4 themes to explore in one-on-ones

Good leaders know the importance of having regular one-on-ones with their team members. And it is no surprise that Gallup’s 2015 management report found that employees who have regular meetings with their managers are three times more likely to be engaged than employees who do not.

So…what is a one-on-one, why do them and what should we cover in it?

A one-on-one is simply a discussion with a leader and their team member, held at a frequency that suits both parties. Their purpose is to engage and inspire future excellent performance. Parties involved in effective one-on-ones say the best frequency is anywhere from once a week to once a month, and they last anywhere between 15-60 mins (depending on regularity).

One-on-ones provide an opportunity to

  • Provide feedback and comment on previous work
  • Fuel performance by seeing how people can use their strengths
  • Reinvigorate and motivate
  • Clarify / set expectations and performance standards
  • Review priorities / provide course correction
  • Share information (both ways)
  • Explore coaching / development goals
  • Show through actions that leaders value their people and their contribution
  • Help leaders find ways to help team members to make progress in meaningful work, and
  • Enhance relationships

One-on-ones should not be seen as additional work of a people leader – they are the work of a people leader!

Our experience in working with leaders shows us that 4 themes are central to effective one-on-ones:

a) reviewing current and completed work,

b) exploring future work commitments,

c) focusing on harnessing potential, and

d) exploring support opportunities (including feedback to the leader about how the leader can help the team member be their best at work)

Formal or informal?

Studies have shown that the best way to ensure frequency is to have check-ins be initiated by the team member—rather than by the team leader. Having a regular booking is an important feature – with either party entitled to one ‘reschedule voucher’ every 6 months.

A tone that sits somewhere between formal and informal often works well, with a lose agenda that touches on each of the 4 themes described above. Some leaders we have worked with suggest a general guide of 1/3 for team member update, 1/3 for manager update and 1/3 about future / follow-up is a useful rule of thumb.

One-on-ones do’s and don’ts – tips for leaders

Do Don’t
  • Allow 15-30 mins preparation time to review notes, identify dot points about what to explore / share
  • Frequently reschedule or cancel
  • Meet in appropriate place and remove distractions
  • Take calls during the meeting
  • Empower team members to prepare for and run the session
  • Make the employee feel rushed or overwhelmed with too many things to discuss
  • Check in on previous actions
  • Do most of the talking – a great opportunity to practice coaching skills
  • Connect achievement to team purpose

So…next time you think about having a one-on-one you may like to download a copy of our 4 themes visual and / or our one-on-one planning worksheet.

Click here to access the one-on-one planning worksheet.

Click here for a copy of the visual.

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