Best Practices for One-on-One’s

Like anything routine, one-on-one’s can start to feel more obligatory than valuable, particularly with high-performing team members. But one-on-one’s are vital for more than just providing coaching feedback – a one-on-one is an opportunity to build rapport, take a longer view with your employees, and ensure they remain engaged and at your organization. These meetings shouldn’t be viewed as a weekly box to check, but as an opportunity to dig in and help your employees shape their career path, address issues before they fester into greater conflict, develop authentic relationships, and support retention.

Leaders who invest in their teams can better manage team performance, thanks to regular, constructive conversations that provide feedback and build report. Follow these best practices to maximize the value of your one-on-one’s:

Set Up a Regular Time

Establishing a fixed time accomplishes several things. First, it allows you to enforce that you value your employees. (As part of this, showing up on time is critical). Second, it can keep employees from bombarding you unnecessarily when they know you have regular time set aside just for them. What “regular” means will depend on your team and your employee, but most often this is 30-60 minutes every 1-2 weeks. And remember, your regular time doesn’t have to be at the same place. Your one-on-one could be a walking session or a coffee break.

Set Expectations

Make time to re-connect on organizational goals and your expectations for your employee. During this time, you can highlight how your expectations for the individual support where the organization is heading overall. And, because this is a 1:1 meeting, you can also have honest, private conversations about how they are progressing. 

Prepare an Agenda

Creating a plan for your meeting ensures you can make the best use of the time, and prioritize the items that are most important and timely. By sharing your list in advance, it allows you and your employee time to prepare so the meeting is most productive. Remember, this is a rough outline, but the goal is to make these meetings conversational, so be willing to adapt if the conversation shifts outside the plan. 

Open and Close With Something Positive

Kick off your meetings on a positive note to set the tone. This can be a comment on something the employee clearly worked hard on or a win they created for the team. Or, it can simply be expressing gratitude for their efforts. And, regardless of what you discuss in the middle, send your employee out the door on a positive note.  

Ask the Right Questions

You want to hear from your employees during 1:1 meetings – truly hear from them. One of the best ways to kick that off is to ask questions that encourage employees to start talking. For example: “Do you have everything you need for this project?” might receive a quick “Yes.” But asking “What is one thing I can do to make this project run more smoothly for you,” may get them talking. Your questions should be open-ended, focused strategically, and make employees step back and really think about how things are going or what their goals are.

Focus On Your Employee

It may seem obvious that 1:1 meetings are about the employee; however, it can be easy to use up the full meeting time doling out directives and gathering status updates. Instead, remember that the point is to focus on the employee’s development and learn how you can offer better support. To give this control to the employee, you could ask him or her to run the meeting. Or, if you prepare and circulate an agenda, open the meeting by asking, “Is there anything you would like to get started with?”

Be Present and Actively Listen

These meetings are a time to be transparent and build relationships. To support that goal, ensure you are fully present. This means finding a good space to have a private conversation and staying off your phone and email during the discussion.

Then, ensure you are actively listening. Make sure you really hear your employee and repeat back your understanding to confirm you’re accurately capturing what they are saying. Take a collaborative approach to solving problems by asking questions and taking the time to listen to your employee’s perspective before jumping in with a response or solution.

You can also take notes to help with your engagement and to make sure you don’t forget anything discussed.

Ask for Feedback

Gathering feedback from the employee is also an essential part of a 1:1. Asking questions like “How are things going?,” “What is holding you up right now?” or “What should I keep doing and what should I stop doing?” can help open the door for feedback.

Recognize Achievement

Appreciation goes a long way. Ensure you are specific with your recognition, highlighting what the employee did well and how that influenced the team or broader organization. Sometimes, it can be as simple as taking the time to pause and say, “Thank you.”

Discuss Professional Development

To make the most of professional development discussions, give your employee advance notice, so he or she can think about what they want to discuss and show up to the meeting prepared. Then, ask open questions about goals. This part of the meeting may not occur every time; frequency will depend on the employee, goals and how often it makes sense to revisit.

Send a Recap

Finally, send a brief note recapping your conversation, including the topics you discussed, decisions you agreed on, any feedback you will be measuring, and any open items you (or your employee) need to follow up on. This keeps you aligned with your employee. As part of that, ensure you send recaps for each employee to ensure you’re being consistent as a leader.

With regular, quality one-on-one meetings, employees will feel valued as individuals and professionals, stay more engaged, and receive regular coaching feedback, ultimately contributing to a stronger, happier team overall.

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