How to run mutually beneficial one-on-one meetings

Why are one-on-one meetings so often avoided?

Managers know they’re supposed to have regular one-on-one’s, but many find these meetings to be awkward, unhelpful time-suckers, and will do anything to get out of them. At the same time, many employees don’t push to make them happen because they don’t want to “stir the pot” and often believe “no news is good news.”

Successful One-on-One Meeting

That’s why one-on-one meetings are rarely scheduled and often canceled until it’s performance review time. That’s when both sides have no choice but to have the open, honest conversation they’ve both been dreading.

The thing is, though, one-on-one meetings are more than just an opportunity to dish out negative feedback and unearth frustrations between performance reviews. They can be a valuable tool for both parties if they’re done right.

Align on the purpose of your one-on-one meetings

Why are one-on-one meetings important?

They build an excellent foundation for a trusting work relationship, making them the most important meetings with your direct reports.

It starts with aligning on the purpose. Deciding together with your team members what your one-on-one meeting will focus on is key and should include a combination of the following:

  • Sharing important updates
  • Exchanging ideas
  • Addressing any bottlenecks preventing work from moving forward
  • Providing both positive and constructive feedback
  • Discussing career development and growth opportunities

Regardless of how your one-on-one meetings are structured, you should also carve out some time to chat about things that will help build rapport, like talking about your hobbies or weekend plans.

Having informal chats allows your team members to feel more comfortable sharing. And, they actually end up being more receptive to constructive feedback.

But, that’s not all.

How to conduct a successful one-on-one meeting

Build a routine and stick to it

If after reading this, you suddenly feel the urge to block out time on your calendar for countless one-on-one meetings – that’s great, but first, make sure the commitment you’re making is realistic.

Do you already have a jam-packed schedule and a 20-person team? Maybe weekly 1-hour one-on-one meetings with each one of them is overshooting, and instead, you might want to aim for shorter, less frequent meetings. The last thing you want to do is over-promise, and under-deliver so give some thought to how you want to structure your week.

There’s no correct structure you need to adopt either. It really depends on everyone’s individual needs. Some team members may need to meet weekly for one hour while others are just fine with a 20-minute bi-weekly meeting.

The goal is to find a routine that works for your team; and that you can commit to as well. And, if for some reason you need to cancel, you should make sure to reschedule right away so you keep the momentum going.

Come prepared

Because one-on-one meetings tend to be more informal, managers and their direct reports will often show up to meetings hoping the other has something they want to talk about – awkward.

It’s no wonder managers come to the conclusion that these one-on-one’s are a waste of time. Aligning on the purpose of your one-on-one meetings should help you and your team members come together better prepared for what’s going to be discussed.

It doesn’t hurt to create a short agenda that you both add to that acts as a guide for your meeting to make it the most productive. 

The Importance of One-on-one Meetings

Be present and actively listen

It’s hard to convince your team members that you value them when your mind is elsewhere during a meeting.

While it may be an unconscious habit to check your phone or fidget with a pen, it’s important to show your team members that you’re actively listening to them.

The best way to demonstrate that you care is to remove anything from the space that may cause distractions, and respond to your teammate appropriately.

If you need to doodle during meetings to concentrate then make sure your team members understand why it’s necessary so they don’t take it the wrong way.

Regularly provide honest, constructive feedback

It is so much easier to share constructive feedback when you already have a solid relationship with each of your team members.

And if you’re meeting on a regular basis, you should be proviing feedback more frequently so that when performance review time rolls around, it’s a summary and not a surprise.

Something to keep in mind is taking care of the most important feedback first. If you have a lot of constructive feedback for a team member, it may be overwhelming and ineffective to share everything in one sitting. Doing this also offers less time to share ways they can improve.

Also, any constructive feedback should almost always be coupled with what your team members are doing well – it will go a really long way.

Ask what they need and what you can do better

Few people feel comfortable telling their manager what they need and the number significantly declines when it comes to telling their manager what they can do better.

But feedback is a two-way street. As a manager, you have ways you can improve too and your team members are some of the best people to hear it from.

If you take the opportunity to open the floor for feedback in a non-threatening way, you will learn a lot and become a better manager for it.

But, if you do it in a way that implies that you really don’t want to know what they think or want but feel you should because it “looks good” – they will sense it right away so make sure to do it when you’re really open to it.

Asking won’t always get you an honest response, but it will show your team members that you are interested in improving as well.

Now you’re ready to start planning out your one-on-one meetings with your team members – good luck!