How to run more effective 1-on-1 meetings with employees?

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By now, most of us have come across a version of the meme that asks the question, “Couldn’t that meeting be an email?” Meetings get a bad reputation, including face-to-face meetings. But they don’t have to be cumbersome or a waste of time and energy. They can be really…great.

First, keep in mind the purpose of the meeting. Your team members’ main goal is to get the support they need to do a great job. This includes your help in prioritizing issues and unblocking them if they get stuck. It is ultimately “their time”, and team members must “own” the one-on-one meeting to ensure they cover all necessary topics.

The best one-on-one meetings feel more like a good conversation than a report. This means following your team member and guiding the conversation as a form of coaching. This means listening with an open mind, asking important questions and giving thoughtful feedback where needed. Many managers don’t spend nearly enough time listening and may even monopolize the time by talking instead of their employees. They may miss crucial data that it was and also miss opportunities to find deeper solutions embedded in the employee story.

Related: 1-on-1 meetings are the key to good leadership. Here’s How To Do Them Right

Tips for a successful one-on-one

The one-on-one conversation should be informed by a thoughtful, loosely kept agenda. Encourage your team member to own the agenda that includes a prepared set of materials; this helps to steer the conversation. A calendar should contain the following:

  • Updates not found in a corporate dashboard or data tracker

  • Need support from the manager and other members of the leadership team

  • Questions the team member has about particular issues

  • Feedback the team member would like to receive

Ask to send important information to your direct report beforehand so that you as a manager can be prepared and ready with questions or points of discussion.

A brief check-in at the top of the meeting can help team members communicate how they feel about their role/job responsibilities and what it’s like to be in their role. According to“Check-in is an intentional exercise for a team to open a meeting or session. Each participant shares what (mindset) they bring to the table before the work conversation begins… When everyone can remove their personal distractions, it’s easier to focus on getting the job done. A mindset check-in is about the state of your mind, not the project.”

However, it’s important to remember not to over-process this. Let it be their experience unless some of the check-in needs specific support. The goal is to make check-in a safe space and encourage more and more candor. Of course, there can be critical and obvious things to follow up on, and you can always ask if they need support with the details mentioned.

Your role as a manager is to help your direct reports learn, build capacity, and execute. Part of the job is teaching them to prioritize and solve problems on their own; this creates capacity for you! It also gives them the gift of learning what to enjoy for the rest of their career. In fact, I’ve heard many employees credit managers who have supported them as one of the biggest influences on their lives. This is effective coaching; Managers should listen carefully and consciously to a team member’s concerns, ask questions and provide clear feedback.

Although the team member owns both the meeting and the summary, managers should make their own notes to keep track of development points; these can be used for biennial development interviews or performance management reviews. When a manager takes one-on-one meeting notes, it shows that they appreciate the team member they’re meeting with.

Related: The Recipe for Successful One-on-One Meetings

Tips after the meeting

It can be challenging to include every issue in a time-limited one-on-one meeting. Encourage your team and plan bi-annual development/career check-ins and monthly or quarterly strategic roll-ups, which can serve to address team concerns in general.

Meeting overviews are important tools for measuring progress, identifying project owners and accountability. While summaries should be brief, they should “live” somewhere that is easily accessible to those who need it.

Related: 10 Ways To Check In With Your Employees Better

In addition to the meme mentioned at the top of this article, most of us have seen or heard the quote about people leaving their jobs: “Employees don’t leave companies; they leave bad managers.” And management is simply a relationship with a conversation about how the work is going and what needs to be done differently. These conversations are actually best when they’re simple, and over-structuring them and creating unnecessary embellishments can detract from their core purpose.

Sometimes the best face-to-face conversations can be started with the simple question, “What’s the most important conversation we should be having today?” The best one-on-ones essentially all revolve around this principle and feel like rich conversations about important work. One-on-one meetings are conversations of meaning and impact, supporting a lifelong gift of growth for the team member and moving the company forward.