Having a good and regular 1 on 1 with your direct reports is, in my opinion, a vital part of staying accessible to your team and giving them the valuable facetime that they need. Knowing that they have the freedom to ask questions, bring up concerns and get some genuine and honest feedback on their thoughts should help your team better understand your expectations and their role on the team. It may seem like a weird concept, especially if you have a close team and talk constantly anyway, but having a formalized meeting on a regular basis should provide a net benefit to all.
That being said, it isn’t always easy to do. Sometimes everyone involved is very busy and it seems like an easy meeting to brush off. Even learning how to have an effective 1 on 1 with people is a skill that isn’t always easily acquired. This goes from both sides as I know I struggled with the concept as both a manager in my talks with my team, and as a direct report when I had similar meetings with my managers. I don’t think it’s an uncommon thing for a junior team to have 1 on 1s that consist of just staring at one another struggling to make points.
Some experience has taught me some pointers, and reflecting on my 1 on 1s has helped give me some insight on what should be expected, and how to engage on them.
- Schedule your 1 on 1s. Make sure to put them in your calendar (as well as your direct report’s calendar) so that they are “official”. Try to make them an ongoing meeting if possible, done at the same time each session.
- Try and make it comfortable. If you are holding them in a meeting room or office, grab a coffee with your direct report. Alternately, a quick trip to a coffee shop can work well, so long as it’s off hours and not terribly crowded.
- Before your 1 on 1, write down 1-3 talking points. These should not be about *what* your direct report is doing on a day to day basis, but things that you think should be brought up (i.e. how the group is feeling, any ideas you may have for the product, thoughts on where you see the team heading, etc…)
- Ask your direct report to bring 1-3 talking points as well. These don’t have to be big items, just things to get a conversation going.
- Job performance can be touched on, but shouldn’t be the sole focus of the 1 on 1. These are not performance reviews, rather these should be more akin to suggestions and ideas. If you do feel like you need to address a performance issue, be prepared to also mention items that you direct report is doing well at.
- 1 on 1 time is more for your report than for you. If your direct report has a plethora of items to bring up and work through, let them.
- Remember that it isn’t imperative to solve all of the issues that are brought up in a 1 on 1 then and there. Your first goal is to just listen. Some issues will require your action, but often times just listening and offering small feedback can help the team member work through issues on their own.
- Don’t force it. If both of you have little to nothing to say, don’t try and force the meeting. Take a minute and chat, but if there isn’t much to discuss, close the meeting. The flip side here is to try and be better prepared for the next one.
- You need to find a schedule for these meetings that works best for you and your team. I like every 2 weeks, but some teams might benefit more from a weekly 1 on 1 schedule. Or maybe a monthly one. Don’t be afraid to play around with the scheduling until you find the cycle that works best for your group.
- By the same token, there is no static number for how long each meeting needs to be. I tend to prefer a quick 15 minute meeting, but sometimes you need half an hour to go over everything. Sometimes more. Sometimes a quick 5 minutes is all you need. Just make sure to schedule enough time at the start. You can always adjust later on.
- Don’t get too formal. This isn’t about taking minutes, action items, presentations and follow up. Don’t be afraid to take a few notes, but try and keep it more to a conversational pace, than a meeting pace.
- Don’t be afraid to get help if something comes up that is outside of your experience or breadth of knowledge. Sometimes a member of your team may bring up a personal issue that you aren’t equipped to handle. Make sure to reach out to your own manager or your HR partners when you need additional assistance.
- Be the manager each team member needs you to be. This is something I struggled with a great deal. But each member needs something different. Some people look to a 1 on 1 for mentorship, some for a chance to unwind and talk candidly, some look for pure leadership, some look for answers, some look for a sounding board. Be adaptable. It may take some time, but learn to be what each direct report needs you to be.
There isn’t a magical formula for an effective 1 on 1. Each team is different, each manager is different, and the dynamic can change on any given week. I find that the important part is to be available, make sure that your team knows you’re available, and to try your best to make the time to have these quick meetings. It isn’t easy, but having a team that trusts you to listen to their concerns and give them valuable feedback is incredibly important.