Quality Time: Why Everyone Wins with One-on-Ones – and Managers More than Most

By 23. November 2021September 30th, 2022Leadership, Meetings

Consider this. When you’re crazy busy (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?), what’s the first thing you try to reschedule?

If it’s your regular one-on-one meetings with your team members, then you’re not alone – it’s an all-too-common occurrence. One-on-ones are often not valued as highly by managers as they should be. Consequently, they’re the first to go when managers are busy.

Guilty as charged? Then we’re here to stage an intervention. Because far from being expendable, one-on-ones are essential – so much so that we consider them to be the final critical component in our compilation of managers’ must-haves. Managers tend to forget that their direct reports are actually helping them to perform their roles effectively. So if their direct reports are given an opportunity to share their concerns and their ideas, that’s an enormously powerful tool.

Definitely one to keep in the kit, then. So how do you ensure one-on-ones do win out, no matter how overwhelming your workload? By making them as productive as possible, that’s how. Personally, I don’t know what I would do without my regular one-on-ones with team members. That’s exactly what we’re aiming for, people: indispensable rather than expendable. And as you might expect, we have a few suggestions to point you in the “indispensable” direction:

Schedule one-on-ones well in advance

As you know, we’re pretty big on planning ahead – and it’s particularly important when it comes to these. Ideally, one-on-ones should be booked a year in advance. That enables you to space them out so that you don’t end up with too many in one day. It also ensures that these are a regular monthly commitment. And we’d like to emphasize the “commitment” part: your mindset should be more “must-do” than “maybe”.

Structure each session appropriately

Strictly speaking, one-on-ones are not casual catch-ups to be held in a café. Keep proceedings comparatively formal. Book a meeting room or a similar quiet space. Establishing a formal environment encourages a meaningful exchange of views, gives both of you the space to reflect and, if necessary, enables you to have any potentially difficult conversations. Allow about an hour for each session. Remember that no one feels especially valued if they’re ushered out in a rush.

Be prepared

As with any meeting, everyone should do their homework. Ensure that when you book a one-on-one into your calendar, you’re also booking in suitable time to prepare – and encourage each team member to do the same. Team members should come to the meeting with their project plans and a clear understanding of where they’re at with respect to their KPIs. This is a useful exercise in itself, as it encourages them to stop and clarify exactly what they’re achieving. If they’re not meeting their KPIs, then that’s an opportunity for managers to engage with them and mentor them accordingly. And if both of you are ready to hit the ground running, you’ll have more time to do just that.

Think big – picture, that is

Don’t muck around with minutiae. These meetings should be a forum for focusing on goals, strategy, and other significant issues. Don’t get sidetracked with everyday details which could be addressed in a weekly team meeting. A one-on-one should cover whether your team member is on track as an individual to achieve and exceed what they need to. If every member of your team leaves their one-on-one clear and focused in this way, it obviously creates a high-performing unit. And that’s the aim, right?

Don’t forget to follow up

Keep your eye on the ball: just as pre-meeting prep is essential, so too are post-meeting follow-ups. Whatever agreements you’ve made must be written up after the meeting. You must also establish appropriate deadlines for any follow-up action so that you can review the outcomes in your next monthly one-on-one. In other words, simply ticking the box doesn’t cut it. Your meeting will only be meaningful if it delivers the desired results – so make sure it does.

Now, we couldn’t possibly conclude our post without a reference to our favourite soccer team analogy (as far as metaphors go, it really has been the gift that keeps on giving). By championing rather than sidelining these one-on-one meetings, you as a manager can be confident that every member of your team will show up on match day ready to play – with the right gear, in the right positions, and with the right attitude. One hour a month with each individual may appear time-consuming, but in actual fact it will save you so much time by reducing crises and unproductive, reactive work. Ultimately, one-on-ones are a simple but incredibly powerful way of improving team performance. And if your team’s succeeding, so are you.

Sounds like a winning formula to us.