5 Tips For a More Productive 1:1

Authored by Kayla Brehm

Published on January 25, 2016

The 1:1 meeting is becoming ubiquitous for companies of all shapes and sizes, and there’s a reason for that. The quick meeting serves as a pulse check between a manager and employee and helps each party get a better understanding of where they stand in their team and with the company. Are they doing a good job? Where can they improve?

As effective as 1:1’s should be, they’re often cast aside as other important meetings or phone calls pop up. When they do occur, and sometimes without proper planning and preparation, the pulse check can quickly turn into a half hour of stilted conversation about your week. When every minute matters, make the most out of your time.

A few tips to help managers use the time well.


1. Be consistent

Set aside a specific time and date each week to check in with your team member. Avoid canceling or moving the meeting if at all possible.

“The easiest way to communicate to an employee that they’re not important is to cancel their 1:1, no matter what the reason. If a conflict comes up, try to reschedule the 1:1 at another time on the same day, and apologize for doing so. Cancelling a 1:1 is worse than never scheduling one at all.” (Ian McAllister, Director of Product at AirBnB)

Scheduling check-ins for your team can be (understandably) challenging. If you only have a few employees, try scheduling them all on the same day or two. This will help you focus and avoid cancellation.


2. Let your team member take the lead

Ask your team to come prepared for each session with a list of questions or topics that they want to cover. These check-ins are an opportunity for your employees to vent, talk about career development, and/ or anything they want to cover. It’s their time, so let them take the lead.


3. Get out of the office

We sit for an average 9.3 hours a day at work. If you think about it, most of us are sitting more than we’re sleeping. Try getting out of the office during your 1:1 time with your employees. Scout your surroundings and see if there’s a quick route you can circle during the meeting.

Increased physical activity has a lot of additional benefits. Harvard Business Review conducted a study on those who took walking meetings and those who chose more traditional office space. “Those who participate in walking meetings are 5.25% more likely to report being creative at their jobs than those who do not. Additionally, the responses suggest that walking meetings support cognitive engagement, or focus, on the job. Those who participate in walking meetings are 8.5% more likely to report high levels of engagement.”


4. Set Goals

If you have your employees set goals each quarter (and you should), use this time to check in on their progress. Are they on track? Are there any concerns? Managers should also use 1:1 time to check in on how they’re performing.

Ask yourself:


5. Be Prepared

In the event that your employee comes unprepared, or that you have extra time to run through, come prepared to the meeting with a list of questions that you’d like to ask as well. It’s a great opportunity to gut check yourself and see how well you’re doing or if there’s room for your personal improvement.

Investor and author of The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz, is a huge advocate for 1:1 meetings. “If you are an employee, how do you get feedback from your manager on an exciting, but only 20% formed idea that you’re not sure is relevant without sounding like a fool? How do you point out that a colleague that you do not know how to work with is blocking your progress without throwing her under the bus? How do you get help when you love your job, but your personal life is melting down? Through a status report? On email? Yammer? Asana? Really? For these and other important areas of discussions, one-on-ones can be essential.”

It shouldn’t be the manager’s job to set the agenda, Ben suggests focusing on the following questions.

Critics of 1:1’s are often victims of bad planning and poor execution. They do have value, and if taken seriously, can help you predict and prevent turnover and create happy and engaged employees.

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