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6 expert tips for running an effective one-on-one meeting

Posted by Neha De

November 30, 2021    |     4-minute read (652 words)

In this digital era, it’s common for managers to communicate with direct reports via phone, email or text. However, it is still essential to have one-on-one, face-to-face meetings, as it is during these meetings that they can check in with their team members and ask strategic questions that can benefit both. One-on-one meetings are also one of the best times to talk about a direct report’s professional priorities, development and challenges.

That said, running an effective one-on-one interaction requires real intellectual agility — while the manager needs to show their commitment to helping the direct report develop and grow, they should also know when to step back and determine how best they can work together to get things done.

So, how can managers make one-on-one meetings more collaborative and productive? Knowing what to discuss and what questions need to be asked go a long way in having a productive one-on-one. Check out these six tips to get the most out of these meetings:

Tip 1: Develop a synergistic agenda – Every meeting should have an agenda, including one-on-ones. Both the manager and their direct report should be aware of exactly what will be discussed in the meeting. This can be achieved if it is a collaborative process that begins before the actual meeting. One way to do this is to create a shared space/doc where both parties can list talking points a week before the scheduled meeting. 

Although, it is important to remember that this doc is not set in stone. Allow things to evolve in the meeting. 

Tip 2: Schedule adequate time – It is crucial that the one-on-one does not feel rushed (or dragged out). Allocate abundant time to cover all things on the agenda. Add another, say, five to ten minutes, to discuss off-agenda topics. 

Tip 3: Let the direct report drive the meeting – A one-on-one meeting belongs to the employee, not the manager. Therefore, it is a good idea to let them take the lead and cover their items before covering yours. 

That said, the manager should never show up to a one-on-one unprepared, or simply sit back and watch the conversation unfold. They should still show up with questions and talking points of their own (also, to be included on the agenda). 

Tip 4: Finish with actionable items – The most productive one-on-ones end with clear action items. The manager should earmark the next steps to keep both themselves and the direct report accountable. For example, if the latter is expecting an update on their salary, it’s a smart idea to put it on the agenda for the next meeting. 

One good thing about having a shared agenda is that it allows the conversation to unfold, and it allows both participants to periodically check-in and not let any talking point slip off the radar. 

Tip 5: Try not to reschedule – It is essential to avoid continually rescheduling one-on-ones with the direct report(s), unless unavoidable and absolutely necessary. Putting these meetings on the calendars of both parties allows both to plan other tasks around them, in most cases. 

Rescheduling often can give employees the wrong idea that these meetings are not as important to their managers. 

Tip 6: Don’t forget that one-on-ones are private – Last but not the least, always keep in mind that these meetings are about that specific employee. So, the manager should refrain from talking about teamwide issues or company updates. Instead, they should use these meetings to ask their direct reports if they are having any interpersonal issues with their co-workers. 

Getting the one-on-ones right 

A one-on-one is a precious opportunity for the manager and their direct reports to connect about all kinds of important topics, such as their career priorities and growth, satisfaction with work, their workload and other challenges. If done well, a one-on-one can help achieve goals, fix issues and build a team of happy and motivated high-achieving employees. 

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