The Hidden Benefit of One-on-One Manager Meetings
When I was first a manager, I decided that I would set aside dedicated time each week for one-on-one meetings with the people on my team. We were a small group, so there were many opportunities to interact, but I felt it important to follow the advice in the book someone suggested. People on the team were reluctant to meet, and the early one-on-ones weren’t all that interesting or informative.
But after a few weeks, something changed: I started to hear about people’s challenges and concerns, and I was more able to help the team—and the people on it—be more effective. This experience ingrained in me an understanding that one-on-ones are about one thing more than anything else: building trust. That trust helped me to be a better manager.
The value of one-on-one time to managers and the importance of building trust often get lost, especially when a team is faced with full schedules. In busy times, managers sometimes frame one-on-one meetings almost exclusively in the context of a way to “support employees” and check to see if the employee “needs to meet this week.” Supporting an employee is a primary goal of these meetings, but as a manager, I can’t support an employee unless I understand what their goals, needs, and challenges are. Meeting with someone on a regular basis is one of the best ways to develop this understanding.
Some might argue that other forms of communication can take the place of individual meetings. Systems such as 15Five and weekly email updates can be useful, especially in environments that already have high trust. But in a low-trust environment, people may be reluctant to share real issues in these channels. And the low-trust environments are the ones that can most benefit from good management support.
While some managers seem naturally better than others at holding one-on-one meetings, there are some simple things you can do to make them more productive. First, be clear in your words and actions about the value that the meeting brings to you. Make the meeting a priority, and don’t cancel or reschedule it capriciously. It may even be worth having a conversation early on about the contract you will have with your employee about one-on-ones. This agreement could include items such as purpose, agenda and content, scheduling, and follow-up expectations. Whatever you agree to, set expectations at the outset, and keep to them.
Managing people is hard work, and it requires good insight into what the team is doing. Trust can help create a communication channel that lets the manager understand potential problems in a timely fashion and can also improve morale, retention, and productivity. Maintaining a consistent one-on-one meeting schedule, and remembering that the meetings are valuable to you as well as the people on your team, is a first step toward building this trust.