If you had to choose a movie title to describe what a 1:1 meeting with your manager feels like, what would it be? Let’s hope you didn’t pick Gone with the Wind or worse, Apocalypse Now. Sometimes 1:1s with my boss could be described as Catch Me If You Can. But fortunately it’s mostly Stand By Me.
The 1:1 meeting is the simplest way to encourage connection and build trust between two individuals in the workplace. And yet, these meetings are often poorly executed, unattended, and let’s face it, dreaded. Like a really bad movie.
Okay, enough of the silver screen talk. Let’s turn to real life, and in particular, what we can do to make 1:1 meetings the best part of the manager-employee relationship. After all, we know that those employees with regular manager meetings have triple the engagement, than those who don’t.
It hurts to hear the true cost of bad bosses. Bad 1:1 meetings are often the collateral damage of these miscreants. But let’s not place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the boss. Employees have a responsibility to make these meetings work, too.
At Jostle, 1:1 meetings are our critical path to employee growth, development, and wellbeing. We don’t have an annual performance management program. Instead, we look to team leads to nurture, involve, and align team members through regular conversations. In turn, we look to employees to drive their own growth and express what they need through these meetings.
But we recently suspected we weren’t getting the most out of our 1:1s—some of our managers are new, some of us have fallen into poor habits, many of us are feeling challenged by conducting these meetings in remote mode due to our current pandemic conditions.
So, we held a roundtable with our team leads to openly share what was working, what wasn’t, and what was missing. What resulted was a healthy, vulnerable conversation and a real desire to see the quality of these meetings, and the resulting relationships, improve.
As we analyzed the transcript from the meeting, we realized that what was shared could be helpful to others. This resulted in a collection of ideas or inspiration sparks, that have been assembled into a quick guide to the A-Z of 1:1 meetings. Now, 26 ideas might seem like a lot to take on board, but there’s bound to be one or two things that will stick and help improve the quality and outcome of your 1:1s.
The A-Z of better 1:1 meetings
Here’s a selection of my favorite alphabet entries. I’m sure you have your own 1:1 meeting experiences that fit the title The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (there I go again). I’d love to hear them via comments below or catch me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Having an agenda was an overwhelming recommendation from those who enjoy constructive 1:1s. Setting out and agreeing on what will be discussed takes away the uncertainty, sets expectations, and gives the meeting purpose. It also helps track progress and follow up. There are various ways to do this with shared Google docs, calendar and note tools like Hugo, or a private discussion in your intranet. Find what works for both people, and be prepared to try different ways to achieve the same outcome.
These meetings aren’t a one-size fits all concept. Each of us is in a different stage of our career, with unique ways of working, and myriad interpersonal and professional needs at any given time. Be open and creative with frequency (how often should you meet?), location (is a walk more productive than sitting at a table?), content (what do you both want to talk about today?), and format (use that agenda!). Think about your own needs and preferences, and be sure to communicate those to your manager, too.
1:1 meetings don’t happen in a vacuum and they involve two human beings. A lot can go wrong. And often it does. But that’s the value of conversation and connection. Be ready to make mistakes, learn from each other, and listen intently. Much of what we do every day is automated or optimized—heck, even made possible—by technology. 1:1 meetings are a chance for real, human engagement, but they require trust, openness, respect, and an understanding that each of us has full lives outside of work. Be fully human yourself, before expecting the person on the other side of the table to be fully vulnerable with you.
I recently learned about the importance of curiosity in relationships. We express curiosity by asking questions. If you don’t arrive with questions, you run the risk of turning the meeting into a status update or worse, telling rather than asking. If you’re unsure where to start, simply say “How are you, really?” to kick off a human-centric conversation that doesn’t get waylaid by project problems and other routine checklist items.
As I emphasized earlier, 1:1 meetings are the responsibility of both people in the conversation. To get the most out of this time together, it really does work in both directions. That means shared responsibility, shared accountability, and shared results. Each party has something to gain from the relationship, and should be prepared to contribute fully. If this feels daunting for either side, think about how to reach common ground first. Perhaps it’s a shared goal or a love of baseball.
Taking a human-first approach and being fully invested, will take you both a long way. Finally, you might find yourself in a newly remote working situation, which requires even more work to make it work both ways. Think about what you might need to adjust or adapt, and don’t expect the kinks to unravel themselves.