How to have a great one to one with a team member

A one to one, 1-2-1 or one on one depending on your organisations terminology is a regular touchpoint with your direct reports on a (you guessed it) one to one basis. It differs from team meetings because it’s an often safe space for coaching, prioritising, building a relationship and asking questions. Used well, these meetings can be some of the most useful meetings of the week because they allow you to ensure that the right work is being done to the standard that you require. They don’t need to be prescriptive or formal meetings, and there is no rule as to exactly what should be discussed. The information in this article is aimed to be used as a guide for you and your team member. But should you want more structure, templates for productive one to one meetings are available in the membership site.

The benefits of a good one to one

Now that many of us are working remotely, the one on one has taken on even more importance than it had previously. Sometimes in the current ways of working, you may go a whole day or two without actually talking to a member of your team. The benefits of having scheduled one to one time are that it allows both you and your team member to pause and prepare, ask for an update or seek clarity on a piece of work, find out what challenges or successes are happening and align on priorities for the week. Depending on how you or your team like to work, or how busy you are – your team member might save up questions or updates for the meeting, so as a manager it is important that you prioritise this time to provide guidance to your employee.

Great one to one

The below are some key things to consider when preparing for a one to one meeting:

Time

The one to one meeting is dedicated time for your employee to seek guidance and get your input on their work as well as for you to give clarity about priorities for the week ahead. For that reason I generally suggest a meeting at the start of the week is most productive. Think about your own one to one time with your manager and perhaps schedule your team one to ones shortly after that. That way you will be able to give them updates that are aligned to your manager’s expectations. It’s not helpful for your team members if they are told one thing on a Monday morning, but direction has changed by the end of the day once you’ve had input from your manager. Personally, when this has worked well for me, I have had a weekly priorities meeting on a Monday morning with my peers. In this meeting we agree priorities and how to share the workload across the resource in the team. Then following on from that I would have individual one to ones with my team members so that I can make them clear on their role within the team priorities for the week.

You should also consider the length of time needed and whether it’s better to have two short meetings than one long one. Personally, since I have been working remotely (and only actually met my direct reports face to face a handful of times), I have found that a longer one to one on a Monday for about an hour, followed by a 30 minute check in on a Wednesday or a Thursday is appropriate. Sometimes we don’t need to have the check in, but I try to keep the time free just in case. Remember, this is time for you to give your team guidance. If you are spending the whole meeting downloading what you need from them over the next few days and run out of time before they can ask you questions or for help prioritising their existing workload then you’re missing a key part of the one to one.

Location

If you’re based in an office or other location where you get to actually spend time with your team (lucky you), definitely look to find a quiet location. Get away from the desks or the shop floor or the warehouse and sit down in a private place. If you’re based remotely then schedule a video call rather than just a telephone call. Being in private and being able to see the physical body language of the other person allows both you to read the emotion and for your employee to see that they have your full attention. You should always try to take a step away from the task at hand so that this time is focussed solely on having a conversation one to one rather than other people chipping in for requests or eavesdropping.

Tone

I think that 90% of the time the meeting should have a positive, constructive and coaching tone to it. Try to avoid the whole meeting being a download of your to do list. Encourage back and forth conversation. Invite your employee to lead the meeting – what are they working on? What are they worried about? What is going well? What do they need support with? I usually let them work through their to do lists and add clarity or direction on which points are priorities, how I would approach a piece of work, which pieces of work need to be accellerated or where i need them to do something differently.

This isn’t a formal performance review meeting, so the environment can be relaxed. Use the time to build a relationship, ask about their weekend or family life, recommend a new series on netflix BUT get down to business and be clear on requirements and expectations for the week ahead.

Agenda

Because a one to one is a pretty informal meeting I never have a formal agenda and very rarely follow up with written notes. A loose agenda that I like to follow is 5-10 minutes of “chat” – find out about their weekend, their family, their holiday plans, their hobbies. How are they feeling at work? How much pressure are they under? Can they take more or do they need help to reduce the workload?

Following the relaxed intro, I like to hand over to them to lead the meeting with a question like “what are your priorities for this week?” or “what are you working on?” If one to ones are working properly and we have good communication, I already know about pretty much everything on their list, and have a feel for what stage their at. Occasionally they will bring up a request or problem that I had no idea about and I can get into understanding more about it and helping to support them. Often because the things on their to do list are aligned to what I want them to be working on, I’ll simply chip in with “so this needs to be the main priority this week. The deadline is x and I need y and z to be done by that point”.

Finally, I’ll probably have a couple of things that they’ve not brought up. Maybe they’re emerging priorities for the next couple of weeks or lower priority questions that I need an update on.

I hope that this post has given you food for thought around how to have a great 1-2-1 with your team.

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