1-1s are Critical – Especially Now

TeamStrength CEOs, Key Executives, HR Leaders and Emerging Leaders are responsible for driving the success of our member companies through a combination of leadership and management of their direct reports. One of the most effective tools many use is the 1-1.  These regular meetings between a leader and his or her direct report are a critical opportunity to build relationships, coach and develop, discuss and solve problems and continue to move the needle.

Some resist this strategy.  Sometimes it is because they feel they talk to their direct reports so much day in and day out, it doesn’t seem necessary. Some hate to add meetings to their already packed calendar. But in the exceptional year that is 2020, these connecting meetings have never been more critical, and even though they may need to be done virtually for many, they need to happen.

It seems counterintuitive that spending time will free up time, but that’s exactly what 1-1s can do. These meetings help managers by ensuring the team is focused on the right tasks and moving in the right direction. Taking a few minutes to coach employees frees up your time to focus on your own work with the confidence that you won’t be putting out fires later.

Beyond that, 1-1s offer dedicated time for mentoring and coaching. Taking this opportunity to help guide your employees on their personalized path to success lets them know that they’re fully supported, which can contribute to a strong sense of belonging. And it’s a chance to continue reinforce the company mission and values, and continue to share your vision of the future.

Some key things to remember about 1-1s with your direct reports:

1. You must meet whether things are good or bad. When things are going poorly, it’s time for a difficult conversation. When things are going well, use the time to appreciate the person’s accomplishments and help guide them into their career trajectory.

2. Let the direct report do most of the prep and follow-up for these. After all, this is their opportunity to have your full focus on their goals and challenges. Create some structure around a format, and let them set agenda items and send you updates and topics before the session, along with follow-up and action steps that emerge.

3. Use the time for relationship building. This is a good opportunity for a personal check-in with your team member. Dedicate the first 10 minutes to personal storytime. Talk about what happened in your direct report’s life, what book they are reading, what fun activity they have planned with their family over the weekend, anything at all.  Connecting personally has never mattered more.

4. Drive accountability in these sessions. Set clear expectations of what excellence looks like and follow-up on commitments.  Offer constructive feedback and take time in this regular session to offer development opportunities in the form of books to read, behaviors to manage, new approaches to consider.

5. Discuss challenges, and ask questions to get to solutions. It will be tempting to solve their problems, especially if you can clearly see the best option.  Try to avoid telling them, and instead ask questions and help them get there themselves.  And be sure you resist the tendency to take something back from a team member when they’re stuck.  Reread the Harvard Business Review classic ‘Who’s got the Monkey?’ for a valuable lesson or reminder.

6. Recognize wins and offer positive feedback. Be ready with some specific things you’ve seen that demonstrated your team member’s strengths, or were a clear result of their hard work.
And it’s even more critical to do this effectively if these 1-1s are happening via video conference.
Signaling that you are listening: It is vital to concentrate on the conversation, and not fiddle around with other things, turn off the phone and other distractions. Give verbal and non-verbal cues that you are listening (head nods, ‘go on’)
Active Listening and Paraphrasing: Check to make sure you’re understanding things, following up with questions or just paraphrasing what has been said.
Put the other person’s feelings into words: ‘So you’re feeling frustrated/relieved/excited/ daunted…’ whatever you think they’re feeling.  It’s ok to get it wrong, that lets them clarify it for you and results in an even better understanding. You are acting as a mirror, helping the other person to gain more clarity about their situation.

8. Ask great questions:
– What’s on your mind this week?
– What’s keeping you at night?
– What’s the No. 1 problem with our organization? Why?
– What’s not fun about working here?
– Who is really kicking ass in the company? Who do you admire?
– If you were me, what changes would you make?
– What don’t you like about the product?
– How can you help your team to work better together?
– What challenges are you having with your team?
– What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on?
– What are we not doing that we should be doing?

Along with active listening, take notes during the 1-1s. This helps in a couple of ways.  First, it lets you capture thoughts without disrupting your team member’s flow so you can bring it up later rather than interject. And taking notes helps you track issues and ongoing performance for better coaching and follow-up.  Consider keeping a journal or section for each team member in a notebook or notes file.

But primary follow-up comes from your direct report. Summarizing the discussion and action items is up to them. A simple one-page scorecard can be an effective 1-1 tracking tool.  We use these in TeamStrength groups to track key metrics, action items, and progress on key annual goals each month.  Have your direct report help select the right metrics and make updating the scorecard each month their responsibility. By sending an updated scorecard, or just an email with updates on action items from last time each month, they can drive a productive discussion in the 1-1.

The best thing I’ve heard from my members as they’ve mastered regular 1-1s with their team members is an impact on productivity – theirs and their direct reports’.  Instead of a daily stream of quick huddles about each issue, team members have more clarity to take action themselves or keep track of issues to review in the 1-1.  This leaves only the most critical to warrant ad hoc conversations, giving everyone better focus and increasing effectiveness.