Tuesday Dispatch: #118 - One-on-one Meetings
The Good The Bad and The Ugly of meeting regularly with your manager.
In my 20s, I worked in the service industry at a beach resort. The place buzzed with parties and clubbing, run by a quintessential entrepreneur who employed about 25 people. The service industry is tough. You work long hours with minimal rest, yet you spend the entire season partying with customers. They drink, you work. However, the industry is challenging. Many employers lack proper work etiquette, and most managers resort to yelling, pushing, and borderline abusing their staff to get things done.
During my time at the club, I observed something unusual. The owner made an effort to speak with each employee individually. He dedicated time to understanding them better and engaging in meaningful conversations. Whenever a mistake occurred, he would sit down with the person involved, discuss the issue, and explore how to improve in the future. This was my first encounter with one-on-one meetings in my career.
15 years later, I became a manager in an organization with a strong tradition of one-on-one meetings. Every manager held these meetings weekly with their team members. Yet, the purpose of these meetings remained unclear. I noticed that only a few managers used these sessions effectively. Most employees merely participated, misled by the common misunderstanding of spending time with their manager.
Many managers misused these one-on-ones for status updates or casual talks without a clear aim. I also found that many used these sessions to vent, rant, or discuss company politics. Occasionally, I found myself in one-on-ones, where gossip became the main topic. Despite these issues, I understood the value of well-conducted, structured time with employees. It's one of the best tools a manager can use to build trust and rapport and improve team performance.
This realization sparked my interest in these interactions. As a manager and later as a director, I explored ways to make these one-on-ones as effective as possible.
The Good: building trust
One-on-one meetings help build trust and strong relationships between managers and employees. Trust is the foundation of performance and begins with understanding your team members. During these meetings, you can discover what truly motivates your team and their frustrations. This allows you to address their concerns and guide them through tough conversations, situations, and conflicts they face in their daily work.
As a manager, these meetings allow you to mentor and coach your employees. You can give them valuable feedback that helps them improve. As an employee, these meetings can motivate you. They show that your manager values your work and wants to understand how to support and expand your contribution.
The Bad: bottlenecking
One-on-one meetings often reveal a darker side. Problems arise when these meetings serve to mask underlying issues.
If team members lack decision-making power, they may use these meetings as the sole means to accomplish tasks. If they lack the tools, power, or skills to resolve conflicts, private meetings with their leader can become arenas for political maneuvering.
Misuse of one-on-one meetings is common, and if you notice them being used to tackle other unresolved issues, it's your responsibility to bring these discussions into the open. If problems only find solutions in one-on-one meetings, it points to a structural flaw in your process.
It's problematic when people don't address issues themselves and find solutions during the week but instead compile a package to present to their manager, making the manager the gatekeeper for those solutions.
As a manager, ensure that your one-on-one meetings don't become the bottleneck for productivity.
The Ugly: babysitting
Even worse than bottlenecking, one-on-ones are costly.
They can consume most of your schedule swiftly. If you manage ten people, squeezing in 10 weekly meetings will leave no room for other significant tasks.
Moreover, one-on-ones can turn repetitive. If your team lacks diligence and motivation, you may find yourself discussing the same topics repeatedly. The biggest issue with one-on-ones is the notion that your team can't progress unless you're constantly guiding them.
This can make managers feel like they're babysitting, which is a wrong approach. Such a situation indicates problems with your process and team's productivity culture, not just with your one-on-ones. So, here's a tip: hold weekly meetings.
They should be brief enough not to clog your calendar yet long enough for meaningful discussions. Focus on your team's needs, morale, mood, and frustrations. Use the meetings as a chance to mentor and coach, not to babysit.
A Leader’s Secret Weapon: The Power of One-on-One Meetings
On a weekly basis, I meticulously review hundreds of articles. Occasionally, I encounter quintessential content that evokes a profound sense of admiration and awe.
This piece of corporate literature is among those highly esteemed, penned by an author I greatly respect. Paolo, who has served as my superior for numerous years, has also been my mentor and, even more significantly, a cherished friend for an even more extended period.
If you're a leader who senses a slight gap with your team or if you're dealing with a turnover rate higher than you're comfortable with, this excellent article might offer the answers you need.
How to run 1:1 meetings
Filling your calendar with 1:1 meetings is easy if you're involved in cross-functional work. They can be a high-fidelity way to build relationships and collaborate.
Here is a good guide on running different types of 1:1 meetings effectively. Check it out!
The Only One-on-One Meeting Checklist You Will Ever Need
Managers often avoid individual meetings. They struggle with their structure and handling tough talks. Also, they may cancel meetings they believe are not valuable. However, these meetings can greatly enhance team productivity, morale, and engagement if done right.
Check out this great checklist, and make the most out of your one-on-one meetings!
The Ultimate Manager's Guide to Leading Effective One-on-Ones
Managers can stay updated about any hurdles that might hinder an employee's work through regular, informal check-ins. Instead of silently struggling, employees can share difficult situations with their managers and seek their advice and expertise. If a person or process stalls a project, a manager can collaborate with their employee to determine the best next steps.
One-on-one meetings greatly enhance the relationship between a manager and an employee. These informal meetings give managers private time with their team members each week. It's a great chance for managers to understand their employees personally. Over time, this can build a stronger connection and trust.
Don't miss this guide; it's super valuable!
One meeting that employees love is the one-on-one they have with their manager every week or two. Most managers speak with pride about how often they meet with their direct reports and how "the time is theirs." We're servant leaders, right? Sure. But here's something I've noticed that you might not expect. One-on-ones are often used as a salve for hidden dysfunction. When members lack the authority to make decisions, these meetings become the only mechanism for moving things forward. When members lack the ability to resolve conflict, these private audiences with the leader become a forum for politicking. Great one-on-ones can provide feedback and mentorship, deepen relationships, or give us a chance to collaborate on the work. But if you notice they're becoming a venue for other unmet needs, pull the rip cord and bring those conversations into the light.
Brave New Work - Aaron Dignan - page 121/122
One-on-one meetings can greatly enhance trust, foster relationships, and boost your team's performance. But they're more than just an hour-long weekly gathering. They demand careful planning, effective execution, a clear goal, and a committed process.