You just got to work, and you’ve opened up your calendar to see what’s on the agenda that day. You have four back-to-back one-on-ones. You also have a proposal that is due by the end of the day. What do you do?

If you answered “reschedule the one-on-ones” then you’re not alone. Many managers perceive their regular catch-ups with team members as being too frequent and/or less important than the other things on their plate.

Research shows that they are wrong.

Managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in employee engagement and employees who don’t have regular one-on-one meetings with their manager are four times more likely to be disengaged. We all know the cost of disengagement! On the flip slide, managers that support regular one-on-one meetings see a huge improvement in performance and engagement.  For example, when Adobe moved away from performance reviews and toward biweekly one-on-one catch-ups, they saw a 30% reduction in voluntary turnover. When GE made a similar move, they saw a fivefold productivity increase in twelve months!

There is no denying the value of on-on-ones with your team members. But not all one-on-one meetings are created equal. How can you ensure that your one-on-one meetings with your team members are as productive as possible? Here are seven key tips:

number one  Have an agenda (that you can both contribute to)

Let’s start with the obvious – agendas! Even though it may sound obvious, it’s amazing how often they are neglected. The last thing you want to do is enter a one-on-one meeting (or any meeting for that matter!) with no idea about how you’re going to use the time. To make the one-on-one as productive as possible, ensure to have a shared running agenda where you and your report can add agenda items. It’s important that you’re not writing the agenda and monopolizing the time. This is for them, not you. Make sure they have the ability to add discussion points to the agenda so that you know what they need from you. Applications like Soapbox are great for this as they make meeting preparation quick, easy and, dare I say, even fun. Once you have all of your agenda items, don’t forget to spend a few minutes before the meeting prioritizing your list. Chances are, you won’t get through everything in your time together, so make sure to start with the things that matter most so that they definitely get addressed.

number 2Create a safe space

It doesn’t matter what you talk about, what questions you ask or what feedback you give if your employees don’t trust you and feel safe. Research shows that high performing teams have one thing in common – psychological safety! Psychological safety is a whole new article in and of itself, but the best way to figure out how to create a safe space for your team members is to think about which managers have created a safe space for you (and which haven’t!). What common themes arise? How do they address challenges? How do they respond to mistakes? How do they encourage or discourage your thoughts and ideas? Think about a manager that you have had that you have trusted, admired and respected. A manager that has made you feel safe and supported. Now write down everything about them that made you feel that way, and do everything in your power to replicate that list.  

number three Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

During one-on-one meetings, it’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day tasks and projects. Did that email get sent? Did Client A respond? Where are we with Client B’s proposal? Yes, these things are all important. But don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. What are your direct report’s big goals? What is the team’s vision? How are they (and you) progressing on these? It’s a good idea to carve out time periodically in your one-on-ones to talk big picture as well as time to talk about the day-to-day. In saying that, even when you’re talking about the day-to-day seemingly little things, don’t forget to tie them back to the bigger goals and vision. Engagement is driven by purpose – what is the “why” behind every little task they do? How will their work impact the team and organization? Why is what they are working on important? Vision will help provide them with that “why.”

number fourTalk, talk talk. Then act.

Meetings are great, but not unless they lead to action. It’s not enough to just assume that miraculous change will result from your one-on-ones. Make sure you help set your team up for success by discussing what comes after your one-on-one. What are their current challenges? What are their goals? What are the immediate action steps that need to be taken to overcome those challenges and achieve those goals? Make sure they finish every one-on-one meeting with at least two or three specific action steps and deadlines to complete them. It’s a great idea for you to also walk away with some action steps for either how you can improve as their manager and support their development.  

number fiveBe A Coach

Often times it’s really easy to tell our team what to do. However, when we take time to challenge them to step outside of what they normally would do we can actually see them grow. We can build confidence, develop trust and strengthen the company culture when our team is actively being challenged to grow. Your team will go very far under your leadership, but it’s one of those teach a man to fish scenarios. Let’s equip them to be good leaders as they move into leadership roles in the future.

Don’t forget to follow-through and follow-up!

Ensure you document the key meetings points and action steps at the end of every catch-up. Ideally, send them to your direct report in an email (or have them manage these and send them to you) or store them in a meeting management application such as soapbox. That way, when it comes time for your next catch-up, you’ll remember where you left off. Always start every meeting by checking-in on how they are progressing on last week’s action steps. What’s working well? Where do they need more support? As their manager and their coach, one of your most important roles is holding them accountable!

Two women looking at a laptop while starting a side hustle.

Reverse the roles

We typically think about one-on-ones as an opportunity to support our subordinates, to guide them, to mentor them, to provide them with valuable feedback. This is all true. But one-on-ones also hold an amazing opportunity for them to do the same for you. How are you doing as a manager? How can you support them better? What feedback do they have for you? I encourage every manager to finish their meetings with these questions. One-on-ones are not just for you to develop your team members. They are also an opportunity for them to develop you.

I hope this this has inspired you to get excited about your upcoming one-on-ones with your team and to see them as a critical task but also opportunity. They are an opportunity to enhance your team’s performance, build strong relationships and develop your own leadership skills. If you want additional support with managing your team and being the best leader you can be, feel free to get in touch with us here so we can schedule a complimentary consultation.

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Katie Bennett

Hi I'm Katie, one of the Coaches and CoFounders here at Ama La Vida. My coaching approach is results-orientated and deeply rooted in neuroscience and positive psychology. I'm passionate about empowering individuals to arrive at new insights about their life and career and then take the action they need for meaningful and long-lasting change. When I'm not coaching or working on the business, you will likely find me on a plane or in a restaurant. I also love basking in the sun but since moving to Seattle, that doesn't happen too much. Feel free to reach out to me at anytime or read my full bio here.

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