Get more value from holding 1-on-1 meetings with your team members
I clearly remember the day as a Corporate Affairs Manager when I did nothing else but attend 5 successive meetings. I felt overwhelmed. It was surreal – but I had no choice except to attend. Nevertheless, appropriate meetings are important, and face-to-face is the best form of contact.
1-on-1 meetings between you as a boss and your direct reports are essential to hold regularly and run well for better workplace performance. A regular 1:1 meeting gives you the opportunity to connect with all your people, especially those who don’t speak up in team meetings.
Finding the time for 1-on-1 meetings (creating better communication) is hard to find in our professional communication profession, which is ironic. We are always trying to meet tight work deadlines, and non-essential meetings can get in the way. (Shorter and fewer meetings are another subject.) But making the effort is worthwhile. If you are not a boss, you can push for 1:1 meetings to be included for individual team members (especially yourself).
Why are 1-on-1 meetings so important?
Your employees are the engine that powers your organization’s performance, and research shows communication is the common factor influencing each worker’s contribution. However, many operational managers see communication with their team and individual team members as being an optional extra – to be attended to when all their other responsibilities are completed. When bosses do make the effort to communicate effectively with their teams, the level of engagement rises. Workgroups with high levels of employee engagement experience 22% higher profitability and 21% higher productivity compared with workgroups with low levels of engagement. (Engaged employees are defined as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”)
However, regular Gallup research since 2000 has consistently found only one-third of employees are engaged at work. An alarming figure! The most preferred communication experience at work, which lifts engagement levels the most, is live and face-to-face, especially the relationship between workers and their immediate supervisor. Face-t0-face is the most important communication – everything else is just a substitute.
Regularly scheduled meetings with a manager are critical to an employee’s engagement. On average, only 15% of employees who work for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged; managers who regularly meet with their employees almost tripled that level of engagement.”
As your team’s boss, you are responsible to make sure they are satisfied and making the best contribution to your organization. Therefore, regular 1-on-1 meetings between you and your direct reports are critical to employee engagement. The value of these meetings is clear:
- As a manager or team leader, giving your time to an individual shows you care about their development personally and professionally.
- The feedback is vital – it is the only opportunity to have an open, private conversation about what’s important professionally and personally to you both.
- You are able to evaluate their contribution to your team.
- You are more likely to get better team performance by attending this way to the individuals in the team.
- Each meeting is an opportunity to point to the organization’s goals, your performance expectations and to develop a trusting relationship with your staff by getting to know them better.
- Regular 1-on-1 meetings make formal performance reviews so much easier for both parties.
How often should you meet?
A suggestion is to hold these as regular meetings early in the work day, before interruptions start to interfere. Establish a consistent schedule for your 1:1 meetings, eg the first Tuesday of each month. How often you hold these meetings depends on many factors. Use your judgment to decide the best routine for holding the meetings (eg weekly, fortnightly or monthly). Jointly decide the most suitable location – your office or theirs, or perhaps over a coffee in a cafeteria or café within walking distance. Different arrangements work for different employees and can always be changed to suit. However, don’t go for after-work drinks. This would suggest a less serious discussion, and could be interpreted in less positive ways.
Obviously you need to pay more attention to new recruits, people in new positions, and problem workers than longstanding employees and highly productive workers. Generally try to meet individually with each of your employees at least once a month, and more often if they fall into any problem categories. If you have too many direct reports to fit in all these meetings often, meet with your more vulnerable employees more often monthly and with experienced employees less frequently.
There is not an ideal duration for each meeting. These can be as short as a 15-minute check-in or as long as an hour. If you have set a duration, you can finish earlier. And if you frequently go over time, extend the set length of these meetings. Leave a 15-minute buffer time when the end of every meeting is due to finish in case your team member needs more time to discuss their issues.
Ensure you document the key points from these conversations, detailing the forward priorities, and refer back to these in future meetings so you stay structured.
Experts advise spending at least 70% of the time listening to your staff member. Practice the coaching technique of asking questions instead of telling them what you think. A great tip for becoming a better listener in every situation is to take a breath before you speak. Just a simple, ordinary breath. Sounds easy, but it’s tough to change the habit of a lifetime if you have always jumped in and interrupted before the other person finishes a sentence. Particularly tough for members of the communication profession, who are, almost by definition, good at talking! Practice with your partner, and then with your direct reports.
Feedback is essential. You should both regularly offer feedback on the effectiveness of these meetings. Conducting surveys protecting the anonymity of the participants will help keep the purpose of these meetings on track.
What to talk about
When arranging these meetings for the first time, set the expectations of your team members beforehand. Explain you are holding the meetings with the aim of enabling both parties to communicate better, of dealing with individual commitments, and initiating professional development and career opportunities. Announce it at a meeting of all team members or email your whole team to say you will be doing this with all people who work directly for you. Lock these meetings into your calendar and stick to the schedule if you can. Otherwise team members will read all sorts of untoward reasons into postponed meetings, etc. If you are obliged to cancel a meeting, at least try to squeeze in a quick 15-minute catch up, which lets the other person understand you are treating them as important.
Here’s a range of questions you can include in these meetings (not all in the same meeting!) to check the outlook of your team member:
- What have you done exceptionally well since our last meeting? (Make this your first question after discussion about next actions.)
- What, if anything, would you have done differently in this work (recent projects or activities)?
- What work worries do you have at the moment?
- What rumors are you hearing that you think I should know about?
- What are your biggest time wasting activities at work?
- Would you like more or less direction from me?
- Would you like more or less feedback from me? What type of feedback?
- Are there any work decisions you are concerned about?
Use the opportunity for coaching
Why spend time on coaching?
McKinsey’s 2018 global survey on performance management found that 62% of respondents said their organization’s performance was better than that of competitors when managers effectively coach and develop their employees. (However, less than 30% of respondents reported that their managers did this.) When respondents didn’t consider managers to be effective coaches, only 30% reported better organizational performance compared with competitors.
On specific coaching methods…68% of respondents agree that ongoing coaching and feedback conversations have a positive impact on individual performance.”
Set up an agenda for each meeting
Don’t treat these meetings too casually! Set an agenda each time. Topics in a 1:1 should be mostly about professional growth, personal connection and for opportunity to give each other feedback. Do not use the meeting just to re-hash things from work-in-progress meetings unless specific matters need follow up or if you want feedback about certain issues. Again: use it as more of a coaching session if you can. Typical items to cover briefly:
- Review the next actions shown in the summary from your last meeting.
- Short-term individual work priorities – for discussion.
- Barriers – what challenges or obstacles does the employee have, and how can you help? Are they able to cope with the stresses of work?
- Future projects to start planning.
- Career development and growth. How you can support your team member by providing activities that suit their abilities, interests and aspirations. Do they need further experience or qualifications? What could support their career growth and development? What skills do they have that aren’t being used enough?
- Temperature check – assess the engagement level of the employee – and ask them how things are going overall for them.
- Organizational updates – pass on relevant news for the individual, HR information, etc.
- Informal update-up about vacations, interests outside work, family, etc.
The day before the meeting, email the employee a list of what you’d like to cover. Try to segment into strategic, tactical and personal items and always ask your employee what they want to cover, too. For efficiency, let them know if you need them to bring, read, or do something before the meeting. For example:
Jane, I’d like to cover the following in our meeting tomorrow:
- Review the next actions shown in the summary from our previous meeting.
- Check on our planned publicity activities for next month.
- Walk through the main points of our budget presentation to the business unit executive team. Please email me the latest version today if you can.
- Any workplace challenges to discuss.
- Organizational update on new operational procedure.
- Your professional development plans.
- Hear about your vacation! Your pics looked awesome.
- Let me know what else you’d like to cover.
See you tomorrow!
The 1:1 meeting
With an agenda in place and material received, you can go ahead with a useful session. Try to be relaxed and approachable as you can. Use a coaching approach as much as you can, as discussed in my article “Start coaching your communication team for better results.” Otherwise, team members will not give as much of themselves at the meetings.
Tips on conducting a 1:1 meeting
- Ask if there is anything else to add to the agenda. This encourages the other person to come forward with any other relevant things on their mind that they may have been holding back.
- Start the meeting with some positive remarks. The tactic of bookending tough feedback between positive topics becomes obvious after a few meetings, so try to deal with difficult issues as they arise.
- Don’t monopolize the conversation. Listen actively, as discussed above. Ask open-ended questions that show you value the person’s response. Pause often and make sure there is opportunity for the other person to feel you value their comments.
- Ask yourself, “Have I told this person what I liked about her past work so she can apply that feedback on this project?”
- Include this leading question: “What should I be worried about that I’m missing?”
- At the end of the meeting, agree on the timing of the next meeting and enter it into your calendar for both of you.
After the meeting
Always promptly follow up every meeting with a brief emailed note on what was discussed, decisions made, future action and, if relevant, any of your constructive feedback that will be measured. Obviously you would not include personal matters raised by the other person that would embarrass them to see in writing. The meeting summary is valuable as documentation if any problems emerge. If you don’t send a follow-up summary to your employee every time, they may wonder why they are not receiving a summary and others are. Consistency in leadership is critical! Sample email:
Jane, thanks for meeting today! Notes below on what we discussed.
- Looks like we have enough resources for the two events next quarter. Will discuss at our next team meeting.
- Publicity schedule looks fine.
- Will leave it in your hands to update the budget changes for the presentation.
- Let me know if you want to clarify anything further on the new operational procedure.
- Glad you are able to attend the conference on issue management next month.
- Thanks for letting me know about Jim’s emerging workload issue. Please keep me posted on this.
- Loved your vacation pics!
As agreed, our next meeting will be on [time and date].
Remote team members
1:1s with remote employees can be difficult. Try using video whenever possible and, if you can, meet with them face-to-face once or twice a year to maintain the personal connection. All other suggestions above apply to the remote employee as well as those in your office.
It’s worth investing this time and effort in your team
One-on-one meetings can make a big difference in how you use your time. Such time may be intrusive, but it will pay off with improvements in each individual’s engagement and your communication team’s overall results.