Make Your One-on-One Meetings More Effective
One-on-one meetings between managers and the people on their teams can be a very powerful tool for improving engagement. These discussions can help employees self-organize, develop their careers, and identify issues early before they become problems.
But it’s all too easy for these meetings to become routine, simply turning into regular check-ins. One-on-one meetings are not for status reports. The most effective use of one-on-one time is to discuss topics that you would not want to discuss in the open. You can make your one-one-ones more effective with some simple steps.
Start with a common understanding of the purpose of the meeting and an agenda that supports that purpose. Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby have some guidelines for one-on-ones and a basic agenda to follow in their book Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management. They suggest that you address career development, identify areas where the manager or the employee needs help, and review any action items from prior one-on-one meetings. Regardless of the specific agenda you follow, the important thing is to remember that this time is an opportunity to step back from the obvious and look at the bigger picture of your work and career.
Status and project planning can be part of the conversation and motivate more significant discussions, but if you are spending the bulk of your time on status updates, you should examine why you feel a need to do this. There are many other opportunities to communicate status; the one-one-one time is a chance to have discussions that will have a deeper impact. Try to keep the main focus of one-on-one meetings on topics that you do not want to discuss in a wider forum, and address the topics from the perspective your feelings, hopes, and concerns.
As Facebook’s Mark Rabkin phrases it, most one-on-one meetings are not awkward enough—because “if it’s not a bit awkward, you’re not talking about the real stuff.” He provides some excellent guidance about how to prevent your one-on-one meetings from falling into a rut and focusing on the banal. In particular, he suggests that you cover subjects like emotions, fears, and meta-topics.
As Rabkin puts it, “This is what solves problems that otherwise go unsolved. It breaks the cycle of repeated issues or an impasse. It lets you be you and let down your guard. It builds trust and relationships. It creates growth for both of you.” He also suggests that both parties request and give feedback (following guidelines for good feedback, of course).
On a busy software development project, the most precious resource managers and team members have to offer is time. If one-on-one meetings are part of the management toolkit in your organization, consider how to make the most of the time so that everyone will find them useful.