Tips for Successful One-On-One Meetings

One-on-one meetings are critical for productivity and career development.  They are an opportunity for managers and reports to discuss work goals and concerns/feedback, as well as to develop relationships and ensure employee’s goals are met for the company and themselves.  In theory the 1:1 should operate like clock-work, but it doesn’t.  Often times they cause stress, burden and can be seen as wasteful.  But there’s a method to this madness.

Harvard Business Review reports that one-on-ones are a productivity tool that serves two essential purposes:

  • They are an opportunity to ask strategic questions (eg – are we focused on the right things, are we spending our time wisely)
  • They are a way to show employees that you value them and care about them as people.

We recently came across a guide published by Officevibe on “The Before, During & After Guide for the Perfect One-on-One”.  This (or something similar) should be part of the onboarding package for all new, and experienced, managers.  Below we’ve provided some insights for ensuring successful one-on-one meetings.

  • Preparation is Key – Always come prepared.  A great place to start is a recap of the last one-one with some follow-up.  And remember to ask for feedback during the meeting and share your notes too.  Our go to questions to prepare both as managers and for our reports are:
    • What have you completed?
    • What are you working on?
    • What do you want to work on?
    • What, if any, are your concerns?
    • What, if any, positive experiences have you had.
  • Time Management – Ask your employee(s) to create an agenda for the meeting to keep on track. The 1:1 time is limited so make the most of it.  A suggested break-down of the time:
    • Informal Catch-up (15%)
    • Action Planning (15%)
    • Employee Concerns (35%)
    • Feedback/Notes/Discussion (35%)
  • Questions for Employees – Just as you want your employee(s) to provide feedback and address their concerns, you should also feel free to prompt the discussion.  Below are a few sample questions to improve as a manager from employee feedback:
    • Can you share some feedback on 1-2 things you think I could be better as a manager? (ask one week for the employee to come back the next week)
    • How can I help you remove roadblocks from your progress?
    • Which areas would you like more or less direction from me?
  • Tips for Tough Feedback – Its never easy to have a difficult conversation.  But if done the right way, constructive feedback often provides the most opportunity for growth.  Following are three tips for providing negative feedback.
    • Focus on behavior, not personality.
    • Be specific, give examples.
    • Avoid negative terms, eg – its constructive (helping to improve), not negative (bad)

In summary we share some very true words of wisdom from one of the most successful venture capitalists of modern time:

The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting. This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.

– Ben Horowitz, Co-founder, Andreesen Horowitz, venture capital firm

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