Effective 1:1’s and Development
Few managers and leaders are conducting useful 1:1’s and when they do, often miss the mark in making them effective and productive.
There is value in learning how to facilitate a 1:1 that provides value for all involved.
It is of great interest to me how few managers bother with meeting formally in any capacity on a regular basis with their team members. Taking this one step further, it is a shame how many managers avoid this key part of their role. It is too easy to get caught up in the operational and tactical aspects of management. Being a leader compels contact and connection with your direct reports. Although many fail to make the time for this, it is in fact an obligation of being a leader. To feel the many benefits and rewards requires a conscious plan to engage and persist whilst practicing the skill-sets that make it work.
To see time dedicated to each team member as somehow negotiable misses the point regarding being a leader.
Worldwide, the percentage of adults who work full-time for an employer and are engaged at work — they are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace — is just 15%. That low percentage of engaged employees is a barrier to creating high-performing cultures. It implies a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of our global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.
Businesses that orient performance management systems around basic human needs for psychological engagement — such as positive workplace relationships, frequent recognition, ongoing performance conversations and opportunities for personal development — get the most out of their employees. If spending time with your team members is not your key priority you are missing one of the most valuable aspects of your role as a leader.
Communication, clarity, context, expectation setting, checking for understanding and similar key requirements form part of this discussion.
Consolidation and reinforcement occurs in between formal sessions, during ad-hoc catch-ups. They are extremely valuable and important. However, there needs to be a formal, established rhythm where real and honest discussion can take place. This should be done in a private setting where both the leader and employee can feel comfortable to raise any relevant points. These discussions form the basis for most performance reviews and development opportunities. The chance to reduce or remove assumptions is also of great benefit.
An effective 1:1 is a discussion with purpose. It has two-way communication and feedback; invites self-assessment; invests in the relationship; and has actions and outcomes.
The Major Benefits of Weekly 1:1’s
One of my favourite proponents of the power and benefits of 1:1’s, Jason Evanish from GetLighthouse, summarises frequency and need beautifully. There is often a lot of debate of how frequent you should really have 1:1’s. I regularly have heard push back from managers with statements like:
- “Are they really worth it?”
- “Can’t I get away with a lot less than that?”
- “This is a really big time investment! How can I fill my calendar that much?”
You get the idea. The rule of thumb we recommend is roughly:
- Meet weekly with everyone if you have a team of 5 or less. (That’s basically then 1 meeting a day, or 1 afternoon a week)
- Meet every 2 weeks if you have a large team of 6 or more. (Give them each an hour every 2 weeks then so you have time to dig into meaty topics)
- You need a smaller team ASAP if you have more than 10 direct reports. (That’s the real reason you don’t have time for everyone, and should be fixed instead of rationing your calendar)
With all of this in mind then, it’s interesting to see the results of Gallup’s studies of 14,774 participants across 2,354 teams around weekly 1:1s:
Participants with weekly 1:1’s had 10% to 22% higher engagement themselves, 8% to 18% higher team engagement, 21% to 28% lower turnover and 20% to 28% higher likelihood of performance improvement relative to their peers. Plus, these effects compound in future years.
Two of the most important, yet under-rated skills for managers and leaders are listening and questioning. To be present and focused and know what key question to ask at the right time adds value to any relationship and discussion. They are particularly important during 1:1s with your employees and their development opportunities.
1:1’s are a tool, opportunity and process. When conducted well they are an incredibly useful and effective part of leadership and developing effective relationships. The opposite is just as true. When avoided, gaps and misunderstandings often exist as a direct result. Your willingness to learn how to conduct 1:1’s effectively will have a direct impact on your team and your results. Outcomes and benefits include: team member engagement; trust increase; the leader and employee earn the right to be heard; improved levels of influence; and the opportunity to discuss relevant, meaningful topics.
The most effective 1:1’s are action-oriented and holistic in their approach. This means that all aspects of the employee’s performance and mindset are discussed.
If you aren’t having 1:1’swith your team, you’re missing out on an incredible motivating, problem solving, pressure relieving opportunity to help and grow your team. But even if you’re totally bought into starting them, it can be intimidating to actually get started. Like the first time for many things, when you start, it’s easy to feel unsure what to do. When you start, there can be many questions like:
- What do I talk about?
- What do I say to my team?
- How often should I have them?
- What if my team doesn’t want to talk to me?
- When should I schedule them?
- …and many more.
Manager Tools was created to serve a need, the need for there to be better managers and leaders in this world! Managers are rarely given actionable guidance about how to succeed and what they can actually DO to be an effective leader. All too often when managers receive guidance, it’s misguided or not actionable. This first episode of a 4-part program highlighting how to facilitate effective 1:1’s is well worth a listen.
Most good bosses know that they should schedule regular 1:1’s with each of their team members. But fewer know exactly how to manage these meetings well, in part because organisations rarely offer relevant training. Steven Rogelberg has spent years researching the best way to prepare for, structure, engage in, and follow up on 1:1’s. He says they are a key way to boost performance and offers tips for ensuring that we all get more out of them. Rogelberg is the author of the book, Glad We Met: The Art and Science of 1:1 Meetings.
Components of an Effective 1:1:
- To understand and align on work progress, objectives, and challenges.
- To offer a platform for coaching and personal development.
- Regularly scheduled (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly) to ensure continuous communication and progress tracking.
- Predefined by both parties to address specific topics of importance.
- Flexible to accommodate urgent issues.
- Feedback Mechanism:
- Manager provides constructive feedback on performance and behaviours.
- Employee shares feedback or concerns regarding work or the work environment.
- Goal Setting:
- Jointly establish short-term and long-term professional goals.
- Review and update previous goals and achievements.
- Development Focus:
- Identify areas for skill enhancement and professional growth.
- Discuss opportunities for training or new responsibilities.
- Action Items:
- Define specific tasks or objectives to be accomplished before the next meeting.
- Assign responsibilities and deadlines.
- Active Listening and Engagement:
- Both parties practice active listening to ensure mutual understanding.
- Encourage open and honest dialogue.
Success factors that many managers miss:
- Preparation: Both parties should prepare for the meeting by reviewing agenda items and relevant materials.
- Consistency: Regular and timely meetings help in maintaining momentum and focus.
- Follow-up: Post-meeting actions and decisions should be tracked and reviewed in subsequent meetings.
Facilitating effective 1:1 meetings between a manager and team members is a crucial aspect of effective leadership and management.
These meetings offer numerous benefits, both for the manager and the team members. We have listed a few of the key actions and focus areas for each benefit, providing a meaningful opportunity for your development.
Building Trust and Rapport: Regular 1:1 meetings help in building a strong relationship of trust and rapport between you as a manager and your team members. This personal connection is essential for a healthy work environment.
- Active Listening: Show genuine interest in what the team member is saying. Avoid distractions during the meeting and focus entirely on the conversation.
- Personalisation: Share personal experiences and stories where appropriate. This humanises the interaction and makes the team member feel more at ease. Be careful not to assume that your story is their story.
Understanding Individual Needs and Concerns: Every team member has unique needs and concerns. 1:1’s provide a private space for discussing these individual points, which might not be appropriate or possible in a group setting.
- Asking Open-Ended Questions: Encourage team members to open up by asking questions that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Invite discovery and opportunity to truly understand the reasons why situations are occurring.
- Follow-Up on Previous Discussions: Show that you care about their concerns by following up on issues discussed in previous 1:1’s. To do this effectively, it is important to take notes.
Providing Tailored Feedback and Support: These meetings are an opportunity for managers to give personalised feedback and support to each team member, helping them grow and develop in their roles.
- Specific Feedback: Give specific, actionable feedback rather than vague comments. This helps the employee understand exactly what they need to improve. Critically, invite ‘self-feedback’ from your team member on all occasions.
- Offer Resources: If a team member is struggling, offer resources, development or training that could help them overcome their challenges.
Enhancing Communication: Regular 1:1’s ensure that there is a steady flow of communication between you and your team members. It helps in clarifying expectations, discussing progress, and addressing any misunderstandings.
- Regular Scheduling: Have a consistent schedule for 1:1’s to ensure regular communication. We recommend booking in 6-months worth of sessions ahead of time.
- Clarity in Expectations: Clearly communicate expectations and any changes in goals or company direction. You are looking to create an environment and culture of ‘self-accountability’ which is impossible without clearly understood and agree expectations.
Career Development: 1:1’s are an ideal opportunity for discussing career aspiration’s, direction and development plans. This aligns the individual’s career goals with your organisation’s objectives.
- Discuss Career Goals: Regularly discuss where the team member sees their career heading and how you can support them in achieving these goals.
- Create a Development Plan: Work together to create a personal development plan that aligns with their career aspirations. This should focus on maximising their current role achievements, which is one of the best ways to be seen as promotable. I often advise my clients to focus on the now and current role, where every minute thinking about the next role is one you are not focusing on the current platform to best get you there.
Problem-Solving and Conflict Resolution: Issues and conflicts can be resolved more effectively in a 1:1 setting where both parties can speak openly and work together towards a solution.
- Encourage Openness: Create a safe environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their problems or conflicts. Relationships, mutual respect and trust are critical to develop the best opportunity to work at the appropriate level of conversation and outcomes.
- Collaborative Problem Solving: Work together to find a solution, making the team member an active part of the problem-solving process. In fact, in coaching, much of this discovery and potential solutions should come from your team member. Your job is to facilitate, explore and extend thinking.
Boosting Engagement and Motivation: When team members feel heard and supported, their engagement and motivation levels tend to increase. This can lead to improved productivity and job satisfaction.
- Recognition and Appreciation: Regularly recognise and appreciate the efforts and achievements of team members. Most of the time your team are doing good work the right way – your words should reflect this perspective.
- Connect Work to Impact: Help your team members see how their work contributes to the larger goals of the team and company. This is critical, yet rarely done well.
Gauging Morale and Well-being: Regular interactions help managers gauge the morale and well-being of their team members, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy and productive work environment.
- Check-in on Work-Life Balance: Regularly discuss their workload and stress levels to ensure they maintain a healthy work-life balance. Assisting with prioritising and re-prioritising work commitments is key to managing outcomes and team member engagement.
- Offer Support for Personal Challenges: Show support for challenges they may be facing outside of work, where appropriate. Empathy is a critical leadership skill and is commonly applied in the 1:1 setting.
Identifying Opportunities and Risks: Through these discussions, managers can identify potential opportunities for the team or organisation and mitigate risks by addressing problems early.
- Encourage Innovation: Encourage team members to share their ideas for improvements or new opportunities.
- Risk Assessment Discussions: Discuss potential risks in projects or processes and brainstorm preventive measures.No-one knows your employee’s role like they do (or should do!!), so don’t make the common mistake of telling them how they have gone, without also seeking their view.
Promoting Accountability and Ownership: These meetings can reinforce a sense of accountability and ownership in team members, as they have a regular platform to report on their progress and discuss their responsibilities.
- Set Clear Objectives: Set clear, measurable objectives for each team member and review these regularly.
- Encourage Self-Reflection: Ask team members to self-reflect on their performance and areas for improvement.
Dedicating time to effective 1:1’s is a strategic investment in the team’s overall success and well-being. It helps in building stronger teams, fostering open communication, and ensuring that each team member is aligned with the organisation’s goals and feels valued and supported.
Self-assessment and reflection is generally more useful than solely providing feedback. You will find that through asking the right questions and listening well, there is much to learn about each person. You can then provide your own thoughts and feedback throughout the discussion, in response to your employee. It may seem subtle but is actually a significant shift in accountability and ownership. It also makes the session easier for the you as the leader as you learn that they don’t have to have all the answers.
These details are important, but if you want to have more effective and valuable 1:1 meetings, think bigger picture.
As a leader, be observant, and make coaching and feedback a part of the list of things you routinely talk about in these meetings. Consider asking for feedback on your performance too.
As a team member, if you want more feedback in general, or specific guidance on a situation, ask for it. The 1:1 meeting is a time you will have your leader’s attention, so use it to get the feedback you need. Regular follow-up and development provides momentum and progression, as well as the best opportunity for accountability.
Monthly 1:1’sare better than none at all, however fortnightly is best in my experience. It is generally better to conduct fortnightly 1:1’s of 45 minutes in length compared to monthly sessions of an hour or longer.
This does depend on the number of direct reports, employee tenure and competence, amongst other judgments you must make. Finally, a good rule-of-thumb to follow is to make sure that each 1:1 covers 3 key categories. Assuming a 60 minute session is scheduled, break the session into thirds or roughly 20-minute segments:
- Tasks = Focus on results, work being performed and operational work i.e. the things that your employee does.
- Self = Self-reflection and discussion regarding the employee themselves – how do they feel? What is going well? What isn’t?
- Others = Feedback and self-assessment regarding their relationships – with you as their leader; with their peers; with their direct reports; other relationships e.g stakeholders.
The timing of 20 minutes for each segment is indicative and obviously can be altered, depending on the conversation and flow. The critical aspect is that all 3 elements are covered during each session.
Without a doubt the biggest challenge for most managers is to conduct a 1:1 at all.
Feedback I receive is that most managers don’t conduct 1:1’s and if they do, they are not that useful because they focus solely on segment 1 – results, KPI’s and tasks. Greater improvement and objectivity is gained when the leader focuses on how the results are achieved. You cannot influence a number or historical result.
This information is important to identify insights and trends, leading to potential actions. But, in itself, it offers little direction or future action. Identifying why the results are what they are has purpose and potential for establishing goals.
There is something to be said, however, about occasionally changing the setting. Some of the best 1:1 discussions I have had occurred during a walk around the block or at a cafe’. As with all relationships, it is important to know your team members well enough to know what their preferences are. Clearly, going for a walk with an employee with health issues might be challenging and potentially do more harm than good, for example.
I often hear statements from managers like, “my door is always open”. The assumption that this style creates opportunity for meaningful discussion is flawed. Not all of your team members will approach you proactively to raise all of their issues and successes. Quite often the key few will ‘pop into your office’ to vent or raise concerns. Regularly the same employees will chat about the same challenges and points, visit after visit. Reactive conversations based on specific issues become the norm. Most commonly when this occurs, you are almost always solving your team member’s problems for them. Although it may feel good, it is not effective and is poor leadership. Your role as a leader is to teach others how to fish, not to keep feeding them!
Of course, not all of your team will approach you just because you ‘offered’ – 1:1’s provide the alternative options for connecting and understanding. Personal and professional topics are discussed. You need to give these meetings a fair amount of time to make sure you really dig into issues that are bothering your employees, fully explore ideas with them, and have a good opportunity to coach your team members, based on the need. You will also build their confidence and trust in you, knowing that when they come to you with a problem you will not only listen, but help them do something about it and solve their own problems and challenges.
1:1’s are proactive in nature, identifying and addressing things before they escalate.
The ‘door is open approach’ is reactive and covers the select few issues that your team members choose to raise – it assumes too much and is quite a lazy approach. It is often an approach based on the manager – their fears, self-doubts and lack of confidence to manage the conversations. The 1:1 should be mostly about the employee. Conversely, relationship-based 1:1’s are proactive as they delve and discover opportunities that may not have been identified without facilitating and questioning.
The discussion is meaningful in that it maintains flow and momentum in actions, progress and meeting goals.
The ironic part of this mindset is that a focus away from your team rarely ends well. The most relevant and impactful way to be able to influence outcomes and results is via the effectiveness, capability, competence and confidence of each team member. This takes focus and development. To assume that this growth will occur without your guidance and assistance as their immediate manager/leader reflects inexperience or avoidance. Related to this, emphasis on results and outcomes without understanding the inputs and contributors, drives managers towards the wrong focus. This could appear as an unsupported challenge or even worse, a threat or coercion.
We have already touched on a few key benefits of 1:1’s, however the most important point is the risk if you don’t formalise and maximise the opportunities provided through these discussions.
What causes some people to fully commit to the team and give their max effort while others don’t? It’s trust. In research conducted by The Ken Blanchard Companies and Training Magazine, over 60% of respondents say the most important factor influencing the effort they give to a team is how much they trust their fellow teammates.
Having high trust in your teammates frees you up to focus on your own contributions without worrying about others following through on their commitments. Trusting your team gives you freedom to take risks, knowing your teammates have your back and will support you. Team trust allows you to have open and honest dialogue and healthy debate that leads to better decision-making, and conflict gets resolved productively instead of people sandbagging issues or sabotaging the efforts of others.
But developing trust in your teammates doesn’t happen by accident; it takes an intentional effort to proactively build trust. It is a very similar factor when considering the relationship between a leader and direct report…but, more impactful in most cases. Trust cannot be built from afar or in spite of the effort to develop effective relationships. Regular 1:1’s provide that opportunity. When you have scheduled the sessions, commit to them. Cancelling or constantly moving the 1:1’s sends a very clear message about your priorities. Remember, most employees have around 160+ hours / month to accomplish their work.
Focusing on the single greatest impact on the success of that work (hint: your team members) for 15-20 hours / month seems like a pretty solid investment! Let your team know you want to have 1:1’s to help them. If they’ve never had them before, they may not know what to expect, so it helps to give them a little background before the first one. We recommend that you share this webpage with them too – how much easier is it for your to influence when you are speaking the same language and have similar understanding of the context.
Over time, you can shift the accountability of scheduling and agenda-setting to your employee. Regular conversations that contain actions and outcomes create the best chance of meaningful development.
The CoachStation REOWM Leadership Accountability model provides a solid framework to assist in your 1:1’s. Access a copy of the REOWM model and explanations for each of the 5 steps here.
It is important to spend a few minutes preparing for each one-on-one.
Leadership expert, Kevin Eikenberry correctly states that: the best meetings have agendas, and while your 1:1 meetings likely won’t have a formal agenda (although they could), for them to be most effective and productive, both parties need to be clear on the expectations, goals, and outcomes for these meetings. Since you are likely having these meetings already without this clarity, make this a topic of conversation the next time you meet.
As a leader, don’t just assume others know what you want from these meetings – talk to them and share your needs and goals for your one-on-ones.
As a team member ask for what you need. If you are hoping for/need something from these meetings (like more direction, for example), ask for it. I have found that a consistent agenda containing 3 key elements works well in establishing a standard, expectations and agreed outcomes:
What’s on your mind?
What would you like to discuss?
How have you gone since we last met?
What notes have you made providing detail about what went well and why; how; and what evidence of success or otherwise occurred?
Did your actions work?
What did you learn as a result?
How do you know they worked?
What do you need to do to reinforce and consolidate recent learning and actions?
What have you taken away from today’s 1:1?
Are there any new potential actions?
There is value if your team member takes control of the meeting. It may take a couple of 1:1’s for them to get comfortable and understand your expectations and how best to apply them, but it is their time, so your employee should own it. Support them through this though, being fair and clear about how this looks and what they should do. Accountability should sit with the person who is the focus of the 1:1.
Too often the 1:1 meeting becomes tactical focuses on the day-to-day issues and tasks.
Access additional great examples of coaching questions you can use in any discussion – 50 Power Questions
Effective 1:1s are crucial for you to foster a culture of open communication and trust, enhancing team dynamics and individual growth. These personalised meetings demonstrate your commitment to your team member’s professional development and well-being. By encouraging accountability, inquiring and investigating to understand, and providing tailored guidance, 1:1s help in identifying and addressing challenges proactively.
Ultimately, they strengthen leadership impact, driving organisational success through focused, engaged, and empowered employees. 1:1’s are a critical aspect of leadership. This time together provides opportunities that do not present themselves to the same depth through casual, ad-hoc discussions.
If you are a leader and have read this far, I encourage you to reflect on the progress and effectiveness of your 1:1’s and your team. It’s a problem to be unaware of this aspect of your role. However, it is negligent to gain awareness and continue to miss the opportunity.
As always, it is your call, but your team members will ultimately thank you for meeting your responsibilities and assisting them via facilitating useful, engaging and purposeful 1:1’s.
Resources & Additional Reading
(1) State of the Global Workplace 2017: Gallup Global Report
Get Lighthouse Blogs: