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7 Tips to Improve Your One-on-Ones


By Chelsea Alves

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With such packed schedules, managers often race out of one meeting only to head straight into another one-on-one with their employee. You have only seconds to refocus your attention and plan an agenda. Worse, you may find yourself asking filler questions because you didn’t have the time to adequately prepare. Follow this routine enough times and these meetings can lose value for your employees.

One-on-ones shouldn’t be something you just check off of your to-do list. They are a critical tool for every good manager. They help you learn what makes your employees tick, understand how to help pave a path for their success, offer coaching for personal development, and address their challenges and accomplishments. They keep your high-performing employees inspired, productive, and passionate about your cause.

Luckily, a few simple tweaks to your meeting structure can transform your one-on-ones into 30 minutes your employees actually look forward to spending with you. With the help of these seven tips, your one-on-ones can become effective and worthwhile.

1. Have a Walking Meeting

Working in the same setting everyday can become monotonous, yet most of us are usually tethered to our desks. The typical American sits an average of 9.3 hours a day at work, which means we are typically active for only six hours of the day.

Stepping outside of your office walls won’t just break up your daily routine and get the blood flowing, it can also spark fresh and invigorating conversation. The proof is in the statistics. A team of Stanford researchers discovered that people are 60 percent more creative while walking than while sitting.

You also wouldn’t have to worry about being overheard by other employees, giving you both room to speak freely.

2. Ask Questions Regarding Professional Development

While it can be easy to ask the same tried and true questions about workloads during every meeting, consider asking questions that will contribute to your employees’ growth professionally and personally.

To better understand how you can support your employee’s career path and growth, you might ask:

  • Do you feel that we’re helping advance your career at a pace you would like?
  • In what areas of your job would you like to strengthen your skills or receive additional training?
  • What is one thing you would change about our team meetings to make them more effective?
  • What area of the company would you like to learn more about?

Your employee’s personal growth is also an important facet of their job satisfaction and overall happiness at your company. Learn how you can support their development by asking questions like:

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What skills can we help you develop to achieve your personal goals?
  • How can I help improve your job satisfaction?
  • Do you feel as though you have an appropriate work-life balance?

When you ask questions that relate to both their personal and professional life, you not only show a vested interest in your employee, but also let them know you care about their overall happiness. This can help build a supportive relationship—one in which your employee feels comfortable approaching and confiding in you.

Pro Tip: Email these questions to your employee ahead of time, so you can avoid putting them on the spot and instead allow them to come prepared with thoughtful responses that will help drive the conversation.

Additionally, you should ask for feedback regarding decisions that affect your employee. Ninety-eight percent of employees surveyed in a Fierce Study said they would like to contribute to decisions that impact them. Forty percent of those workers said that the decision-makers at their organization do not ask for their input. Set yourself apart from those leaders by asking high-level questions about team decisions during your one-on-one.

3. Take a Backseat

Sometimes, it’s better to let the other person do most of the talking. Such is the case when having a one-on-one with your employee. A study conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies® found that 69 percent of survey respondents believe an employee should be responsible for determining the agenda for the meeting.

Give your employee the opportunity to drive their one-on-one. By doing so, you’ll give them a sense of ownership that encourages them to make the most out of their meetings. They’ll also build valuable skills around setting meetings and adhering to an agenda.

While your employee should be held responsible for setting the agenda, they should not be responsible for determining the big-picture questions discussed above. Provide these questions beforehand, but let your employees do the majority of the talking.

4. Stick to a Schedule

It takes discipline to stick to a regular meeting schedule, but the payoffs for both you and your team members are worth the effort. For example, by setting the precedent that you will meet every Monday at 11 a.m. for 30 minutes, you form a routine and expectation. Employees can then carve out that chunk of time each week without the fear of scheduling overlapping meetings.

Set an example for your employees by starting and ending your meetings on time. Their time is valuable and should thus be taken into consideration. When considering how much time to schedule for your one-on-one meeting, keep in mind that once a meeting hits 60 minutes, employees generally start to lose their focus. In fact, attention levels start to drop after just 15 minutes into the meeting. After 45 minutes, only 64 percent of people are still paying attention to the discussion. Keep your one-on-one meetings as short and sweet as possible.

5. Be Present

How frustrated do you feel when you are having a conversation with a friend and they are busily texting on their phone? People should pay an even higher level of respect when having a conversation with a team member. Give your undivided attention and avoid looking at your phone, watch, and computer during your meeting.

Pro tip: If you are worried about time, set an alarm on your phone. Cue your employee in on the alarm so the interruption is less jarring.

You should also pay attention to your body language during the meeting. Body language is powerful—so powerful, in fact, that it can best be described by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, “Our nonverbal govern how other people think and feel about us.” In fact, 55 percent of people find communication is most effective through body language.

Remain engaged throughout your meeting by maintaining eye contact and facing the other person. Another way to show that you are present is to take notes during your meeting. Not only will you demonstrate that you are listening, but you can also document action items, follow ups, and important pieces of your conversation.

6. Don’t Play Catch Up

These meetings shouldn’t be the only tool you rely on to learn about your employees’ current projects. You should stay on top of work progress and issues on a regular basis outside of this meeting, so you can avoid turning every meeting into a troubleshooting session.

Your one-on-one should be used for bigger issues, projects, and discussions. Help Scout sends employees a video every Monday that details the week’s agendas, and teams must connect with each other to discuss it by the end of the day. This type of “status update” meeting can eliminate the need to talk about these items in your one-on-ones and instead give you more time to focus on things that matter most to your employee.

7. Follow Up

Just as with any other meeting, it is important to follow up on your one-on-ones. Send a punctual email within 24 hours of your meeting to confirm next steps and items to circle around to during your next meeting. A recap email also helps put all of your meeting details in writing, preventing any important information from slipping through the cracks.

You might also include agreements, goals, new projects, or inspirational articles and books to read. Conclude your email with an offer to help your employee should they need further assistance.

Regular follow-up emails to your employees can also become helpful notes to revisit during performance reviews. They can help you keep track of specific goals and accomplishments that your employees achieved throughout the year.

Monthly one-on-ones can have a deep impact on the way your team members work and collaborate with one another. By personalizing these meetings and focusing on your team members’ professional growth, you can help both your employees and organization succeed.

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