How to Have a Great One-on-One
Catch Problems Early and Build Trust
You have a problem that you want to talk about, but your boss always seems so busy. So you keep it quiet and hope it goes away. Yet, as a manager yourself, you're not sure how to approach a shy member of the team without causing him or her undue worry.
You might think of one-on-ones as a chore, as a waste of valuable time, or even as a downright awkward experience. But regular, effective meetings between managers and their team members are essential to both individual and team success.
One-on-ones can help you to clarify your team's objectives, coach your people, and identify areas where they can progress. Regular meetings can also help you to bridge the gap between you and your team. This allows relationships within your team to be strengthened, making for a more harmonious and motivated work environment.
This article explores these and more of the potential benefits of one-on-ones, as well as the dangers of avoiding them. It examines how these meetings can be genuinely useful, and takes you through five simple steps that will help you to make your next one-on-one count.
The Benefits of One-on-Ones
According to the Blake Mouton Model, the most effective leaders value tasks and people equally. They commit to their organization's goals and motivate their team members to do the same. At the same time, they do everything they can to look after their people's interests. This might include helping your team to deal with issues, making sure that they are happy at work, and taking the time to build relationships with them.
But you can only help your team members to reach their full potential and meet their objectives by getting to know them. The best way to do this is to hold regular, structured, one-on-one meetings with each of them. This allows you to keep them focused on their objectives, and helps them to understand their contribution to the "bigger picture."
These regular meetings give your team an opportunity to air issues with you, or to ask you questions. They can also help to foster a spirit of honesty and openness within your team. This trusting environment enables people to give and receive feedback effectively, and to uncover areas where further training or personal development is both needed and wanted.
A one-on-one is a great opportunity to apply Path–Goal Theory. This theory can help managers to adapt their leadership style to the specific wants and needs of their team, and their current situation (for example, team relationships, structured or unstructured tasks, repetitive or complex workloads). Using this tool can help you to assess how often you should have one-on-ones with your team members.
The Risks of Not Meeting
When you save your feedback on a team member's performance for infrequent, formal performance reviews, you'll likely be too late to be effective, which can demotivate him.
He will likely be more motivated if you provide regular feedback, even if it's negative. If you deliver such feedback sensitively, it can be a launch pad for improved performance.
Without regular one-on-ones, however, team members' work might be overlooked and development opportunities forgotten about. Other workplace problems, such as team disputes or mistakes, could also be ignored. This could result in a nasty surprise for you as the manager responsible for your team's performance, especially if it's something that has gotten out of your control.
If this happens, your relationship with your team could deteriorate, and any trust that you've already built up could collapse. People might even decide to leave because you didn't deal with the issues promptly and thoroughly.
Even when there's no ill feeling between you and your team, if you don't meet with people regularly, you'll likely find yourselves depending on passing conversations, snatched opportunities, or confusing and time-consuming email threads for updates. Everyone's productivity will likely suffer, and people may make mistakes because they're not getting the full picture.
Remember that feedback shouldn't just move in one direction. Team members may also have valuable things to say about the way the team is being managed, whether it's functioning as a unit, and what some possible solutions might be. Take the time to listen to your team members and what they have to say. After all, they are on the front line, and will likely discover problems and find workable solutions to them.
What Makes a Great One-on-One?
There are five key ingredients for making your one-on-one meeting a "recipe for success."
1. The Right Venue
The best place for a one-on-one meeting is "neutral ground." Summoning a new team member to your office might make her think that she has done something wrong, even if her colleagues know that you're only meeting for an informal catch-up. Being in the boss's office may also prevent her from discussing issues or worries openly.
Make the venue for your one-on-one comfortable for both of you. Why not even go out for a coffee, if time and circumstance allows?
Remember, though, that confidentiality is key to building trust with your team. If difficult feedback or personal problems need to be discussed, then you should do this somewhere private, where you won't be disturbed.
If you manage a remote team, it's unlikely you'll be able to have one-on-ones in person. Instead, you may have to check-in over the phone or hold a virtual meeting. However, make sure that – as with face-to-face meetings – you won't be overheard. And remember that one-on-ones are even more valuable to people who don't have regular contact with the rest of their team, so make sure that there's plenty of time to deal with any concerns and to catch up on developments.
2. The Right Timing
Commit to holding your one-on-ones regularly, and stick to it. Whether the meeting is weekly or fortnightly, make it a date in your diary – being mindful of differing time zones for virtual team members – that can be moved only in extreme circumstances. By showing that these meetings are important to you, your team will take them seriously and prepare for them properly, too.
3. The Right Scope
Ensure that you cover what you both need to in the meeting, and only that. Anything from 15 minutes to an hour will likely be effective, depending on your agenda.
The content of your meeting should fall into three main categories:
- The goals, planning and feedback that you want to cover.
- Any issues, suggestions and solutions that your team member wants to raise.
- A wider, informal discussion about progress, personal development, training needs, and how your team member feels about his role.
By covering these points, you can identify opportunities for coaching and other training to help your team member expand her skills and meet her objectives.
It's important to have a clear, agreed agenda beforehand, as an unfocused meeting can be an ineffective one. Keep your eye on the time, wrap up points, and make sure that the discussion moves on. However, it's also important to be flexible, and to give people time to air their issues properly. Make sure that you cover all of the points that your team member wants to address in enough detail, and that he knows what's expected of him.
4. The Right Tone
One-on-ones present you with a golden opportunity to find out what's really going on in your team, and how your team members are really feeling. They are also a safe space for your people to say what they think and how they feel.
Take the right tone by reducing the "power gap" between you and your team members. Do this by finding the right balance between being open and being professional. This balance will depend on the person and the circumstance – you might fall into an informal tone with ease with some members of your team, while others will prefer you to take a more formal approach.
It's also important that neither person dominates the meeting. Don't deliver a lecture or a string of complaints (in either direction). Equally, avoid sitting in silence. Both you and your team member need to have the time and space to voice any concerns honestly and appropriately, and you'll need to listen actively to be sure that you are really hearing one another.
Above all, these meetings are a chance to work collaboratively with one another to solve problems and achieve high performance, so keep the atmosphere warm and upbeat.
5. The Right Outcomes
It's easy to hear ideas when you're engaged in a conversation, and then forget them when you're plunged back into your everyday work. So be sure to agree clear conclusions about what needs to be achieved before your next meeting together, what his responsibilities will be after the current meeting has ended, and how his progress will be measured.
You and your team member should both leave the meeting with useful and relevant targets, and an updated To-Do List. Follow up immediately, with an email to her that summarizes the agreed action points, and that includes a timeline for achieving the agreed goals. Scheduling some check-ins before the next one-on-one might help to keep you both on track.
Good one-on-ones are the cornerstone of effective management and teamwork.
They help you to empathize with your team members and to maximize their performance. They are also an opportunity for you to identify coaching and training needs that focus on people's personal and organizational goals.
One-on-ones should take place in a safe and confidential space, in which you can share your concerns with one another and exchange feedback without judgment.
Having a clear structure, taking the right tone, and making sure that you follow meetings up effectively are all key to ensuring positive one-on-ones. By doing this, you can build up trust with your team, create a more positive group dynamic, and increase productivity.
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