The greatest of all meetings you have at your workplace is the one-on-one meetings. The effectiveness of the way you get to conduct a one on one will decide how successful you or your associates will be at work.
The practice of 1-1 is very simple and should rely on FIVE principles.
- To build a trust relationship between two folks in the meeting.
- To be informed and aligned with the business needs.
- Is there help required in getting any particular job done.
- Career development mentoring that helps pivot success.
- Give feedback and take feedback in person.
IMO, these are the only FIVE topics that should take place in the workplace one-on-ones. Wait, how many of us end up discussing project details or release activities in the one-on-ones?
If you do, then you are probably not engaging in effective one-on-ones.
It is quite possible to bring in the project-related activities to the one-on-ones and it is sometimes the necessary evil based on whom you are having this meeting with. Sometimes, it is essential to have the background to address a particular problem at hand. That is okay too. You mitigate that by having frequent one-on-ones.
If you are a first-line manager, strictly develop a policy that you will not discuss project-related activities in the one-on-one meetings and be extra careful about making exceptions. You should have other avenues to know the project status and hurdles along the way.
Some principles to follow.
Set up a recurring meeting (usually biweekly) with everyone
Setting it up is allocating time for the associate. It gives them the required importance and indicates that the leader is indeed keeping aside time to listen and available to consult. It is a promise. I believe it is important to cultivate this habit in your calendar. It also allows both of you to be prepared on the topics to discuss in the meeting. If you are going into a meeting without an agenda, then that time is wasted for both of you.
It is not essential that you discuss different topics in each of the one-on-ones. Remember this is the time you are spending with the associate. Get to know the person and the circumstances. That will help collaborate with the person better. If there aren't any topics, attend the call and you can call it off after five minutes for lack of topics. It helps to reassure the associate that you will be committed to the time allocated. Second, it gives back precious time to both of you which you could spend working on other important tasks.
Focus more on career development
This is the time you are going to be spending the time exclusively with the associate. You have to utilize the time to give candid feedback which would help the associate course correct and becomes successful. In fact, it would help to be looking at different behavioral and technical capabilities that the associate should focus on. It is a combined exercise and you use your experience to nudge it as needed.
I have a habit of asking every technical contributor to pick two things that he/she wants to be an expert. In general, the young associates want to learn everything and end up doing nothing. So it is better to put them in a constraint and ask them the question;
- Pick one technology and one domain you want to put your heart on, that is relevant to the business that we are in.
Similarly, instill the thought process in them to pick their career path. Do they want to be on the management or technical ladder. Follow it up with a question as to 'why? Why do they want to be on a particular path. Let them think it over and come to you later. This way you would make them pick the career path and also help them validate it with themselves.
During this process, you are building a relationship and trust. You are reaffirming the fact that you are going to be there for them and guide them as needed. It soon reaches a point where the associates feel at home and very comfortable working with you.
I truly believe that great leaders turn one-on-ones into an effective mentoring session which would help the associate succeed in his/her career. There is a lot to be learned for the leader as well. I guess this is the opportunity where you get to see different perspectives.
Finally, avoid these;
Do not turn a one-on-one into a project status meeting. You have project-related meetings for that. The goal for a 1:1 is entirely different.
Do not get into the problem-solving mode - do not solve the problems for your associates. Instead, show them the path and let them resolve it.
Do not engage in the conversation to criticize. Remember there is more than one way to solve any problem. So, look to the future and don't dwell in the past.