New Manager’s Survival Guide: The Complete Guide To One To One Meetings

by Ben Richardson
24th September 2019    4 Minutes
Picture Of Manager In One To One Meeting

Now that you have a team to manage you need to ensure that you are building a relationship with your team members and staying current with how they’re getting on. Without understanding how your team is doing and feeling you can’t manage them and you certainly won’t be able to influence their behaviour as you would ultimately hope to be able to.

As ever, to get the most out of a one to one check-in meeting, or catch up as some people call them, you need to spend a little time thinking and planning for it.

This article is going to walk you through the different stages of running a one-to-one meeting so that you can get off to the best start.

Although this looks time-consuming, and it probably will be to start with, before too long it will become second nature and just take you 10-15 minutes.

Many of the line management skills that you’ll need to master will feel like this.

The First Meeting

  • Scene Setting

Before you start having team one-to-ones it is advisable to let people know what you are expecting. This will hopefully mean that they will come to the meetings prepared.

At this early stage it can feel difficult to take the initiative like this, especially if you have been promoted from within the team, but calling a meeting without letting people know it’s purpose will just cause confusion. If you are struggling to feel confident doing this it is likely that you are suffering Imposter syndrome as many people do.

It is useful to explain:

1. The purpose of the meetings:

‘This is to talk about whatever is highest on your agenda. It could be a big project you’re working on, equally it could be an issue with a fellow team member or your development plan. It’s up to you, it’s your time during which we can talk about whatever is most important to you. ’

2. The schedule for, and duration of, the meetings:

‘I’d like to have a check-in each month. Let’s try and find a regular day to do it and stick to it as much as we can. I’ll set aside an hour each month to make sure that we have plenty of time. It doesn’t need to take an hour if we don’t need it but the time will be there in case we do.’

Before Each Meeting

Focus

Remind yourself that the focus of this meeting is your team member. This is their time to raise whatever issues they would like to discuss.

That doesn’t mean that you won’t have some items that you’d like to discuss. It just means that its primary purpose is to understand how they are getting on and feel about work. You should only raise your items once they have had plenty of time to cover everything that they’d like to cover unless your items come up naturally during the conversation.

Since the team member is the focus of the meeting they should be doing the majority of the speaking. If you are speaking more than 20% of the time you’re talking too much.

Timing

As per the above, you need to follow through and schedule the meetings for an hour.

This tells your team member that they are important and so you are making a significant chunk of time for them. It also means that they won’t worry about bringing up difficult topics.

Allocating a limited amount of time will encourage them to only bring up straightforward issues. They will be concerned that if they start discussing a difficult issue the conversation will get cut short.

If you really do have to cancel the meeting make sure to reschedule it the same day. Again, this is about showing the employee that this is a priority for you.

Agenda

Some people don’t like agendas and feel that they constrict the conversation.

In general, we believe that agendas are useful checklists. We wouldn’t advocate for detailed agendas so much as a list of key areas to tick off as you work through them.

It means that if the conversation is short you can still be confident that you covered all of the key areas, and if it gets cut short it because it runs long you know what you didn’t cover.

Perhaps try both and see what works best for you.

During The Meeting

Where

The meetings should be relaxed and informal. Try to find a relaxed informal environment to match.

Your office will work fine if it provides privacy but much better to use a canteen if you have one, or local cafe.

Getting out of your office will mean that you are much more likely to be free from interruptions.

Encourage And Guide With Questions

As mentioned earlier if you are speaking more than 20% of the time you’re probably doing something wrong.

If you want to guide the conversation in a certain direction, or find that it is flagging, ask open-ended questions to get your team member talking about the area you would like to learn more about.

If you struggle with questions this article has a very useful list.

Review Previous Meeting Actions

Below we talk about the need to take 5 minutes to make notes of your meetings and the action items that are agreed upon during them.

It is good practice to review the notes at the start of the next meeting and see how they have progressed. If they should have been completed but haven’t, discuss why not and what can be done to ‘unblock’ them.

This will also help to give your meetings a sense of progress and purpose. You need to avoid one to one’s that end up feeling like a chore where the same stale ground is covered each month. This will lead your team to disengage from the process and make it a waste of everyone’s time.

Key Areas To Cover

As we mentioned earlier we believe in having a high-level agenda for a one-to-one. It doesn’t constrain the conversation but helps guide it and ensure things don’t get missed.

Below we have listed the areas that we believe should be covered in all one-to-ones and also included the types of questions that you should think about using to get your team member to open up:

1. Individual feeling about work

This covers their motivation and enthusiasm for work

‘How are you finding your work?’
‘What parts of your role do you find most & least energising and enjoyable?’
‘What do you find most motivating?’

2. Individual projects and progress

This covers their key current projects and ones that are on the short-term horizon.

‘Is there anything that’s blocking your progress?’
‘Is there anything I could do to make things easier for you?’
‘Do you have all of the right equipment and support to complete these projects?’
‘What projects would you like to most work on next?’.

3. Individual personal development

This is looking at their career from a longer-term perspective.

‘Do you find your role challenging?’
‘Is there anyone on the team that you would like more time with to help you learn?’
‘Have you reviewed your development plan recently, are you on track with it?’
‘Is there any training or coaching that you would find useful?’.

4. Team spirit and happiness at work

This is trying to understand how they feel about the team and also how they think that the team currently feels about work

‘How do you feel the team is working together at the moment?’
‘Who do you find easiest to work with?’
‘How do you think that the team could work better?’
‘Is there anyone you find tricky to deal with in the team?’

5. Manager capability

This is actively soliciting feedback on how you are performing.

‘Is there anything I could do to make your work easier and simpler?’
‘Is there anything where you would like more involvement and support from me?’
‘Do you find my management style helpful?’

Although this can be difficult it is a really great way to build rapport with your team. The fact that you’re open to criticism and looking to improve will show that you’re eager to improve and open

Listen Actively

To really understand what you are being told you’ll need to listen closely and actively participate in the conversation to encourage your team members.

Classic active listening techniques that work really well if they are not overused include:

  • Asking clarifying questions
  • Acknowledging their feels if they express any
  • Paraphrasing what they’ve said to be check that you’ve understood them.

By showing respect for your team’s needs and opinions you will also help to build a stronger relationship with your team.

End Of The Meeting

At the end of the meeting, you should wrap up by reviewing the key points that were raised, any decisions that were made and the key action points.

After The Meeting

It is critical that after the meeting you take 5 minutes to review and make notes of the conversation and action points. You must then make sure that the action points are covered off before the next meeting.

This then gives you a record of your conversations for the future and also gives you an action list to focus on before the next one-to-one.

 

Further Reading:

This is part of our series of articles for new managers and line managers. Other articles include:

New Manager’s Survival Guide: 4 Things To Do On Day One

New Manager’s Survival Guide: 3 Things To Do In Your First Week

New Manager’s Survival Guide: 4 Things To Do In Your First Month

New Manager’s Survival Guide: Running Performance Reviews