Tips for an effective 1:1
Focus one-on-one meetings on the direct report
One-on-one is a meeting for the direct, orchestrated by the leader, but the focus is really the direct- their practical needs and their personal needs. The biggest mistake a manager does in a 1:1 is doing most of the talking. Our research shows that the more the manager talks in a one-on-one, the lower the ratings of the effectiveness of the one-on-one. This makes tremendous sense because obviously, this meeting is for the direct, so we need to make sure that the direct is dominating the conversation. We want to make sure that their needs are being addressed, so we need to quiet our own voices.
Choose the right meeting cadence: weekly or biweekly
We don't want one-on-one meetings too infrequent and we don't want them too frequent. The science is most aligned with this idea of weekly or every other week one-on-ones as these cadences resulted in the most employee engagement. Once you go more than two weeks without a one-on-one meeting, the gap is so long that you tend to forget what was said and you just don't get this continuity and momentum. In fact, when you ask people “Do you want less one-on-ones?”, the biggest predictor of their answer is not related to their workload but related to how well the leader runs the one-on-ones. When the leader is running the one-on-ones well, employees want them more. They just want to have as many of these as they can, because if it's run well, the employee experience is greatly elevated.
Create the 1:1 Meeting Agenda with the Direct Report (It doesn’t need to be a formal template)
Do we need an agenda for a one-on-one meeting?
Yes. Research actually shows that one-on-ones do need it and when one-on-ones did have an agenda, those meetings were rated more valuable. (Fun fact: Because agendas are a contentious topic, they are only used about 50% of the time.)
Who creates the agenda for the 1:1?
What's more important than actually having the agenda is how it was created. When the direct or the manager collaborate together to create the agenda, those meetings were rated much more valuable than if it's just the manager providing the agenda. ( Again, we're seeing a theme here that these are meetings for the direct, orchestrated by the manager)
Do we need to have a formal agenda and template for a 1:1?
The key thing is that these agendas don't have to be very formal. We just want to sit down and make sure that we convey some type of framework and plan for this conversation, so keep it simple. That works absolutely fine.
How to run an effective one-on-one meeting as a CTO
Once you're in the meeting, there are a few things that we want to make sure happens.
Don’t fall for the status update trap
First of all, we don't want to fall into a status update trap where people are just sharing: “Okay, I’m doing this, I'm doing that, I'm doing this.” That's inherently not all that interesting. That could be accomplished via email. We want these meetings to be much more strategic than that. We want the conversation to be much more interesting. We want people to be talking about careers and obstacles and support they need and well-being and general communication. We want people to ask for feedback and give feedback. We need to make sure that these deeper types of topics also get integrated into one-on-ones
It's not just about productivity, it's about the person and their needs
When you're leading the one-on-one, it's not just about business and checking things off the list on the agenda. We need to make sure that we are really focused on meeting the personal needs of Directs as well. Every person goes into a one-on-one with personal and practical needs. Well, the practical ones are very tactical, but the personal needs are about how a team member feels coming out of the one-on-one. Do they feel trusted, respected, and included? That really matters. Managers need to make sure that they facilitate the meeting in a way that they're clearly listening, responding with empathy, and communicating authentically and transparently. Managers need to be kind and supportive even if it means being vulnerable and involving the direct in these conversations.
Give your Direct Report space to come up with the solution
Give your direct space to come up with the solution. As the leader, don't just tell your direct report the solution. Listen, ask them for their advice, and walk through a process to help them discover what might be best. That tends to engender lots more commitment. When the direct solution doesn't match yours exactly, unless it's really consequential, let it go. Just ignore it. Just let it go. Let them have this runway. If the consequences are great, absolutely you should intervene, but if not, let it go. Give them that room.
In conclusion, one-on-one meetings offer leaders a powerful tool to increase employee engagement and drive team success. By focusing on the needs of the direct report, maintaining a regular cadence, utilizing asynchronous tools, and fostering an environment of trust, managers can unlock the full potential of one-on-one meetings and propel their teams onwards.
Did you find this insightful? Find out more about the meeting science of 1:1 meetings by reading Glad We Met: The Art and Science of 1:1 Meetings. To improve your meeting game overall, you should read his first book The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance. You can also find more resources about meetings on his website.