So you’ve heard about others doing one-on-ones. Some do a one-hour session every other week with each team member. Counting preparation time, one-on-ones would take up a significant part of your busy schedule. You ponder: Would all the hours be well spent and justified?
It is true that one-on-ones can be time-consuming. Yet the hour you spend on a session will benefit you and the team a great deal if done right. That is 60 minutes of honest feedback, which is often difficult to seek otherwise. You can also take the chance to offer timely guidance to your team.
If you aren’t having one-on-ones with your team, you are missing out. Timely feedback is valuable, and opportunities to motivate and support your people are priceless. So, what do you reckon?
If you would like to give one-on-ones a try today, here is a guide for you. Use it to run effective sessions so you can help your team grow.
Before the meeting
It is important to prepare for one-on-ones. Here are the three factors to consider: the mindset, the schedule and the agenda.
Think of a 1-on-1 as a free-form meeting: no fixed agenda and no minute taking. It is not a form of performance review and you should not use the feedback you get here for that purpose. Let a 1-on-1 conversation flow naturally around whichever matters to a team member. You can discuss many things from her short-term goals to her learning plan. If she somehow feels isolated in the team, make sure that she can also talk about it with you.
The employee should be the main focus of 1-on-1 conversations. Ben Horowitz recommends that a manager should only talk for 10% of the time. The rest should be saved for her team member.
When you set up one-on-ones with an employee for the first time, make sure that you explain the concept. Give her a short description, and some suggestions for the first session. Don’t forget to mention that the sessions will be recurring. Here is an example:
“I plan to start doing one-on-ones in our team. Just informal conversations to get more feedback from you. We can talk about anything. What is bothering you? Your progress? Or whichever else that you find important. I suggest we start next Thursday, the 20th at 11am. Then we can talk about making it a regular thing. Let me know if you have any questions.”
It is advisable that you schedule enough time for these conversations. A session lasting from 30 to 60 minutes is reasonable. Andy Grove, former CEO and Co-Founder of Intel, actually advised to do one-on-ones for at least one hour.
“I feel that a one-on-one should last an hour at minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.”
It is important to keep the sessions on repeat. If your team has five members or fewer, you should do one-on-ones on a weekly base. Otherwise, you can arrange one meeting a fortnight.
These meetings will take up quite a bit of your time, 4 hours a week if you manage a team of four. But don’t wait a month till you start the next session. A lot of things can go right or wrong in four working weeks. If you want to make an impact then, it would be too late.
Besides, recurring 1-on-1 sessions help make feedback sharing a routine and a habit. It encourages a culture of continuous feedback.
Last but not least, regular personal conversations help build strong relationships based on understanding and respect. When you listen often to personal issues of an employee, she will like you and trust you more. It is more likely that she will be open for feedback from you. Next time, she will come to you earlier with her problems. It is also likely that she is more motivated to work hard and prove herself.
Agenda is Optional
A general agenda might help get the conversation going in the first few meetings. You can prepare a list of five topics that you are most interested to know. Your employee’s happiness at work and her opinions of your management style can make two topics.
Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt used to start his one-on-ones by comparing his lists with the ones prepared by his employees. They then prioritised the items found on both lists because they were likely to be the most pressing issues.
A prepared agenda gives a structure to a conversation. It ensures that every pressing issues will be discussed. Managers should, however, keep in mind to use the list for reference only. You should let the conversation flow as it is to get the best out of one-on-ones.
In the meeting
As the manager, you should take the lead to set up an informal tone for the meetings. Focus on asking questions and listening attentively to understand the feedback. Don't forget to wrap up each meeting and prepare for the next.
Keep It Informal
Keep your 1-on-1 informal and private. It is best to find a relaxing place where you can hold a private conversation. Some ideas are to go for a walk, to have a coffee in the neighbourhood cafe, or to talk over lunch.
It is a good habit to prepare some questions you want to ask. When conversations come to a certain topic, such as work habits or personal learning, you can use the questions to get the more feedback from your team.
A well-asked question is a powerful tool because there are so many things one does not think of sharing until being ask.
As mentioned earlier, one-on-ones can be about almost anything. However, there are some common topics that managers like to cover. Here is a list.
1. Work habits
You want to understand how each of your team members operates. Once you learn their productive modes, you can support them to work more efficiently. Here are some questions regarding work habits:
Which part of the day do you feel most productive? When do you feel that your energy and focus are at the lowest level? What are the changes that can be made so you can take the best out of a work day?
What were your biggest time wasters or roadblocks last week or the week before?
What do you do when you get stuck on something? What is your process of getting unstuck? Who is the team member you turn to for help?
2. Team collaboration and relations
You can increase team productivity by improving the interpersonal relationship amongst team members. Ask the right questions to uncover the hidden challenges and opportunities.
Who inspire you in the team? Whose opinions do you respect? What have they done?
Is there anybody in the team that you find it difficult to work with? Can you tell me why?
What do you think about the amount of feedback in our team? When do others give feedback to you? Would you like to hear more feedback from other team member and me?
What do you think would help us work together better? Any suggestions for improvement in the way we work together?
3. Team’s happiness
Personal happiness has an undeniable impact on productivity and engagement. When is a better time to dig into a happiness issue than a 1-on-1 conversation? Grab the opportunity so you can help your team be happier at work. Here are some questions you can use:
Are you happy working here? Are you happy with your recent work? Why or why not?
What keeps you engaged with your daily work? What can I do to help make daily tasks more engaging?
What kind of projects do you enjoy working on? What motivates you to work on a project? Can you name three things we can do to help so you can enjoy your job more?
What is the best accomplishment you had since you are here? Do you feel appreciated for it?
What are the things that worry you? Anything on your mind? Have you ever felt undervalued here? Why?
4. Short-term goals
Your team’s feedback on their short-term goals will keep you aligned with their progress as well as their frustrations on the projects. It is healthy to address frustrations timely. Ask some questions, like:
How is the project going? What can we do to help?
What are the main bottlenecks? Can we do anything to move it along?
What are the projects you would be interested in working on next?
5. Long-term goals
Long-term goals are important to a person’s sense of fulfillment and happiness. Your team members like to see that they are making progress toward their big life goals. You want to learn about their goals, and whether their current job fits into those goals. Here are some questions you can use:
What do you want to achieve in the next 3 years?
How do you think about your progress on your big goals? What needs to be done to move towards the goals? What can we do to help?
Which part of the work here do you feel as most relevant to your long-term goals? What kinds of projects do you want to take part in to move toward your goals?
6. Personal development
You want to find out if your team members take learning and development the same way as you do. Some of the following questions can help you learn more about their motivation.
Do you feel like you are learning at work? What are the new things you learned lately? What are the areas you want to learn about?
Whom in the team do you want to learn from? Whom do you get valuable feedback from?
Do you think that you receive enough feedback? Is feedback helpful for your personal development? What can I do to help you get the feedback you want?
Would you like more coaching? What aspect of your job do you like more help and coaching on?
7. Manager improvement
It is crucial for you to know how your team thinks about you and your management style. It is challenging to get honest feedback specifically about you from a direct report. Set the right tone and choose your questions wisely. Here are some examples:
What can I do as a manager to make your work easier?
What do you like about my management style? What do you dislike?
What is the percentage of my involvement in your daily tasks? Would you prefer more or less?
How can I support you better?
What is something I could have done better? What are the situations that I could have helped more but didn’t?
You should listen to your employee’s insight carefully. It is important to remember that you don’t just listen to be polite. You want to really understand what is being shared. Active listening involves:
Asking clarifying questions, something like: "Let me know if I got you right. Do you mean that you would rather see me being less involved in your daily task?"
Paraphrasing giver’s view, such as: "So you are saying that I should give you more autonomy in making decision regarding your daily tasks."
Acknowledging their feelings, for example:" I understand your strong feeling about your independence at work."
Clarifying questions and reaffirmation bring you closer to what is being expressed. By showing your recognition and respect toward one's feeling, you are to build a stronger relationship with your team.
Wrap Up & Suggest Next Moves
At the end of the meeting, you should wrap up the talking points. It is also essential to suggest an action plan till the next meeting.
After the meeting
Make notes about the discussion points and the action plan. If you have done this already during the meeting, log it on your note system. You want to make sure you can easily review the items and act on what is needed. Make sure you do the legwork before the next meeting.
Also, remember to make it happen for the next meeting! Like we said earlier, it is very important to keep one-on-ones going.
One-on-ones are a great tool for managers and employees. The weekly sessions are for you to check in with the team’s morale. They are also about getting to know the people you are working with better. You can also save one-on-ones for higher-level things like career development and continuous learning. Employee’s feedback is extremely important for managers. Effective one-on-ones are one of the best ways to get great feedback (as well as give it).
At the same time, feedback shouldn't be given exclusively during one-on-ones. Whether it's following up after your last conversation, or providing coaching on a new project, you want to let your employees know that they can always come to you for advice, even outside of one-on-ones. Using a feedback tool, like Impraise, will ensure you never miss out on the opportunity to give great actionable advice.
You may also be interested in our free step-by-step manager's guide on how to use feedback to motivate, engage and develop your team.