How to run one-on-ones
31 December 2021
The general consensus when it comes to one-one-ones is that they are your most important meetings, and that you should prioritise them above everything else.
At DoThings, we believe this too, but with a caveat. Before we get to that though, let’s cover the basics.
A good one-on-one will typically adhere to some consistent ground rules.
The meeting is for the employee, not the manager
The primary reason you have a one-on-one is to give the employee the chance to talk to their manager. It is their meeting. This means that cancelling the meeting shouldn’t be something the manager does just because they don’t have anything they need to talk about. The mindset a manager should take into a one-on-one is that they should be looking to listen far more than they talk.
The meeting should be scheduled
A one on one meeting should not be done on the fly. Schedule them in, keep to the schedule.
You should schedule the meeting for 45 minutes, and should loosely follow this structure:
- The first 15 minutes should be for the employee to discuss anything they want to discuss
- The second 15 minutes should be the manager to discuss anything they want to discuss
- The final 15 minutes provides a buffer zone in case the employee has more to say, and to give the manager some wrap-up time
You should always prepare open questions to ask during the employees 15 minutes. Often you’ll encounter employees who just say “Um, no I’ve got nothing to talk about, everything is fine”.
When this is the case, use that time to ask them about their work, their career, their job satisfaction. Whatever it is, as long it’s about them, try to get them talking about themselves in that time period.
Example questions to get an employee talking in a one-on-one
- Out of 10, how much are you enjoying work (Asking for a specific rating ensures they don’t just give a generic “Yeah, it’s great” answer)
- What is going well at the moment?
- What would you like to do more often?
- How satisfied are you with your work?
- What support do you need?
- Do you think you could be utilised more?
- How do you feel you’re performing?
- If you could change one thing, what?
- Who do you enjoy working with?
- How do you think the team is functioning?
- Who do you find most helpful?
- Who do you have the least contact with?
- What could be better?
- How do you feel your personal development is going?
Controlling the meeting
Although the meeting is theirs, it’s important it happens on your terms. You set the time boundaries for a reason and you should try to keep to them.
Sometimes people want to talk a lot just to let off steam. As a rule of thumb, it’s smart to let it happen the first time. However, at the start of your next meeting, reaffirm the ground rules at the start. Remind them that you’ve set aside roughly 15 minutes for their time, and ask if that will be sufficient. Assuming it is, if they run over again, cut them off this time.
Your time can be anything you want, and it is acceptable for your time to be cut short. If you genuinely don’t have anything to say it’s better to say nothing than fill this time with stuff that has no value. The important function the one-on-one fulfils is ensuring the employee is given the opportunity to be heard. The manager’s time is far less important.
Results of getting one-on-ones right
- You people will be more engaged because they are being heard
- Small problems get caught before they turn into big ones
- People stop complaining to each other as much
- You spend less time fire-fighting
- You get to know your people better
- Your people get to know you better
- Things just seem to get a bit easier
Now, the caveat
As we mentioned at the start, at DoThings we believe this comes with an asterisk. Although one-on-ones are an invaluable tool and every manager should know how to deliver one, a manager’s goal with every member of their team should be to develop the kind of relationship where a one-on-one isn’t needed. If you are truly close to your people, if they truly trust you, know you’re approachable, know you won’t judge them or belittle them or unduly criticise them, then you will probably find they can talk to you whenever they want. The people I have managed with whom I had the best relationships never needed one-on-ones. We’d walk in, sit there, say nothing then walk out. We kept doing them for a while after they were pointless because I was so used to the idea that they were essential, but eventually I realised they were serving no purpose.
The point of a one-on-one is to give your people a chance to be heard. If you know for a fact they have that anyway, then the meeting becomes superfluous.