How to: run a great one on-one-meeting

Are you a people manager? Your one-on-ones should be a top priority, but we bet you’ve never been given any formal training on how to run them effectively. If you’re bumbling your way through, this one’s for you. 

Few things are more essential to building empathy (and high-performing teams) than regular check-ins with the humans you rely on to achieve your organisational goals. However, when your calendar looks like a game of Tetris, and your to-do list just keeps getting longer, it’s easy to demote your 1:1s to the bottom of the pile. Fortunately, the Powrsuit community is chocka with women at the top of their game. When it comes to building (and retaining) high-performing teams, there’s no one better than Rachael Fitzjohn and Rebecca Wrightson. So this week, we picked their brains for the top 5 rules to running effective 1:1s:

1. People, not performance

One-on-ones are a catchup on everything BUT work in progress. Their purpose is to build connection, trust and engagement, not to get a status update. This is your chance to be vulnerable humans and get to know each other, so every 1:1 should be hyper-personalised to each individual and their current situation. Rachael’s advice? 

“It’s worth having a different type of 1:1 when you first meet, so you can ask them where they like to meet and understand their style and what they want to achieve. It’s a good opportunity to ask people what they want from you.”

Haven’t done this yet? It’s not too late. Use your next 1:1s as an opportunity to start afresh.  Remember, people’s needs change weekly, so your one-on-ones will too. 

2. Plan to pay attention

It’s easy to chuck a meeting invite in a calendar, but effective one-on-ones require more planning. Yes, we live in an era of meeting overload, but like most things, we should strive for quality over quantity. Time planning effective meetings is time well spent. 

The purpose of one-on-ones is to demonstrate genuine care for your people, so don’t cancel or be late to them. Yes, we’re all guilty of doing both, but #TinyHabits. Genuine care also means genuinely paying attention. Take 10 minutes before to check the agenda, clear your head and arrive ready to focus. Make sure you have no distractions during the one-on-one (especially if it’s a video call!) too. Nothing shrieks ‘going through the motions’ more than watching someone’s eyes dart all over the screen as they scroll and click their way through a meeting. You’ll need all your senses anyway because effective one-on-ones are about picking up on verbal and physical cues. Use Rebecca’s three S’s as your guide:

  1. SAY – engaged people will say good things about life at work, use positive verbal and body language and generally seem upbeat.
  2. STAY – engaged people will talk about their future here and see themselves in it, alongside you and the team.
  3. STRIVE – engaged people actively go above and beyond, offering ideas and suggestions. 

Is the person in front of you not doing one or more of these? This is your chance to gently learn more.

3. Keep feedback in its place

While feedback is also a critical part of a high-performing workplace, 1:1s aren’t a place to give it. Why? Because feedback is best served warm – both in tone and in timing. Both Rachael and Rebecca make a point of calling this out: 

“Feedback should be treated separately, especially the constructive or course corrective stuff. What makes feedback work is delivering it quickly after the event and then showing the person that you’re moving on and are still focused on them and their career.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback though. You’ll role model good behaviour and demonstrate how seriously you take your role as a leader.

4. Share ownership of the agenda

One-on-one agendas are a joint responsibility. Start a doc, and co-create the plan for each catchup. Jot down (and loosely timebox) the major areas you both want to cover, especially if you want to raise anything that requires a bit of advanced thinking.

Your joint doc is also the place to record any actions, and who is responsible for them. This simple structure will keep you both accountable, and act as a record of past discussions and actions. Some questions you might want to add:

  • How has your week been?
  • What are you excited about at the moment?
  • Is there anything in particular that you’d like to talk through?
  • Do you have any ideas or suggestions to help you feel more engaged in your role?
  • Is there anything slowing you down right now?

The easiest way to make sure you both make time to create the agenda is to set a recurring 15-minute calendar invite for a day or two before each one-on-one. But remember, while you share ownership of the agenda, you as a leader have one extra job: to proactively celebrate their successes! Make sure you mentally note down one to share in each 1:1.

5. Tailor the type 

On top of the initial expectation-setting conversations and regular, less formal catch-ups, Rachael also suggests a third type of one-on-one: The stay interview. 

“Think of it as an exit interview before the resignation has come. After you’ve built trust with someone, this is your opportunity to ask deeper questions, and the answers give you SUCH good intel. Depending on the size of your organisation, you can also join other leaders and anonymously theme answers to find some organisational priorities for your teams”. 

Some sample questions to guide your stay interviews:

  • Am I doing the right things as your leader?
  • Do you see yourself staying here?
  • What are other organisations offering that we should consider?
  • In your opinion, was that programme/initiative worthwhile?

Want to lead with empathy?

In episode 7 of PowrUp, we chat about the role of empathy in leadership. Hear stories of Kristen and Nat’s experiences and how they’ve practiced empathy with their teams. Listen now:

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