1-on-1s: Workflows and Best Practices

November 10, 2017 - 9 minute read - Posted by

Weekly check-ins, 1-on-1s, or daily stand-ups. Whatever you like to call them, the one thing we can agree on is how crucial it is for managers to interact with their direct reports regularly.

“1-on-1s are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager.”

—Elizabeth Grace Saunders, Author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money

Effective 1-on-1s help managers answer strategic questions such as: Is my team focusing on the right things?

And for employees, it shows a long-term commitment to their growth within the organization.

So before we dive into effective 1-on-1 workflows and best practices, let’s tackle why so many organizations find success using this strategy.

Why are 1-on-1s so effective?

By default, conducting 1-on-1s is setting aside designated time for managers to gather feedback from direct reports, assess weekly priorities and extend a helping hand.

Benefits of conducting 1-on-1s can range from increased trust between the direct reports and manager, higher productivity levels, and greater loyalty from the team.

These benefits occur when direct reports meet with their manager on a regular basis and share challenges to receive support face-to-face. For more information on the benefits of conducting 1-on-1s, check out this blog post.

1-on-1 Best Practices

Length

Designating up to 1 hour per week to each of your direct reports is highly important.

In fact, Lighthouse Leadership and Management advises most 1-on-1s to be between 30-60 minutes.

This is because anything longer than 60 minutes can be draining for both parties. But, anything shorter than 30 minutes may not give you enough time to address roadblocks and share resources.

In 60 minutes you have the opportunity to address a few different topics with open-ended questions and allow for additional topics to be brought up in the moment.

When facilitated effectively, 1-on-1s provide guidance and set actionable next steps.

Cadence

At 7Geese, we practice weekly 1-on-1s. We recommend this cadence because it helps us reflect on the prior week and set ourselves up for success in the following week.

If you already conduct daily standups, designated 1-on-1 time is a great opportunity to have development conversations for growth and career mapping.

Weekly cadences can incorporate daily tasks into the conversation when discussing long-term goals.

If too many weeks go by between 1-on-1s, crucial learning points can get lost.

As Lighthouse Leadership and Management noted, trying to discuss everything that has occurred beyond 3 weeks is very difficult and will take longer than an hour.

By keeping the 1-on-1s in a tighter cadence, managers and their direct reports can collectively create timely action plans to achieve more together.

Topics & Common Themes

Every organization has their own values and vision, as do specific teams.

Whether it’s engagement, workload, team dynamics, goals, or development1-on-1s open the floor to these topics.

Kickoff 1-on-1s by deciding on themes or topics that your team cares about.

This powers the new strategy with values to get started. Effectively giving the conversations of the 1-on-1s more context then what is talked about on a day-to-day basis.

As a manager, you can also decide on specific success metrics that complement these themes.

A success metric we use here at 7Geese is:

“How happy are you?”

While 1-on-1s are not meant to be performance assessments, active reflection can incorporate the tracking of improvements.

Structure

The structure of a 1-on-1 can vary greatly depending on the needs of your team.

That being said, 1-on-1s are often driven by themes or topics that structure weekly agendas.

Building weekly 1-on-1 agendas based on team values is an effective structure for many teams.

At 7Geese, we like incorporating an informal aspect to 1-on-1s.

This might mean a having an open conversation around pre-decided topics rather than addressing the same questions on a piece of paper. It’s the little changes that count.

Remember the objective of having a 1-on-1 is to provide opportunities for employees to be more open when it comes to discussing their challenges.

Materials & Resources

Depending on the level of transparency you would like to bring into 1-on-1s, share the outcome of your meetings with others.

We recommend creating running shared documentation between managers and each direct report to look back upon.

Having shared documents provides transparency to those that value it. As well, it holds both parties accountable for their actionable tasks for the weeks to come.

The Simple 1-on-1 Workflow Checklist

Whether you’re just kicking off 1-on-1s or looking to better the feedback process, we’ve developed the following checklist to help enhance your workflow.

Before the 1-on-1

When: Decide on a consistent day and time. Set this in both your calendars as a recurring event.

Where: Be open to changing up where to hold your 1-on-1s. It’s great to change things up so long as it doesn’t eat away the valuable scheduled time.

What (to talk about): Set up a general agenda in a shared document with recurring themes and questions. Here are some suggestions:

  • What’s going well in your role? Any big wins this week?
  • What challenges are you facing and how can the team help?
  • What are the most important things that you did this week?
  • Is there anything else that we need to talk about for next week?

During the 1-on-1

What: Stick to the structure or themes in your agenda. This makes the 1-on-1 process simpler and avoids irrelevant conversation. Take any remaining time to explore additional topics of interest to your employees, including career goals and challenges.

Who: A good 1-on-1 is said to have 90% of the conversation coming from the direct report. The manager’s role is to guide the conversation, listen and provide guidance. 1-on-1s are a time for your direct reports to be the focus.

How (does it come to an end): We recommend closing the conversation with action items that will occur between your current 1-on-1 and the next. This boosts forward momentum and motivation towards goal accomplishment.

After the 1-on-1

During the conversation, take light notes. This way, you can review your notes for accuracy after the 1-on-1.

And if you haven’t already, share them with your employee to make sure you’re both on the same page. This ensures there is an accurate record of action items.

Key Takeaways

1. Have 1-on-1s

Pick a cadence: weekly or biweekly. It’s up to your team to decide how much time each employee needs.

As you provide each of your direct reports with undivided attention regularly and consistently, you’ll be more likely to see a boost in engagement.

2. Prepare, execute, reflect

Show respect for your team by preparing 1-on-1 notes before each meeting.

The time designated to the 1-on-1 should really be used to address their needs and creating an action plan to move forward with.

Next Read: A psychologist explains why giving feedback can be risky and how to counter it

 


Also published on Medium.