one on one meetings

Many of us know that we need to communicate often and frequently with our manager. One form of such communication is to conduct a regular one-on-one meeting with our manager. In my experience, one-on-one meetings are hugely undervalued, conducted ineffectively or simply brushed off as a “status update” meeting.

In this blog post, I’ll share my thoughts on the importance and value of effective one-on-one meetings.

WHY HAVE A ONE-ON-ONE MEETING?

In the best selling book Hard Things About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz points out that one-on-one meetings are meetings for the employee and not the manager. A one-on-one meeting should be 90% employee driven and 10% manager driven. Such meetings serve as an excellent opportunity for an employee to discuss workplace challenges and brainstorm potential solutions with her manager.

CONDUCTING AN EFFECTIVE ONE-ON-ONE MEETING

1. Develop an agenda

This is a crucial step that no employee should ignore. The employee should take ownership of developing the agenda. Having an agenda serves two key purposes (1) allows you to fine tune your discussion points as you put your thoughts on paper (2) gives structure to your one-on-one meetings so you don’t waste valuable time with your manager digressing on unimportant topics.

The agenda can include key progress update on your projects since you last met your manager, issues preventing you to achieving your goals and potential solutions you are considering to resolve these issues.

Most importantly, you want to have a standing section on the agenda where you are actively seeking feedback from your manager. This helps ensure there are no unexpected surprises when it’s time for your annual performance review.

As a best practice, consider emailing the agenda to your manager 24-48 hours prior to your meeting.

2.  Owning the meeting

Generally speaking it is best for the employee to schedule the 1:1 on the manager’s calendar because it frees up the manager from managing and maintaining the calendar invite should there be schedule changes.

When you walk into your one-on-one with a solid agenda, it is time for you to own the meeting and lead the discussion with your manager. This is the employee’s meeting and it is perfectly acceptable for you to do most of the talking.

3. Meeting frequency including cancellations

One-on-one’s can last for 30 minutes to an hour and are conducted every week or every other week. If you or your manager travel frequently, you may want to schedule a weekly meeting and cancel meetings if one of you is going to be unavailable. A one-on-one meeting once every other week is necessary for effective communication with your manager.

4. Mix-it-Up

If you and your manager are co-located, meetings are usually conducted in the manager’s office. However you should consider mixing up the meeting format by conducting walking one-on-ones or meeting over lunch. Walking gets our creative juices flowing and breaking bread together helps build trust. Give a new format a try and you’ll see how such simple changes can have a positive impact on your one-on-ones.

TYPES OF QUESTIONS TO BRING UP DURING ONE-ON-ONES

Aside from project related questions, below are a few important questions that a manager and employee should discuss during the one-on-one meetings.

  • Manager

    • What are we not doing that we should be doing?
    • What’s working and no working for you at this organization?
    • How can we improve?
  • Employee

    • What competencies do I need to develop and demonstrate to get from where I am to where I would like to get to?
    • Am I meeting your and the organization’s expectations?
    • What areas of the business would you like me to focus on?

BENEFITS OF ONE-ON-ONE MEETINGS

  • Allows you to own your career

A one-on-one meeting is a great opportunity for an employee to share her career aspirations and goals. Too often employees mistakenly assume that it is their manager’s job to drive her career forward. Infact the opposite is true. So leverage your time with your manager to have detailed discussions about your career and professional growth.

  • Opportunity to talk through sensitive topics

Is your project stalled because someone on your project team is not able to deliver on time? Or is your customer upset because of an unacceptable outcome? A one-on-one opportunity allows you to have private discussions with your manager about sensitive topics that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

  • Alignment between the manager and the employee

When a manager and employee are aligned on expectations, work is more satisfying and enjoyable. Life is too short to spend 8+ hours at work and not give it your best. Alignment with your manager (and peers) helps bring your best self to work every day.

THINKING BEYOND YOUR MANAGER

  • Meetings with peers

When I started working as a junior Clinical Project Manager, I scheduled 1:1 meetings with my peers to better understand their role, expectations, and fears. For example, I would meet with the statistician to understand what it took to develop a statistical analysis plan. Such conversations helped me get a deeper understanding of the work performed by other team members and build trust with them. So take the initiative to schedule time to meet with your peers and have candid 1:1 conversations.

  • Meetings with mentors or other managers

Some organizations have well-defined mentorship programs that pair you up with a mentor. But even if your organization doesn’t have such a program, you can identify your own mentors – people that you respect and want to learn from. One-on-one meetings with mentors and other managers, give you a unique perspective on an issue or topic you are seeking feedback. This sought of discussion is priceless because you get to see how others view a problem, which in many cases will be different from your interpretations. People that are farthest from the issue you are facing can tremendously help you shape your thinking.

Hope you found tremendous value from this post. Leave your feedback in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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