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How to Have Effective One on One Meetings with Your Subordinates

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Nowadays, we are accustomed to having our schedules packed with meetings of all sorts. That is especially valid for team leaders and managers who are more involved in planning and coordination rather than direct execution. People are often overwhelmed, which makes planning and carrying meetings quite a burden.

These hardships are real, but so are the needs for proper communication in a company.  Working in isolation is not an option if you want your organization or team to operate like a well-coordinated, well greased, precise clockwork machine. Having a neat schedule of purposeful meetings across all levels is essential to company success.

In this article, we focus our attention on one format of meeting – the 1 on 1. We’ll discuss the purpose and benefits of 1 on 1 meetings between managers and employees. We also share some tips on how to make these meetings more effective.

Content

  1. What are 1 on 1 meetings?
  2. What are the benefits of having 1 on 1 meetings?
  3. What makes a one on one meeting effective?
  4. Ways to have effective 1 on 1 meetings
  5. What to consider when scheduling 1 on 1 meetings?
  6. What do you talk about in a 1 on 1 meeting?
  7. How do you structure a 1 on 1 meeting?
  8. Summary

What are 1 on 1 meetings?

As the name suggests, 1 on 1 meetings (often spelled as 1:1s) are compact meetings between two individuals in a company. Usually, the participants are manager and subordinate or in a similar relationship. The 1 on 1 meetings are commonly used for several purposes:

  1. To collect feedback from your team members.
  2. To work on career development and employee retention.
  3. To establish a setting that allows you to connect regularly with your employees.
  4. To increase employee engagement.

Collecting feedback from your team members

A common understanding is that during 1 on 1 meetings, managers should listen rather than talk. This is not a strict rule, though. Some sources put giving feedback as an equally valid motive for having a 1 on 1. A good reason is that employee performance reviews are often done in such a format.

As the points below suggest, our focus is more on establishing a connection than talking numbers. That said, don’t think of the one on one as a means to get direct reports, project status updates, or conduct one or more types of engagement surveys. You should focus one on one meetings on the individual.

Working on career development and employee retention

Use the 1 on 1 meetings to discuss the future of your employees in the company. Learn about their expectations and how they see themselves growing. Career growth should not be underestimated, and you play a part in creating opportunities for that.

Connecting regularly with your employees

People may work on projects and tasks together every day - that doesn’t mean they are truly connected. Formal tasks put people in the same space, physical or virtual, and establishing trusting relationships requires more than just being in the same space. It requires a different mode of communication.

That’s why you need a separate setting that puts the dull stuff aside for a while. That is especially helpful for remote teams, where people rarely meet face to face.

The main trait of effective 1 on 1 meetings is that they fulfill one or more of these purposes. There is another question, though - how do you achieve that? Before we answer that, let’s see what success would look like so you know what to aim at.

What are the benefits of having 1 on 1 meetings?

Managers who successfully carry out effective 1 on 1 meetings can reap great long-term benefits. Here’s what you could potentially achieve:

  1. A stronger connection between manager and employee
  2. Trust based on openness and transparency
  3. Reliable direct communication
  4. Better personal involvement
  5. Boost in employee motivation
  6. Improved productivity

If you think about it, you’d notice that every point listed above is connected. When people are free to share their thoughts and visions with someone who would listen, they are likely to utilize that opportunity - we are social beings, after all.

People will trust management more if they are certain their voice will be heard. That makes them more open and willing to participate. The openness is a huge drive for a meaningful upward flow of opinions and ideas. Also, when you establish a trusting relationship, people find it easier to get involved without even thinking about it!

Finally, the level of involvement affects motivation, and a boost in motivation is likely to result in better productivity. Overall, with good planning and execution, you can expect your 1 on 1 meetings to contribute to better employee engagement.

What makes a one on one meeting effective?

An excellent way to find out is to simply estimate how eager people are to participate in 1 on 1s after you’ve had them for a while. If your employees are motivated to participate actively, you are doing things right.

If people are reluctant and see no use, something has to change. In such a case, it would be your responsibility as a manager to identify what affects the meetings badly and how you can change that. Participation has to make sense to both managers and employees; otherwise, it becomes pointless and counterproductive.

It’s also a good idea to take a look at the list of benefits we mentioned. If some of these benefits are present, you know you are on the right path. Of course, these benefits may result from a combination of factors. So, make sure that the way you are having 1 on 1 meetings with your employees is a contributing factor.

Ways to have effective 1 on 1 meetings

Given all the benefits mentioned above, it’s good to make sure you have 1 on 1 meetings in a way that fulfills their purpose. That is easier said than done, however. There’s a lot to think about, and there isn’t a strict set of rules to follow. A lot depends on factors that are unique to the company or the team, and therefore the playbook isn’t always clear.

As a manager, you have to develop your optimized setting and frequency, for instance. Also, picking the right tools to plan effective 1 on 1 meetings can make a huge difference.

1. Use the right tools

To implement all that we have said so far, you might want to consider the software tools to help you handle 1 on 1 meetings effectively. Are a calendar and a shared agenda in the cloud enough? Of course, they offer advantages like having everything in one place, simplifying planning, and reducing potential conflicts (rescheduling).

However, they come with disadvantages as well. For example, putting all of your information in one place can result in a cluttered calendar. Besides, you can end up sharing sensitive information with people who are not supposed to get it. All-in-one software for people development solves those problems.

How could Effy help you with having effective 1 on 1 meetings?

With Effy, you can organize all sorts of activities related to people development. The software will enable you to automate and simplify 1 on 1 meetings, which will be beneficial as you can form a template (talking points, schedule, track the progress, etc.). You can also use Effy to manage leaves and absences, onboarding, and other tasks. It's a great fit for many businesses because of its broad customization and connectivity with popular communication platforms (like Slack).

Slack).

However, our greatest strength is listening to our users and improving as we go. If you want to see it for yourself, just book a demo, and we’ll show you what our tool is capable of!

2. Optimize the frequency as you go

One on ones are recurring meetings - having them twice a  year is not enough. Many claim widely that 1 on 1 meetings should be as frequent as possible. For example, many sources advocate for weekly or bi-weekly meetings.

Our take is a bit different. Frequency is among the things that are most likely to be affected by the specific situation in your company or team. A good rule of thumb is to start with an ideal recommended frequency, e.g., once a week, and then readjust as you go.

What to consider when scheduling 1 on 1 meetings?

Before changing the schedule of 1 on 1 meetings, you should ask yourself a few questions:

  1. How involved am I with my team members in my daily work?
  2. How busy is the schedule of my subordinates?
  3. What portion of the team works remotely versus on-site?
  4. What’s a reasonable time frame to sync on the talking points from the past week?
  5. Is there something important to talk about?

Let's explain a bit how the answers to these questions can justify a schedule change.

Level of involvement of managers with their teams

The nature of your work dictates how much time you spend with your employees. If you share the same space and communicate on daily tasks all the time, then you’d know them well. In this case, you won’t need to put apart too much time to one on one meetings. If you spend more time in other meetings than with your team members, you’d need one on ones more often.

Meeting density per day and week

Another thing to consider is the schedule of your employees and the current meeting density. Your subordinates should feel relaxed and ready to talk. So, for example, make sure that they don’t perceive an hour of their time as a sacrifice. Workloads fluctuate and if your employees are overwhelmed this week, just pick a more convenient time for a 1 on 1.

Importance 1 on 1 meetings for remote teams

The third factor to consider when scheduling a recurring meeting is remote work. If you rarely see your team members face to face, then frequent video chat is the next best thing to use to stay connected! That is especially valid for new people in the company who work remotely from day one and make progress from scratch.

Are there worthy talking points?

The fourth and fifth questions on the list would help you define a reasonable amount of topics to talk about. If you don’t have much to discuss at a given moment, you can always reschedule.

The general recommendation is to stick to a schedule with the least possible amount of cancellations. Our advice is to simply change to a lower frequency instead of canceling meetings all the time. Of course, cancellation isn’t a big deal, as long it’s the exception and not the rule.

Always have a dedicated space

This should be self implied. If anyone could enter the room, or interrupt your flow in any way, then it’s not really a 1 on 1. Avoid open spaces where the presence of others could disturb your meeting. Your team members are there to talk to you, not to a crowd. So, just book a small conference room for the allocated slot, and you’ll be good to go!

Collaboratively set the meeting agenda

You have to keep in mind that one on one meetings are about the people. That said, your employees should have a vote on what’s worth talking about. You can outline some topics you have in mind, and these can serve as general guidelines. However, don’t forget that your employees are free to take the initiative.

Furthermore, they should be encouraged to do so. Otherwise, the topics would be forced, and your subordinates won’t see value in discussing. In such a scenario, instead of connecting in a meaningful way, you’d just waste each other’s time, and that’s the beginning of a downward spiral.

What do you talk about in a 1 on 1 meeting?

To avoid the bad scenario above, choose your topics wisely, and allow your team members to add their talking points to the plan. Here’s a list of commonly discussed questions and topics:

  • What’s the overall experience of being part of the team?
  • Are there any hindrances to productivity? Any pressing issues?
  • In what area is the employee making progress.
  • Recent events or factors that improved or spoiled the employee experience.
  • What’s needed to improve the employee experience (equipment, space improvement, process refinement, etc.)?
  • Short and long-term career goal setting. How does the employee imagine their career growth?
  • Anything outside work that might influence how well the team member feels or performs at work.

As you can see, even things outside the company that you can’t control could pop into the conversation. Don't be afraid to take it to a more personal level. As long as you are focused on the person, their current state, and their future in the company - you are on the right path!

How do you structure a 1 on 1 meeting?

With the team member taking the initiative, the manager should give up the control, at least partially. That said, following an inflexible structure is not a good idea. Instead, allow the conversation to unfold and let your people share their thoughts spontaneously.

You can stay focused on moderation and make sure you don’t get into topics that are not suitable for a one on one meeting. It’s also your job to keep the discussion going, which we explain below in greater detail. That aside, you should make sure your team members bring up their topics first.

Keep up the conversation and let your employees talk

With active participation by open team members, it would be easy to have a productive meeting and learn a lot. If the discussion goes stale, it's up to you to bring it up to speed. Here’s how you can reignite the conversation or explore possible areas of interest:

  • Use conversation starters to help your subordinate relax.
  • Provoke your team members to think deeply. 
  • Ask open-ended questions - don’t limit the possible answers to a few alternatives.
  • Identify pain points or anticipated future states that you can delve into.
  • Identify potential for improvement that you can use.
  • Taking notes indicates genuine interest and would provoke a genuine response.

Agree on actionable points and follow up

Always make sure you and your employees agree on the next steps towards resolving the identified pain points. Nothing destroys employee engagement faster than neglected issues. If you have promised status updates for the next meeting, you must have them to show that you truly care.

It is guaranteed that your subordinates would notice your willingness to work to improve their well-being at work. They would be likely to respond positively to challenges and give their best for the common good.

Summary

In conclusion, let’s see some basic advice that would help you have effective 1 on 1 meetings. These would work in most situations and help you establish one-on-one meetings as something your team members look forward to.

Dos Don’ts value
Have one on one meetings as often as it makes sense. Don’t overburden the meeting schedule.
Reschedule your one on one meetings instead of canceling. Don’t cancel a one on one meeting without reason.
Have an agenda with agreed-upon discussion points. Don’t go to one on one meetings unprepared.
Focus on the person and their experience. Don’t try to dominate the one on one meetings.
Let the conversation unfold. Don’t steer the discussion too strictly.
Ask open-ended questions and take notes. Don’t let your expectations and biases get the best of you.
Embrace new knowledge. Don't use the one on one meetings for performance reviews or direct reports.
Agree on actionable points. Don’t leave things hanging in the air without settling on a course of action.


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