I used to take 1 on 1 meetings for granted. I knew I was supposed to do them, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated why. They were the first meetings to get bumped when I got busy. I rarely had a set agenda or plan. I didn’t have a clear purpose in mind when conducting them, and the outcomes I saw reflected that.
I think I approached 1 on 1 meetings this way because that’s how they’d always been approached by the people who managed me. And then, one year, I had a manager who took them seriously. He did them the right way. I got so much value out of them, it completely changed the way I approached 1 on 1’s from there on out.
This week we’re going to talk about the importance of 1 on 1 meetings. And I’m going to share my perspective on who you should do them with, how often they should be done, what you should cover, and where you should hold them. Don’t make the mistake I did by not taking these meetings seriously. Take a minute, read this blog, and make a point of getting more serious about your 1 on 1 meetings this year.1 on 1’s are the most valuable meetings I do all week. They keep me connected to what’s actually happening on my team. They ensure issues never fester for too long. If there are problems or if staff members are struggling, I hear about it and can take action quickly. My team members have a consistent opportunity to share with me, complain to me, learn from me … whatever they need.
Before I took 1 on 1’s seriously, the problems on my team seemed more urgent, more dire. I was frequently surprised by things. A team member would quit seemingly out of the blue. A project would be late, seemingly out of nowhere. While I didn’t realize it at the time, all these “surprises” were avoidable. I was being surprised because I wasn’t connected enough to my team. Regular, purposeful 1 on 1’s helped solve this for me.
These days, I rarely miss a 1 on 1. I might move them around, shift the time slots a bit, change venues from time to time, but I don’t miss them much. They’re too important to me and to my team. Here are some tips to help you maximize the value of 1 on 1’s you do with your team.
Who and When
Once a quarter I try to do a 1 on 1 with every single member of my extended team. For me, that’s about 40 people or so. These are some of the most important meetings I have all year because I get to spend time with people I don’t see often enough. Inevitably, I learn something in every one of these meetings. I believe my team members value them as well, especially those who are three or four levels down, as it provides an opportunity for us to connect on a deeper level.
Once a week, I do a 1 on 1 with all my direct reports. For me, that is 5 leaders. These are the most important operational meetings I have all week. My team members value them because they have an uninterrupted opportunity to clear obstacles, get alignment on tough issues, talk about their careers, and vent a little bit. I value these meetings because I get strong feel for how my team members are feeling and how our key projects are progressing.
What and Where
Many 1 on 1’s are primarily about updating status. Mine are not. My 1 on 1’s are, first and foremost, an opportunity for my team member to accomplish whatever they feel needs to be accomplished. A lot of the time, that means getting my help in clearing obstacles in a project. Frequently, it means, getting advice on a challenge with a co-worker or another team in the company. Some times it means getting sign off on a major deliverable. It really depends on what my team member needs most in that moment. The most important thing is that the 1 on 1 is their time, not mine.
You might say, well what about status updates? If not in the 1 on 1, then when do you get them? I prefer to get status updates over email at the end of the week and in casual conversation throughout the course of the day. I prefer not to use the precious little 1 on 1 time we have for updating status.
Once a month, I like to focus the 1 on 1 meeting on career development. If you don’t do this purposefully, it will tend to get pushed off. Its very important, in my opinion, to have an ongoing dialogue with your team members about their career goals. I prefer to build this into the 1 on 1 cadence on a monthly basis vs. doing it once or twice a year at performance review time. This way my team members have constant feedback on how they’re doing and we never get too far out of sync. The worst thing a manager can do is create a situation where a disconnect exists between how the employee thinks they’re performing and how you think they are performing. Doing monthly career 1 on 1’s eliminates this possibility.
Most 1 on 1’s I do are in my office. I know that’s not sexy. But it works. The most important thing is that there is privacy and no distractions. Its important to give your team member your undivided attention in a 1 – 1. This is an area I have to actively work on. Like many of us, I get distracted by emails and texts and phone calls and I need to improve on being fully present during my 1 on 1’s (and all other meetings).
I have, on occasion, taken 1 on 1’s outside. Walking meetings. Just to change it up. I might do this if I really want to keep my team member relaxed, or if we are brainstorming a new idea or concept and we want to maximize our creative energy. I don’t love doing 1 on 1’s over the phone if I can help it. It just doesn't feel personal enough. When I have no choice, I’ll use a web cam to keep us somewhat connected.
I used to underestimate the importance of 1 on 1’s. I used to skip them, move them and cancel them with great regularity. This was a mistake. Since I changed my attitude, 1 on 1’s have become the most important meetings I do. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these meetings and any suggestions you have from your experience managing teams.