Everyone wants to be heard. It is an elemental component of any relationship, whether it’s a personal or professional one. The listener doesn’t have to agree with what’s being said, but the speaker needs to know they’re listening.
For managers, the most effective way to build relationships with those who report to them is the one-on-one meeting. Managing one-on-ones can be a feat in itself. Depending on the number of people reporting to you, they can require a significant amount of time and coordination.
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Beware the temptation to schedule one-on-ones for the sake of appearances, though. The mere act of them won’t make a team member feel heard. Listening will.
Your team will become more engaged and productive if they feel that their opinions are valued. So if you’re the kind of manager who wants that kind of team, listen up. Here are some recommendations for holding one-on-ones your employees will actually appreciate.
Let the Employee Drive the Agenda
As a manager, you will be the person who schedules one-on-ones with your team members. However, the agenda should be driven by each of them, not by you. This is their opportunity to express their thoughts, concerns, and opinions.
You can help your employee prepare for meetings by proposing ideas for an agenda. This will prompt them to think about the meeting ahead of time and come prepared. That alone should make for a more productive meeting.
This doesn’t mean you just show up and let them do the talking. Rather, ask intuitive questions to make sure you fully understand issues and concerns. You should also ask follow-up questions that address issues raised in previous one-on-ones.
It’s OK to go off script, especially if you see an employee is struggling to talk about something. The same is true when you need to address your expectations for their performance. Just make sure you’re the guardrails while they’re behind the wheel.
Leave Distractions at the Door
These days it’s difficult not to get distracted by calls, text notifications, and people stopping by your office. Your direct reports will only appreciate your one-on-ones if you clear potential distractions and give them your undivided attention. In addition to putting your smartphone on silent and out of view, meeting locations are critical.
One-on-ones held in your office may be intimidating to some employees. If they have a private office, meet in their space. If not, choose a conference room, go for a walk, or grab lunch — so long as you can speak privately.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to leave your mental distractions at the door as well. Focus on what the employee is saying and avoid wandering thoughts. You’re there to listen and offer constructive guidance, so don’t let anything extraneous stand in the way.
Sometimes, getting out of the office is the best way to leave distractions behind. For the time allotted, and perhaps more, the discussion is the task at hand. Those distractions will still be there when you return.
Make Them Teaching Moments
Good managers lead by example and direction, showing and telling employees how to do a job well. They don’t do the work for their team members but instead provide the information and support they need to succeed. One-on-ones offer the opportunity to inspire.
These meetings give employees a forum for talking about problems. You can use them to help your team members resolve issues on their own by asking questions. If an employee is struggling with a project, ask them why they think that is.
This Socratic approach encourages introspection and reasoning rather than emotional reactions. Moreover, the answers an employee gives you may reveal much to you about the source of a problem. If it’s one that affects the entire team, it warrants addressing with every member in their one-on-ones.
These meetings also give you a space to find out what professional goals your employees have. If they haven’t set any, you can ask questions that will give them impetus to think about them. Spend some time coaching them about ways they can achieve their goals, and everyone wins.
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If you want to form strong relationships with your team members, you’re going to have to get personal. You need to know something about your employees beyond the office, and they need to know the same about you. One-on-ones offer an opportunity to get to know one another better.
If the global pandemic has taught us any lessons, it’s that there’s a fine line between work and personal lives. While it’s healthy to have a separation between the two, the personal and professional are inexorably linked. Your employees will appreciate your interest in both.
Don’t ask inappropriately intimate questions, of course. Do ask questions that will show you’re interested in who they are, not just how they earn your company money. And when there’s a good segue, volunteer some personal details about yourself.
Sharing information about hobbies, kids, or interests may break through any barriers that intimidate a subordinate. More relaxed employees may be willing to share more work-related information when meetings feel less formal. It’s a chance for a check-in that employees appreciate now more than ever.
An Investment in Your Team
Great teams are composed of great individuals. One-on-ones done well build both.
As a manager, you may worry about the amount of time you’ll need to devote to these meetings. The more employees who are under your supervision, the more time you’ll need. Holding one-on-ones with each employee every two weeks can cut a hefty slice out of a busy schedule.
Instead of looking at these check-ins as onerous tasks, consider them investments in your team. If your job is to keep employees engaged and highly productive, one-on-ones can accomplish those goals. That’s something everyone who reports to you, and whomever you report to, can appreciate.