Five Ways to Improve Your One-on-One Meetings

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Kevin Eikenberry Kevin Eikenberry

Leaders need to stay connected to and in sync with the members of their teams. Both parties have the need for updates and communication. And in my experience, many leaders and team members don’t believe that connection and communication is as effective as it could be. The solution is the one-on-one meeting. While this may not be a big surprise, too often these aren’t working well (if they are happening at all).

I am not going to try to sell you on the importance of the one-on-one meeting – I am assuming the goals for these meetings are clear and mutually desirable, including:

    • Providing updates on projects, activities and progress.

     • Creating alignment on work and direction.

     • Allowing for questions to be asked and answered.

     • Providing an opportunity for relationships and trust to grow.

     • Allowing time for coaching and feedback.

What I am going to do is help you make these meetings that you want to have be more effective, whether you are the leader, or the team member. Remember, even if you are a leader, you likely have a leader too – so you wear both these hats. My hope is that these ideas help everyone use the one-on-one meeting to reach the goals listed above.

Have clear expectations

The best meetings have agendas, and while your one-one meetings likely won’t have a formal agenda (although they could), for them to be most effective and productive, both parties need to be clear on the expectations, goals, and outcomes for these meetings. Since you are likely having these meetings already without this clarity, make this a topic of conversation the next time you meet.

As a leader, don’t just assume others know what you want from these meetings – talk to them and share your needs and goals for your one-on-ones.

As a team member ask for what you need.  If you are hoping for/need something from these meetings (like more direction, for example), ask for it.

Meet regularly

While your expectations for the meeting should be personal and specific, here is one that should be considered – the frequency of the meetings. If you want the benefit described above, you can’t meet once a quarter! The specific frequency could vary, but in my experience, consider more frequently rather than less.

As a leader, I know you are busy and have a full calendar, and yet making time for these meetings is one of the best investments in your organization’s success that you can make. Determine the frequency, make it a priority by putting it on your calendar, and make these meetings happen. And, please be on time – it shows others that you respect them, the value of the meeting, and their time too.

As a team member, if your leader starts canceling these meetings, be kind but insistent that these meetings happen, because when they do, everyone benefits.

Be prepared

Like any meeting you want to be successful, you should come prepared. Once you have clear expectations for what will be accomplished in these meetings, your preparation should also be clear – make sure you do it.

As a leader, keep a list of the topics and questions you want to cover with each team member in these meetings. By having a place – on paper or digitally – where you can capture these things, you won’t have to rely on your memory.

As a team member, keep a list of things you want to discuss and questions you want to ask. This is your meeting – so know what you want to talk about and the meeting will be a far more productive use of your time.

Make it conversational

Whatever your specific expectations, one-on-one meetings will be far more productive if they are conversations, rather than monologues. Remember that these meetings have tremendous value for both parties; they aren’t just a chance for the leader to inform or for the team member to provide an update. The best one-on-one meetings will be a conversation between two people working towards mutual goals.

As a leader, the best way you can improve the likelihood that the meeting is conversational is by asking the other person to share their ideas and the items from their list first. By asking them first you change the dynamics and are much more likely to truly have a conversation.

As a team member, be willing to ask questions, share your information, and engage. This is not the time to sit back and be passive. This is your meeting too.

Include feedback

Too often the one-on-one meeting becomes tactical and just about day to day issues and challenges. These details are important, but if you want to have more effective and valuable one-on-one meetings, think bigger picture. Make feedback, both positive and corrective, a regular part of these meetings and you have a chance for timely feedback, something that is often missing in the workplace.

As a leader, be observant, and make coaching and feedback a part of the list of things you routinely talk about n these meetings. Consider asking for feedback on your performance too.

As a team member, if you want more feedback in general, or specific guidance on a situation, ask for it. The one-on-one meeting is a time you will have your leader’s attention, so use it to get the feedback you need.

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