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Plan regular 1-to-1 meetings

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In a previous series for SmartBrief, I laid out my five-step productivity process for leaders, which I then turned into a Productivity Blueprint. This post is the first to dive deeper into the second of my five steps, sharing for maximal productivity, and picks up from this last one, which made the case for huddling up with your team each morning.

To unleash the potential of the people you manage, you must engage and bond with each person individually. There simply is no hack or shortcut for building real connections.

That’s why it is critical that, in addition to morning huddles, you need to plan regular one-to-one meeting time, or 1:1s, with individual team members to check in on a more personal manner.

As a manager, you can use 1:1s to ask your team members about their well-being, their experience working with the team and their career goals. You can also get updates on their progress and any challenges they may be experiencing with projects so that you can course correct as needed.

Folks pay attention to those things their leaders also pay attention to. To get what you want from others, you need inspect what you expect of them. Beyond that, 1:1s offer dedicated time for mentoring and coaching, helping to bring out the absolute best in your people.

Other important benefits of 1:1s include:

  • They provide a routine opportunity for you, as a manager, to assess the parts (your individual employees) that lead to the productive whole (your team.)
  • Each 1:1 is an opportunity to clarify the goals of the organization and your performance expectations for each person.
  • 1:1s help managers build a trusting relationship with their employees by getting to know them as people, not just employees.

At the 1:1, ask your go-to question(s) (more on that below,) stay silent until your employee has the chance to answer, listen with the intent to understand and not to cross-examine, and then reward the candor you receive. Remember that dedicated 1:1 conversations help create the space and trust to ensure you know what’s on people's minds -- and take actions to keep them happy and productive.

Lest you think of 1:1s as exclusively manager-driven, I highly recommend that employees be asked to share their talking points with their manager prior to the meetings. This allows the employee to also guide the conversation and ensure that matters that are top of mind for them get discussed.

1:1s should always be conducted face-to-face. That said, when in-person is not possible, hold them anyway. If some or all your employees in your organizations work remotely, it’s important to get as close to a face-to-face conversation as possible. 

1:1s are supposed to build strong relationships, which means that leaders must be fully present by giving the other person their full attention. During your meetings, reduce distractions to an absolute minimum. This includes turning off notifications on your devices. It goes without saying that you should come prepared and start on time.

Once you’ve finished your meeting, summarize the most important outcomes and share them to eliminate misunderstandings. Summaries also make it easier to pick up the ball in the next 1:1 meeting. As a manager or employee, you can also just take private notes to keep track of how the 1:1s went and to capture key takeaways for future reference.

1:1s come in all shapes and sizes. Some people meet for an hour weekly. Others for 30 minutes twice monthly. What matters most is creating the rhythm and honoring it consistently. Regardless of length and frequency, making time for an individual says you genuinely care about them as a person.

Once you have a solid meeting routine in place, consider adding some spice by leaving the office every now and then. Head outside for a walk. Go to a cafe. Be creative. No matter where you meet, pick a place where you and your report feel comfortable speaking openly.

You might be thinking that 1:1s sound all nice and good, but if you don’t have the time as it is to get things done, especially now with morning huddles to run, how can you possibly add this to your plate? The answer is that this is a case of spending time to free up time.

1:1s help managers avoid overwhelm by ensuring the team is focused on the right task. Taking a few minutes to coach employees on how to move forward frees up your time to focus intently on your own work with the confidence that you won’t be putting out fires later.

To recap, 1:1s are the only forum where manager and reports can engage in an honest, private conversation with each other about what’s really going on, professionally and personally. It is critical that you make the time for them.

What to discuss

If you are meeting to set worker and team objectives, consider using the following talking points.

  • A recap on why and how to set objectives.
  • Review of previous objectives.
  • Company and team priorities.
  • Current objectives and personal development goals.
  • Next steps.

Here are some questions to ask:

  1. What’s on your mind this week?
  2. How happy were you this past week?
  3. How productive were you this past week?
  4. What feedback do you have for me?
  5. How are you doing? How did the past week/month go?
  6. What would you like to talk about today?
  7. What are you proud of? Anything blocking you?
  8. Do you need any support? How can I help you?
  9. Anything else you’d like to talk about today?
  10. “What are the most important things we should discuss today? And are there any roadblocks or ways how we can better support each other?”

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, "Becoming the New Boss." Read his blog and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new productivity blueprint and his e-books, "Core Essentials of Leadership," "An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing" and "How to Boost Your Leadership Impact."

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