July 9, 2019

10 tips for making the most of 1:1 meetings

As some of you may know, the 1:1 meeting has gotten somewhat hip in recent years.  Associated with startup culture and modern management, the idea is nonetheless not actually new.  Leaders and managers have been working directly with their peers and subordinates for all of time.  But as many of you also know, the more effectively you spend your time together, the better your outcomes will be.

Whether face-to-face, via videochat or over the phone, 1:1 meetings give you a chance to connect, get on the same page and get work done.  Because these meetings often (but not always) occur between managers and subordinates, they can also enable you to track progress on growth, ensure your team feels supported and empowered, and keep tabs on the projects for which you are responsible.

Some tips I like for ensuring effective 1:1s

Get the frequency right:  If you’re onboarding someone new or an experienced team member starting a new role, you may need frequent meetings.  However, if you find your 1:1s with veteran team members involve a lot of shooting the breeze, you can probably scale back.  Regardless, discuss this openly, and revisit conversations about frequency on a regular basis, as needs can evolve.  Keep in mind that if you are in a leadership role, your subordinates may worry about taking up too much of your time, so ensure they feel empowered to ask for what they need.

Get the length right:  As meetings wear on, the benefit often diminishes.  Have a conversation about the minimal unit of time in which you and the person with whom you are meeting need to be together.

Set goals:  Go in knowing what you need to get out of the meeting.  This goes for all meetings.

Set a structure:  You don’t have to be rigid, but it’s a good idea to have some kind of organization.  Even if you each just bring a list.  By the way, if you do that as a manager, let your employee have the floor first.  It’s good manners and it’s extremely empowering and supportive.  You’ll get your turn.

Minimize interruptions:  Put your phone away, turn away from your computer, close the door and do whatever else is needed to make clear that for whatever time this meeting is scheduled, it has your undivided attention.

Don’t shy away from personal topics:  Social pleasantries have a place here.  There’s nothing wrong with asking about the family, weekend plans, etc.  Relationship building is an important function of 1:1 meetings, and the best way you can support your team’s work-life integration is by recognizing that they are more than their role at work.  You will uncover important context (sick family member? an impending wedding?) and gain the ability to support them through personal challenges and celebrations.

Are you the boss?  Say something nice:  In every 1:1 meeting, make an effort to provide validation or positive feedback.

Are you the employee?  Ask how you can help:  Consider asking your boss “what keeps you awake at night?” or, “what are your greatest headaches here in our organization?”  You might just uncover a pain point you can solve.

Try these other good questions:  These can work for the boss, for the employee, or potentially in any supportive working relationship.

  • What am I doing that I should stop doing?
  • What am I not doing that I should start doing?
  • What am I doing that I should do more of?
  • Who else should I talk with to learn more about this?  (More on this idea here — it’s very useful!)

Wrap up the right way:  Don’t walk away without capturing the substance of the meeting in some way.  What tasks have you each agreed to?  What is the necessary follow-up?  Ensure you are both clear on this before you finish.

How do you make the most of 1:1 meetings?

Please share your top tips in the comments.

Last updated July 9, 2019

Related posts:

Get the most out of meetings with these tips from top leaders

These are the only three meeting types you’ll ever need

Planning, clarity and boundaries – key communication tools