The importance of One on One

When you are in a leadership position of any kind, you are focused on the success of the people you lead. One of the key metrics that should be tracked is the health and happiness of the people you lead. It is important as a humane thing to do and it helps with Retaining People.

The question that comes to mind is: How do I achieve this?

One of the helpful ways to achieve this is by conducting one on one meetings.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on unsplash

Goals of One on One meetings

I like to think of One on One’s (1:1 from now on in this post) as a pulse check. Basically letting the other person the room to express themselves periodically, openly, and privately. The usual flow of a discussion is from manager, leader, or any person in a position to the people they lead. The 1:1 meeting gives room to reverse this flow, and allows for a more honest discussion.

Here are the goals of this meeting as I see them:

  • Giving the person you are meeting the feeling they are being heard
  • Let the person you are meeting share their situation, in their own words
  • Hopefully get some feedback
  • Genuinely care for others

Meeting rules

Now, in order to achieve those novel goals, You must stick to some basic rules. I covered this bit a little in my post covering meeting rules, in the section talking about people meetings. I decided 1:1 are so important that they deserve a close look.

In order to save you time, I will sum up the rules mentioned in that post:

  • No miss!
  • No Agenda on my part
  • Be on time, and stick to time
  • Listen carefully and take an actionable

No miss!

The reason no miss is so important, is it gives certainty and clarity to the question one might ask themselves: when is the next time I can speak to my manager and get their uninterrupted attention. The predictability is critical! it builds trust and removes doubt. A moving target, i.e a meeting that keeps on being rescheduled also isn’t helping in that front. Yes, it actually occurs, but you can’t predict when. Ever rescheduling gives the feeling there is something more important than the 1:1 meeting, and that is not the message you want to convey.

No Agenda on my part

It is not my meeting. It is not intended for me, and it is definitely not a progress report. Many people tend to turn 1:1 into a progress report. Try fighting it in the first few times. By clarifying the meeting goal is to give room for the other person’s agenda you basically say: “This is your time, if you want to spend it on progress report, feel free to do so, but I am not requiring it, and not expecting it.” Usually when you are able to get out of progress report zone meaningful things come up.

Be on time and stick to time

This rule also tries to help with trust. It is basically the equivalent of no miss applied to showing on time. Showing on time shows respect and appreciation of one’s time. Moreover, it sends a message of priority. If you are constantly late, it is valid to ask why are you never showing on time. That deserves a separate post on time management, something for another day.

Listen carefully and take actionable

The whole point of the meeting is to give space to someone else that is not you. Try to remain silent, and actively listen. Leaders tend to be very vocal and suck all the air in a room by their presence. This rule goes against that habit, and tries to force a change on the typical interaction between a leader and the person they lead. Since the meeting is led by the other party, and you might be requested to do things, write them down. Take actionables. Without that you are disrespecting the other person, that would expect a response or a followup in the future. If you don’t take the action, you will drop the ball, and that will harm trust, which is the contrary to what we are trying to achieve.

Cadence

There are two types of 1:1 — Direct and Skip.

Direct is meeting with people reporting directly to you, or people you have direct influence on. Skip is meeting with people one level below. In other words, people that are direct of your directs. I suggest that direct meetings will be held weekly. The reason for a weekly meeting is the fact people tend to accumulate things over the work week, and giving space once a week to share that works well, it might not work best in your case, but from my experience it is a good balance between too often, and too sparse.

Skip meetings should be either monthly or quarterly. It depends on the size of the organization, culture and quality of your directs. Personally I do quarterly, but your mileage may vary. The same meeting rules from above apply to skip meetings but with greater emphasis on the fact you basically want to listen. You should remember your skip people might not see you often, and the larger the organization is, the clearer it should be you only want to spend some quality time to get to know them better. In some places, being called for a 1:1 with your managers manager can mean only bad things, try to make it clear things do not work that way in your organization.

Length

This really depends on how you construct your meetings. Some people like to book an hour, and spend 30 minutes on the other party’s agenda, and 30 minutes for them to do progress report, planning work for next week, and generally focusing half of the meeting on each parties agenda. I personally don’t think this is a good approach. Combining the two might give the feeling you really care about your part of the agenda and spend some time on theirs because you feel you should. It is most likely not the case, but the way things look is sometimes more important than the actual meeting content. I go for a 30 minutes meeting, in which I try my best not to enforce any of my open issues. If I have any open issues, I set a separate, focused meeting, on each open issue I’d like to address.

Spending 30 minutes, uninterrupted and driven by the other person meeting seems to me like the best approach, but as I mentioned before, it is more of a specific preference rather than a rule. All in all, the content and your attitude are far more important than the time slot you allocated to the meeting.

Summary

If you remember that leadership is all about helping others, you will surely be able to conduct fruitful 1:1’s. Being a good listener, humble and friendly will promise the success of the meeting. Don’t forget to follow up on your actionables.

Originally published at https://www.matanyamos.es on December 31, 2020.

People, Process, Tooling