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How to lead better one-on-ones

Some best practices for connecting with your team and inspiring success.

Leading great one-on-one meetings

As a supervisor in your company, you may find meeting after meeting a little grating. You start to lean on things like email and the company intranet to do the job of communicating with your colleagues and direct reports. Soon enough, all of the technology and conference calls become a list of other people’s priorities — and you don’t have enough quality time for one-on-one talks with your very own team. That can cause them to disengage.

There’s something to be said for the power and importance of one-on-one meetings. Not only do they shake things up from the dullness of routine digital communications, but they also provide you with a unique opportunity to connect with your team in a valuable way. Doing a one-on-one the right way can give you professional and personal insight on the employees that make up your team, helping you to:

  • Find out what’s on your employees’ minds
  • Discover what motivates them
  • Plan for their personal development and professional growth
  • Air out challenges and prevent resentment from festering
  • Incite their engagement

In short, this will boost morale, improve productivity and support your efforts in reaching your business goals.

The wrong approach can turn one-on-one meetings into just another missed opportunity, so here are a few pointers to ensure yours are on the mark.

Before the meeting

Prepare an agenda: It’s a good idea to have some broad strokes and potential questions outlined beforehand. This will keep you focused and prevent the meeting from becoming a simple ‘catch up’ conversation — or from petering out completely.

Set a schedule: Putting the one-on-ones on a regular schedule — whether weekly or monthly — will help build in routine and manage expectations. If employees can see that you set time aside for it, they will buy in to being a part of it.

During the meeting

Get moving to think differently: Almost every meeting you have is in the confines of a meeting room or an office. Change the energy of it and stimulate creative thinking by having a walk-and-talk with your employee. Or head out to a local coffee shop to change the atmosphere entirely. It will help them loosen up so you can get honest answers.

Start with a win: Initiating the talk with a positive note lessens the tension of what many employees see as a formal meeting. Talking about successes lowers their guard and reinforces that you’re on the same team.

Ask suggestions, encourage questions: Generally, one-on-ones are held so you can get information from the invitee. Being engaged and sincere when speaking with them will encourage employees to keep talking and speak their conscience. They’ll be more comfortable talking about challenges as well as areas of opportunity if they know the floor is theirs.

Be flexible: Each of your employees will have different concerns and responses to the questions you bring to the table — even if you choose to use the same outline for every employee one-on-one. Stay focused, but be able to go with the flow to address their concerns and be engaged in the conversation. This will make them feel heard.

After the meeting

Take notes: Review the notes you jotted down (make sure you did) and type them into an easy-to-follow format. Collating the information you just received during the meeting — especially if it’s technical — will make the next step even easier.

Follow up and follow through: From an employee’s point of view, one-on-one meetings where they are sharing hopes or concerns can be disheartening if nothing is done to act on them — or at least address them. Help your employees feel like they are affecting change by taking them seriously.

Follow up with them on what they shared, whether it’s the next one-on-one or through a wider workplace communication. And if it makes sense, be sure to follow through on any action items and promises that come out of the meeting. This will help employees feel valued and invested in your team, as well as the organization at large.

One-on-one meetings are just one leadership tool in the set, but they are an important one. If you employ this strategy and tweak it to fit your team’s situation, the true value of these meetings will come to light. Your employees will feel heard and you’ll also know how to best guide each and every one of your staff members.

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Michael Badejo

Michael Badejo is a communications professional and entrepreneur based out of Winnipeg. His diverse body of work has appeared in Canadian and international outlets covering technology, transportation, commerce and more. When he’s not writing, he’s running his boutique communications shop or finding out the latest in current events and technology.

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