Do you have regular one-to-one meetings at work? Perhaps you’ve tried them but ended up considering them ineffective. Despite the ‘Meetings suck’ and ‘Meetings, the alternative to work’ stuff all around, most experts recommend having regular one-to-ones between employees and their managers. If these meetings haven’t worked for you, then most probably, some common mistakes have been made that have prevented you from getting tangible results. Let’s figure out why.

One to one meetings

Why Have One-to-Ones?

Regular performance review sessions can be disappointing. You seemed to have delivered great results but during the meeting but you find out your boss is not so happy.

Or perhaps you are a QA leader, and here comes your subordinate stating that he is leaving for another company… but you had no idea!

Why do things like this happen? Turns out, it’s all about expectations.

Attending you quarterly KPI (key performance indicators) meeting, you expect the usual acknowledgement and pay raise as a result of hitting the goals of your previous performance review. Meanwhile, your manager also comes with a list of expectations, met or not. Along with your achievements, he brings up your failures like constantly being late, inaccuracy in describing the bugs, or your low performance. Until that point you didn’t challenge his observations, and weren’t even aware of them. And that’s when you find yourself frustrated and undervalued.

With regular one-to-one meetings, you can synchronize mutual expectations and discuss any updates. You can give and get timely feedback, so that when you have your next KPI review, no one is that much surprised by the agenda. As a manager, if you want to stay on top (as well as build clear and easy relations with your team members), you should definitely take advantage of having one-to-ones.

How to Hold One-to-One Meetings?

If you want to ask your manager for a meeting, then do it. Don’t be afraid or feel like you are stealing their time. As long as you have a list of relevant questions to discuss, it’s not a useless activity. Your initiative and responsibility in terms of your work and career, will more likely give you bonus points in the eyes of your manager.

If you are a manager and want to give one-to-ones a try, explain the purpose to your colleagues in advance, and let them know how they can benefit. From previous experience, they may be embarrassed seeing just another sudden meeting invitation, or would be expecting themselves to get chewed for some unknown reason. Anyway, their attitude won’t help in your efforts to set a positive attitude and rapport.

Below is a list of items for an agenda that you could use on your weekly (or bi-weekly) one-to-one meetings.

As a manager:

  1. Ask your colleague what they would like to discuss
  2. Inquire about their concerns, anything that bothers them in terms of the project, general working conditions, relations with the team members/clients, or anything else?
  3. If you’ve had previous meetings, check the status on any actioned items.
  4. Give your feedback if needed.
  5. List new or updated action items based on your conversation. Specify who should do it and when.
  6. Share the meeting minutes with your colleague. As my boss used to say, no meeting minutes means no meeting held.

Listen, listen and listen actively, and take notes. Then don’t forget about your commitments. When your subordinates see that action items are not just words on paper, that you hear their concerns and get your promises done – they will know one-to-ones work, and most likely grant you their loyalty and respect.

As a subordinate:

  1. Ask for feedback
  2. Bring up your questions or concerns. If you want to discuss long-term goals, ask what you can do for the company or project to achieve them. Be specific: “What do I need to deliver to gain the Senior QA position in 1 year?”
  3. These questions will get you a list of action items (with Who/What/When points) that will become a baseline for your further meetings. Suggest scheduling the next meeting in 1 or 2 weeks with the intent of making them regular.

Try to be flexible. You can approach different people differently if you know (or guess) their psychological type. Some people love figures or visualizations; others are more concerned with people and relations. Some need to be given short meeting agenda in advance; others are fine being caught for an occasional meeting during the lunch. For example, you may find it interesting to learn about four management styles by I. Adizes which can help when you want to approach your manager and other colleagues, regardless of the position you take.

And one more thing, be sure to be natural in your approach. Don’t use a tone or phrases that are not inherent to you or might be irrelevant to your working environment. People notice things like that, so just be natural.

Of course, one-to-one meetings work best at companies with units or departments, where a manager has 3 to 10 subordinates and can actually affect their career and work conditions. If you are in charge of more people, delegate such activities to your direct subordinates such as team leaders, resource managers or whoever is close to the team members and hold one-to-ones with them, in turn.

It may be more difficult to use one-to-ones in a distributed team. Video calls help but are not as good as live communication. If you have the possibility to meet with key remote members in person (in addition to regular calls) – do it. You can also use one-to-ones with your clients, if you are in a relevant position such as a freelancer QA leader or manager.

Finally

Introducing one-to-ones may feel awkward at the start, but as long as you find your own ways to make them work, and build trustworthy relationships and rapport, you will feel all the benefits of regular meetings, whatever position you hold.

Good luck in your career, and be inspired!