How to run a one-on-one meeting like a pro
Managing a team is about driving people to succeed as a unit. And one of the…
Being a manager is a delicate balancing act. Balancing when to push and when to yield, how to ask and how to offer, what to accept and what to decline. One of the greatest tools to help you find this balance is having frequent one-on-ones with your employees. There are many benefits of one-on-one meetings, and keeping this ongoing communication with your team members helps you lead them effectively and with confidence.
One-on-one meetings offer profound insight and perspective that help you make better decisions. Beyond building stronger relationships, engaging employees, and connecting you with their challenges and needs, one-on-ones help you manage projects effectively, anticipate problems, and prioritize the most important things day-to-day.
5 Benefits of one-on-one meetings
As a manager, you’re guiding your team to a destination. Knowing where you want to go is a good starting point, but you need additional details to properly guide your team to get there.
Imagine a map that also points out mountain elevations, river depths, and dangerous or uncleared paths. One-on-one meetings help you see beyond the map. They reveal the unstated or invisible on-the-ground realities that affect your team’s effectiveness. They fill in knowledge gaps to help you understand the territory.
One-on-ones can offer insight into your employees’ skill sets, focus and energy level, feelings on a project, and interpersonal dynamics that may impact productivity. One-one-ones uncover these hidden realities so you can efficiently guide your team.
Surprises and conflict can throw your team off balance. Sometimes, small, seemingly insignificant issues can compound with time. Slowly but surely, tensions bubble into conflict. And this can result in a large, irreversible, and costly surprise.
As a manager, you stand at a unique vantage point. Your elevated perspective allows you to see how a small or seemingly disconnected event can derail your team in the future. Your one-on-one meetings can help you spot early detection signs that things are off, giving you the intel you need to be a more proactive manager. They can surface potential dangers ahead, help you manage risk, and spot issues before they become problems.
For example: the two employees you placed on a project have been doing the same thing differently, and with one week left, you now realize you need “all hands on deck” to correct and complete the project. Your one-on-one could have alerted you to the problem earlier and prevented a crisis.
One-on-ones also help you manage up to your own manager. Understanding when your team is distracted, exhausted, or energized helps you manage your boss’s expectations and set clear boundaries. It also helps you make decisions on projects coming your way, and balance your team’s workload. And ultimately, it will help you explain and justify those calls when you’re in a one-on-one with your manager.
Your one-on-ones with employees can signal when you should request additional resources from your manager. Things like when to make a new hire, ask for an increased budget, plan learning and development programs, or access productivity tools to assist your team. This is how you find that sweet spot between your team and your boss.
Giving frequent, heartfelt employee recognition is key to keeping your people engaged, happy, and doing their best work. One-on-ones are the perfect moment to let someone know they did a good job and you appreciate their hard work. And this doesn’t just apply to their tasks and responsibilities at work…
Here’s a quick story.
In 2019, I asked my manager for a day off work. Curious and concerned, she asked if everything was ok. I shared that I had been studying for a sommelier exam and the day requested was the exam date.
When I returned the next day, after passing the exam, my team prepared a celebratory lunch with a wine theme and gifts. They became so interested in my sommelier experience, I offered to have a sparkling water tasting.
Your one-on-one can inform you of employees’ personal interests and opportunities to celebrate achievements outside of work. This shows that you care about them as people, and not just workers. And it can even become a chance to bring the team together and build meaningful connections with each other.
Finally, as a manager, you have been granted a unique opportunity. A chance to align your own ambition to be great at your job with serving and supporting your employees in theirs.
Your one-on-ones help you understand your employees’ personal and professional aspirations. As their manager, you can support their professional development by applying a coaching method like the GROW model. Or, you can focus on connecting them to the right people or offering stretch assignments. You can gently and gracefully guide them closer to their desired destination through goal setting, coaching, and mentorship.
Your support and guidance can leave a profound and lasting impact. You are more influential than you think.
If you are excited about running one-on-ones and would like to get the most value from them, here are three simple suggestions:
Send each employee a recurring calendar invite for every two weeks, and have a go-to one-on-one meeting agenda ready for when you don’t have time to prepare.
A bit of preparation can add more value to your one-on-one. You can prepare by having a few one-on-one meeting questions ready, and ask your team members to do the same.
When scheduling your one-on-ones, set a reminder for yourself to follow up within two days.
Your follow up can be as simple as, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly with me. Excited to learn more at our next one-on-one.” And, include the main points discussed to help both sides prepare for the next one-on-one.
Your employees will appreciate your time, effort, and careful attention.
The more you have one-on-one meetings with employees, the more you’ll uncover the benefits they bring you as a manager. Just as every team is unique, every relationship you have with each team member has its own dynamic, too. Getting to know every person on your team will help you form these bonds, and better support them over time.
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