Individual review meetings are often the first to be skipped when other priorities arise.
Every minute counts in the busy world of business, and if you already know your team well, why spend valuable time on one-on-ones?
Group meetings are great for outlining shared business goals, but they often fail to identify and address individuals’ unique ideas, struggles, and concerns. They’re just not personal enough for every use case.
So even if your team is distributed and you’re happy relying on group Teams calls and Slack chats, you shouldn’t forget about the power of an individual check-in once in a while.
That said, structuring an agenda for one on one meetings isn’t something every manager thinks to do. Off-the-cuff conversations and informal chats are seen as ‘good enough’, but they shouldn’t be. An unfocused ‘1-2-1’ can cause you to miss out on valuable information that needs sharing, and a breakdown in communication can lead to poor performance and growing frustration from employees that want their voice to be heard.
Wondering how to structure your individual meeting agendas? Here’s why you should do it, and what you need to know.
There are a few different reasons why you’d want to make sure you get your one-on-ones right. Time and time again, they have been shown to:
That all sounds great, but how do you make one-on-ones work for your company? An ad hoc approach may do it for you, but that’s rarely the case for most managers. Your meetings need to be deliberate and purposeful, and it all starts with an agenda.
But what exactly makes a great one-on-one agenda? It all comes down to a simple principle: Make the meeting all about them through mindful personalization.
You could spend days researching, drafting, and outlining the perfect template, but at the end of the day, you’ll most likely still end up with a surprisingly generic list of topics.
The good news is that although different from each other, we’re also pretty similar—at least from a psychological perspective. This means your agenda can be structured in a similar way between participants, but customized for each one.. Yes, that means tweaking things here and there each time a new meeting takes place, but the extra effort is almost always worth it.
With that in mind, let’s see how you can make your agenda as effective as possible.
Generic, out-of-context questions won’t get you too far. No one likes being told what’s worth discussing—especially during one-on-ones. Instead of relying on a fixed list of topics, you can have team members actively contribute to the agenda before the meetings take place.
To make things easier, you can create and share unique docs with every individual team member. You really don’t need a lot to start with; a name and a “what would you like to talk about on date x?” will suffice. If there aren’t any pressing issues you can think of, you could ask “is there anything you’d like to raise in our meeting that I can prepare for?”
Being able to jump right in when the meeting starts will be easier when there aren’t any surprising concerns you suddenly have to deal with.
That being said, you can’t expect team members to do all the heavy lifting for you. This approach will work nicely for expressive and outgoing employees, but you’re also guaranteed a few blank docs as well. To make the most out of every meeting, you need to ask the right questions.
Instead of listing all potential questions, we’ll simply divide this section into essential topics that can guide your conversations. You can use the following for the basis of a one on one meeting template:
These general check-in questions go beyond regular small talk. They’ll help you learn more about your employees’ current state of mind without coming off as inquisitive or intrusive.
Remember, personalization is key. Stay focused to avoid missing important verbal and body language cues.
People rarely join a company because position x is their dream job. Realizing that and embracing your employees’ future goals (even if they don’t perfectly align with your/your business’s goals) means you can better build that necessary trust needed to move forward.
Feedback flows both ways and helps everyone get better. After they’ve answered your questions, take the opportunity to offer constructive feedback about their work as well.
Great businesses are built around strong teams. When team members get to express how they really feel about collaborations, they’re more likely to listen to others’ requests as well. Better communication means better teams—a win-win!
There isn’t much spare time to go around in most business settings, so it’s easy to leave everything to the last minute. Even if you’re buried neck-deep with administrative tasks, you should always make time to plan your agendas.
If you’re accepting contributions—and I highly recommend you do—set a clear deadline a couple of hours before the meeting. This will give you plenty of time to prepare and fit everything into your shared doc. Reminders, calendar invites, and emails work, but it’s always better to communicate one-on-one matters in person.
Remember, you need to do your part as well. Fill in your questions and main discussion points a good day or so ahead of the meeting. Introverts especially will surely appreciate the extra time as they process the topics at their own pace.
While there are certainly important topics that both of you will want to discuss, you should always prioritize your employees and let their topics go first. Why? For one, you want to make a point that the meeting is all about them. More importantly, however, their input might completely change your perspective and approach during the meeting.
Family emergencies (e.g., deaths, accidents, divorces) always take precedence over work. In the face of such emergencies, employees may or may not let you know beforehand. One thing’s for sure: They won’t be taking the time to write about it on a Google doc!
If a loved one has recently passed away, that performance issue you wanted to talk about suddenly seems completely out of place. You’ll instead want to take these 30/45/60 minutes to talk about how they’re feeling, how they’re handling the situation, and how their work might be affected.
This is why check-in questions are so important. If you maintain healthy relationships with team members, impactful life events will rarely fly under the radar.
These types of questions are ones you should avoid. Asking for status updates is probably the biggest mistake managers make when planning one-on-ones. Why?
No one will look forward to your meetings if you just spend an hour going through a boring status update checklist. Always focus on the individual first; work-related topics come second.
Creating an agenda and taking the time to prepare before your one-on-one meetings is the only way to guarantee great results. But having the questions written out on a piece of paper isn’t going to cut it.
You need to have a customized and personalized agenda ready every time someone walks into your meeting room—or joins your video call. Not only that, but you also need to be ready to adjust your plans on the go as new information flows in.
And that’s pretty much it - structured meetings, not overly formal, personalized to your employee, should make for a valuable and enjoyable use of everyone’s time.
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