My 4 essential guidelines for effective 1:1 employee meetings
One-on-one meetings between a manager and her direct reports are essential to growing and leading a team. Make these watchwords your baseline for effective one-on-ones:
Most importantly, commit to doing one-on-ones weekly. Occasionally, you'll have to reschedule or miss them, but try to make this time sacrosanct. Disengaging the employee/manager relationship is one of the surest routes to trouble.
One of the bigger mistakes I've made as a people manager is to switch my weekly 1:1s to every other week. It doesn't matter that's it's obviously possible to have makeups when the inevitable interrupt occurs—most of the time that's just not going to happen. Before you know it, six weeks has gone by between 1:1s. Better to schedule them weekly and miss occasionally than build in the need for frequent makeups.
Ask yourself and your direct report to take a few minutes of quiet time before the meeting to make sure you're both ready for a free, undistracted exchange. Both parties should make a habit of jotting down topics they want to cover between meetings.
Be truly present and shut out distractions. What a waste of time a 1:1 is when your phone is buzzing or Slack is dinging or e-mail keeps grabbing for your attention! Get in a quiet place if you can, but definitely give your employee a space away from the rest of the company, so they can converse with you and only you. Which leads me to…
Above all, this is a time for your employee to be fully candid with feedback and questions. Be open, be empathetic, and don't go on the defensive. The 1:1 belongs mostly to the employee, not the manager.
Of course, one-on-ones shouldn't be the only time an employee gets some alone time with their boss. Leave your door open (virtually or otherwise) for questions, concerns, and feedback at all times, and make sure they know that channel is available.
Finally, as with any set of guidelines, they have to be tuned to match reality. Be aware of your teammate's individual personality and needs, and adjust accordingly.
- Employee engagement software company 15Five has a nice blog. Check out The Best and Worst Ways To Have A One-On-One Meeting, which aligns well with (and goes beyond) my 4 essentials.
- A Manager's Guide to Better One-on-One Meetings from Meeteor's blog also reinforces my top point: 1:1s are not optional. There's plenty of other great advice there too.
- Leadfully is an interesting and novel approach to advisor-guided leadership training for folks outside the C-suite. Their blog is certainly worth following.
Photos used here come courtesy of these fine Flickr users, and are all Creative Commons licensed: