1 on 1 meeting

1 on 1 Meetings

Your #1 task as a manager is to coach and support your team to succeed, and in my opinion, the 1 on 1 meeting is the most important use of your time every week. It’s where you “do the work” of being a manager. 

I’ve had the privilege of coaching hundreds of fast-growth companies over the last 2 decades and I quickly observed that the most effective managers schedule a regular weekly 1 on 1 meeting with each of their direct reports. As a result, I made it a priority to master this skill with teams I’ve managed.  

My definition of the manager’s role“Increase the output of the team. Spend most of your time performing tasks that only someone in the manager’s role can do.” 

Weekly team meetings are vital to share information, get input from others, make decisions, and get your team aligned and focused on the next steps. However, the subtleties of each individual’s needs cannot be properly addressed in a team meeting. That’s where the 1 on 1 meeting does the heavy lifting for you.

The 1 on 1 meeting is a brief appointment with a disciplined agenda every week. This is a meeting where you focus on coaching and supporting that individual to achieve their goals. 

Benefits of a  weekly 1 on 1 Meeting

  • Create a regular discipline of giving and receiving feedback
  • Identify and resolve issues before they become serious
  • Increase trust and understanding
  • Provide clarity and focus
  • Build relationship
  • Show that you care

In my view, the 1 on 1 meeting is the highest value, highest leverage use of a manager’s time every week. 

Make it happen!

The 1 on 1 meeting should take no longer than 30 minutes. For example, if you have 7 direct reports, you should be able to meet 1 on 1 with your entire team in one afternoon. Book a 30-minute recurring weekly appointment in each person’s calendar and keep these appointments every week. 

Yes, some people will resist having a weekly 1 on 1 meeting, especially the B-Players who wish to avoid accountability. Make it a rule, not a choice. Don’t let anyone postpone them because they claim to be too busy. Set yourself a KPI standard of meeting 9 weeks out of every 10.

Bi-weekly does not work in my experience. All it takes is for you to miss 1 meeting, and you have gone a whole month without a meaningful catch-up to provide 1 on 1 coaching.  

Random meetings (casual conversations, coffees, brainstorming) that you have with an individual during the week do not replace the recurring, diarized 1 on 1 meeting every week.

Here is my sample agenda for running a successful 1 on 1 meeting:

1. Review Goals and Tasks

Both parties must come to the meeting fully prepared, with dashboards updated, and information on hand to discuss current issues.

I have a saying. “Successful Business Execution is 20% getting clear about what needs to be done, and 80% following up to make sure it actually gets done”. 

Get a status update on each Project or Task. Are they on schedule to be completed, as scoped, by the due date? If not, what is happening here? 

Check-in with the person’s Metrics (Key Performance Indicators). Are the numbers “in the green“? If not, what is happening here? 

Drill down on any overdue Tasks. What is happening here? Where appropriate, renegotiate due dates and get firm commitments.  

You get what you inspect! This is not micromanaging. It is a consultation to make sure both parties have a shared view of the current reality. You give the person freedom and autonomy to determine how to achieve their goals, but you close the loop each week by “… following up to make sure it actually gets done”.

2. What’s happening here? (Weed the garden) 

Letting people off the hook without discussing poor performance is like letting weeds grow in your garden. If you don’t pull the weeds out quickly, the weeds will take over your garden and choke the growth of your crops. 

Weeds aren’t going to remove themselves, but they are much easier to deal with when they are still small and there aren’t too many. Below-standard performance isn’t going to fix itself either, but problems are much easier to fix if you nip them in the bud when you first observe them; before it becomes the norm.

If Projects and Tasks are overdue, or Metrics (KPI) performance standards are not being achieved, you weed the garden every week to ensure remedial action is taken to get results back on track. To do this I simply ask, “What’s happening here?”

(See this article for my more detailed explanation of how to hold people accountable)

3. What’s the one thing?

Ask,  “What 1 thing can we do this week to improve this?” The one thing is the most important task that can be completed this week to move each Project or Metric forward (or address any performance shortfalls that have been identified). 

Document these tasks in real-time on a shared screen to signal what is important to you, and clarify your expectations.

4. What support do you need?

Ask, “What support do you need?” and connect them with the people and resources they need. Clear obstacles from their path. You also need to keep out of their way and not overwhelm them with too many demands or conflicting priorities. Shield your people from distractions to allow the time and space for them to nail “The One Thing” every week.

5. Prioritize tasks and due date commitments

I have a rule: Due dates are “commits” not “hopes”. 

If the person has a lot of work on their plate, look at their task list in its entirety, and help them prioritize their work so they know which tasks are most important. Negotiate realistic due dates and get commitments you can count on. 

Let them know that between now and the due date, it’s OK to ask for help, or renegotiate due date commitments if something happens outside of their control. But it is unacceptable to show up at the next 1 on 1 meeting with an excuse for tasks not being done. No surprises. No excuses.

6. How are you feeling?

Some managers ask about feelings at the beginning, but I prefer to take care of business first. My perspective is that we are ultimately judged on our results, and I want my team to know that driving results is my default priority.  (It was the title of my book after all!)

So …. it may not surprise you that taking an interest in people’s feelings did not come naturally to me as a manager! Making it a formal agenda item in my 1 on 1 meeting helped me address this weakness.

The key is to demonstrate that you sincerely care about the person and want to help them be successful in their role. Ask questions like: How are you feeling at the moment? Is anything bugging you right now? What’s making your job hard right now? What else is going on in your world? Any other issues you want to discuss with me?  

Also probe for feedback about your performance as a manager: How can I support you better? What would you like me to do more of? What would you like me to do less of? How can I help you be more effective in your role?

Once per month, I throw in career-related questions like: How do you feel you are progressing in your role? What additional responsibilities would you like to take on to further your career? What skills are you interested in developing?

7. “Clearing Conversations” 

If the person demonstrated any performance or behavioral issues that bothered you during the week, this is where I talk about them. 

Performance reviews are not an annual thing. Condition your people to expect “clearing conversations” as a compulsory agenda item every week. Don’t let issues fester. Let people know every week how you feel about them, and what they need to improve to be considered an A-Player on your team. 

“Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want the coach to tell them the truth” 
(Nick Saban – American football coach – considered to be among the most successful coaches in history)

8. Praise and encouragement.

Finish on a high note. Find something they are genuinely doing well and acknowledge it. 

(See this article for my more detailed explanation of how to praise people the right way)

In simple terms, if we praise a person’s ability, they can develop a “fixed mindset” which discourages learning and makes people fear failure. This can hinder their success in life. 

A superior approach is to praise the effort that led to the outcome. This helps people develop a “growth mindset” which encourages learning and builds resilience to failure.

  • Incorrect: “You are really smart”
  • Better: “Well done for sticking at the problem until you solved it”
  • Incorrect: “You always deliver”
  • Better: “Thanks for running a tight process to get the project done on time”
  • Incorrect: “Great work”
  • Better: “I like how you handled that upset customer. It was a great example of living our core value of: Support our customers to be successful”

Are you ready to be a better manager?

I can almost guarantee that if you conduct a weekly 1 on 1 meeting with your direct reports in a disciplined manner (as described above), it will force you to be a better manager. It will enable both parties to understand each other better and keep everyone focused on what is important.

It sounds simple, but “simple” does not mean easy. Like many habits of success, this practice falls into the “important but not urgent” category. It takes discipline to stick to a regular 1 on 1 meeting schedule, but the payoffs for both the manager and the employee are worth the time and effort. 

Schedule it in your calendars, make it happen 9 times out of 10, have “clearing conversations” as a normal part of each meeting, and finish with genuine praise.

Watch how much more productive you and your team become!

Feel like a bit of variety? Try walking 1 on 1 meetings

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Until next time…
Stephen