, 2021
Performing regular one-on-ones with your team is one of the most important activities you can do as a manager. While one-on-ones are very common in today’s workplace, a lot of managers aren’t performing them effectively. Most of what separates an OK one-on-one from a great one is preparation and follow-through.
If you’re ready to bring some structure to your one-on-ones and make them more effective, follow our guide below for step-by-step instructions. Ready? Here we go…
Step 1: Determine the optimal configuration for your team
The first step to having better one-on-ones is getting them scheduled. And before you schedule them, you need to determine the duration and cadence. Configure the frequency and length of your one-on-ones to match the needs and availability of your team. Depending on your number of direct reports and their individual maturity in their roles, you may choose to meet anywhere from an hour per week all the way to a half-hour every other week. All things being equal, we recommend you shoot for at least 30 minutes a week if possible.
Take into consideration that employees with less time in their role or at your company will need more frequent and longer discussions, while solid employees that have found their groove may need less. You may want to adjust based on current workload or projects as well.
Account for the schedules of your team. If they’re already struggling for time, try bi-weekly in-person one-on-ones with check-ins handled through other means, like informal chats, emails, or a tool like Status Hero.
Step 2: Set the stage
If it’s your first one-on-one with someone, make sure you introduce and explain the concept (yes - for some people this will be their first time having one). Clarify the purpose and goal of the meeting. Make sure they know that it’s their time to discuss challenges, career goals, or talk through ideas. It is not intended to be a status meeting. There are much better ways to handle those. Stress that it is about their growth and keeping an eye on the future.
Discuss that going forward you expect the employee to come with their own agenda topics and that they “own” the meeting too. Create a shared meeting agenda in a Google doc or meeting invite so you can both add topics throughout the week. This is also a great tool for keeping a shared list of notes, action items, and feedback.
In the meeting, make sure you start with their list of items. You want to be sure to cover their agenda before you dive into yours. This is key to building trust. It can be hard to stay true to this rule and occasionally you’ll need to check yourself.
Step 3: Ask Good Questions
If you’re checking in regularly with your team and using other means to collect status updates, then occasionally you will find yourself without a full agenda. This is not a bad thing - it’s a great opportunity to take the conversation up a level.
You can take a step back and have broader conversations about things like long-term career growth, overall happiness at the company, ways to improve your process, or even solicit feedback on yourself. Here are a few topic areas and some example questions that you can use to get at critical information, even if your employee isn’t very talkative.
- What areas of the company are you looking to learn more about?
- What skills are you interested in improving? Are there educational or training opportunities that you’d like to explore?
- What are you trying to achieve this year? What will make you look back and say “that was a great year”?
Challenges and Blockers
- What do you think is the biggest waste of your time here?
- If I could wave a magic wand and take care of one thing for you, what would it be?
- What do you see as the biggest risk with [current project]?
- What is the biggest problem or opportunity within our department?
- What do you see as the biggest threat to our company?
- What are we not doing that we should be? What should we stop doing?
- Do you feel confident in the direction our company is heading?
- Do you have any questions or thoughts about our overall strategy? What would you like to know more about?
- How do you feel about cooperation across departments?
- What is your weakness? How are you working to improve it?
- Let’s talk about a recent situation that in hindsight you would’ve handled differently. Why is that?
- What work do you find most engaging? Why is that?
- What conferences are you interested in attending?
- Am I giving you enough feedback? Would you like more?
- How can I make you more productive?
- What should I stop doing?
- What should I do more of?
- What am I missing? Where are my blind spots?
- How are things at home?
- How are your kids doing?
- How was [recent trip]?
- What’s up for the weekend?
- What do you like to do outside of work?
- How can we become a more cohesive team?
- How do you like working with [person]?
- What do you like most about your team?
- Who do you go to when you have a question?
- What could improve cross-team cooperation?
Step 4: More than just questions
Beyond asking questions, use your one-on-one to provide coaching, feedback, and information to your team.
Maybe they gave a presentation earlier in the week and you want to give them kudos on a job well done (and a little bit of advice to not read the words on their slides). Or perhaps you observed some interactions in a group meeting that could have been handled more effectively. Remember - frequent candid feedback is important for the development of your team members. They aren’t mind readers and if you aren’t positively reinforcing what they’re doing well and coaching around their weaknesses, their growth will be stunted.
In addition to feedback, it’s your job as a manager to be an information conduit for your team. You have the strongest connection to the rest of the organization, and your team relies on you to keep them informed about what’s happening. Things that seem obvious to you may be completely unknown to them or completely misunderstood. If you’re worried about over-communication, don’t be. Chances are, you’re not communicating enough.
Step 5: Take notes, create plans, and take action
This is the most important step. Throughout the course of your discussion, you should be taking notes and identifying potential action items. When there are 5-10 minutes left, you should wrap up by reviewing what was discussed and agreeing to actions. Some of the actions will be for your employee but many of them will be for you.
Discuss what actions you will take and give a timeline to manage expectations. Some things can be handled immediately while others may take time. The most important thing is that you uphold your end of the bargain. Nothing will erode the trust and rapport with your team faster than failing to take action. This cannot be stressed enough.
Step 6: Rinse and repeat
At the start of your next one-on-one, recap your notes, actions, and outcomes from the last meeting. This will help you identify any unresolved issues or oversights as well as reinforce the actions you’ve taken. If you forgot something, add it to your action items for this week.
Following the guide above, you will get into a nice rhythm with your team. Make sure to stay consistent and have regular one-on-ones with your team to surface issues, provide coaching and feedback, and ensure your employees are engaged in their work. It’s critical for both your and your team’s success.
This article’s image features astronauts Sally Ride and Kathryn Sullivan on mission STS-41G, the first flight to include two women. Learn more