One-on-one meetings with direct reports may seem about as inviting as a trip to the doctor. But, just as with doctor visits, a little preparation promotes engagement and a healthier rapport. Done right, I find that one-on-ones can build trust, identify issues before they become problems, and help with retention.
Here are four tips for managers and employees to improve one-on-one meetings:
1. Prepare an agenda – An agenda provides structure so you can take full advantage of your one-on-one time. Both attendees should have a topic list. Exchange any important items prior to the meeting. Check off items as you go. If you need to shift to more pressing topics, get back to others next time. Acknowledge open items at the end.
Sample agenda items: The most important thing I need to hear (or say); ways I can help (or need help); professional development opportunities, recognition, coaching tips, roadblocks, frustrations, deadlines.
2. Listen, learn and collaborate – Meet privately so you can both be fully present. Silence cell phones and close the door. Agree on ground rules to promote an honest exchange.
Suggested rules: 1) Listen to understand and learn, not just to get a response; 2) Allow the listener time to think and respond; 3) Work to problem-solve together; 4) Clearly express intentions and thoughts; and 5) Ask questions to demonstrate engagement.
3. Build rapport – Start with a check-in. Ask the other person how work is going, and whether they have concerns. Allow an authentic response and offer an honest answer. Chit chat is fine, but avoid touchy topics such as politics or family life. Neutral topics such as weekend plans, vacations, pets, books, movies etc. are fine. Don’t gossip.
4. Recognize achievement and show respect – Respect is the best way to demonstrate that people belong. Recognizing good work and keeping commitments shows that respect goes both ways. Thank the other person genuinely and specifically. Tell them if you’ve put their ideas into action. Keep to your scheduled time. If you must reschedule, do so in advance if possible and try to rebook within the same week.
Necessary but often-dreaded, the one-on-one meeting may seem like a task to be ticked off your work to-do list. However, inviting meaningful interaction with direct reports is actually a must-do for a productive work environment in my experience.