When I talk about 1:1s, I’m referring to specific, human-centered and well-structured meetings that you should have regularly as a manager with each of your direct reports as a way of building trust and a creating a safe space for them to express their thoughts as freely as possible.
But this process, although somewhat easy to describe, is often difficult to master. As a manager, I started having 1:1s to better understand my team, and to prevent conflict or burnout from escalating. Especially to minimise my blind spots and reduce our turnover rate – which, as you may know, is a big area of concern for managers who want to develop a healthy team.
In addition to these, there are many other reasons to have 1:1s. Depending on your specific context, a number of different approaches may be required when conducting your meetings. Here are three approaches to consider when running your next 1:1.
bond with your people
1:1 meetings can help you bond with your direct reports, getting to know them better, allowing them to discover the person behind the manager, for improved employee engagement, and ultimately, to help turn the daily work routine into a more enjoyable experience.
These meetings can also help you increase the level of mutual trust by creating a safe space where employees are able to express what they think and how they feel freely. Taking advantage of these meetings helps increase the psychological safety levels of our people, making them see that they can rely on us for whatever they may need.
Believe me, in daily meetings or performance reviews you’re not going to create connections with your reports as deep as you would by having these meetings regularly!
Here are five questions you can include in your next 1:1 to strengthen the bond with your people:
- What made you want to become a [role in the company]?
- Do you think you have a good work-life balance right now?
- How can we improve the way we work as a team?
- Is there anything I can do to help you overcome any roadblock you might have?
- What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?
Talk about career development
1:1 meetings are the perfect opportunity to get to know the expectations and career development aspirations of your direct reports. Understand what motivates them, what direction they would like to take in their career and help them make it happen.
A demonstrated interest in the professional development of your people will not only make them feel appreciated and considered fundamental pillars within the company, but will also reinforce what I mentioned earlier – bonding with your people – which is key to building cohesive and efficient teams in the long-term.
If you show your reports that their professional development matters to us, they will feel happier and more self-assured about their potential for growth and success, which will lead to higher self-esteem and greater confidence in their work, their manager and the company they work for.
Here are five questions that will help you understand their career motivations and aspirations:
- Have you ever thought about your long-term career goals?
- What skills would you have to develop to achieve your career goals?
- What is the next step in your career?
- What would you need to make greater progress in your career expectations?
- Does your daily work help you learn new things?
Discuss and analyse feedback
As for feedback, you could go on forever! It is very important that companies and managers strive to create and embed a real feedback culture. This will make it much easier to identify improvements, record strengths, detect blind spots, etc.
And of course, making feedback an essential part of your people’s daily lives will help to further reinforce the relationships with your reports and the honest conversations you have about their professional development.
Feedback should become a habit within your company and should be given on a daily basis. However, keep in mind that more specific, or even more sensitive, feedback should be saved to be discussed in your 1:1s, as it is more likely to generate a more constructive conversation, while reducing the possibility of misunderstandings compared to written feedback.
In all 1:1s with my team I not only give new feedback, but also discuss, analyse and reinforce the feedback already received by that person. In this way you’re ensuring understanding on both sides and making sure that the feedback given is always really constructive and useful.
Take advantage of your 1:1s to give feedback, but also to understand how they want to receive it and, of course, don’t forget to ask for feedback about yourself too! Understanding how your team views and values your work and leadership style will help you do a better job as a professional and as a manager.
Here are five questions you can ask at your next 1:1 to make sure you get great feedback and give ones that are most constructive for your people:
- Is there anything that you would like to receive more feedback on?
- Is there anything you would like to improve from the way you work?
- If you were me, what would you change from the way I work?
- What can I do to support you better?
- Is there any recent situation that you would have liked me to handle differently?
Bonus: managing conflicts in a 1:1
Conflicts in the workplace can happen, the key is to detect them and solve them in time before they become a major problem. 1:1s are the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into these situations.
The first thing to keep in mind is that people are different different. So, how can you be better prepared to manage delicate or conflicting situations in a 1:1 meeting?
There are certain things to keep in mind when dealing with these kinds of situations:
- Try to understand the underlying demands of each party and to make sure that both your direct report and you, as their manager, understand and perceive them in the right way.
- Always show an open and collaborative attitude. Make your direct reports see that you listen to them and are doing your best to eliminate conflict and reach an agreement to meet their needs.
- Never make the mistake of making false promises or saying something you are not sure you will be able to keep. Maintaining trust with your direct reports is very important and you cannot risk losing it, even more so when the conversation has been generated by a dissatisfaction of one of the parties.
- When both sides have reached an understanding, it is time to seek a solution, always in a joined up and collaborative manner, seeking not to harm any of the parties but to satisfy the needs that created the initial conflict.
During 1:1s, the questions asked and the discussions had make all the difference in the course of the conversation. There are several topics that can be covered and it’s important that you get the most out of them by asking questions that lead to great, meaningful solutions.
Here are a further 111 questions that great leaders ask their direct reports in 1:1 meetings, organised by category. Depending on what you want to get out of the conversation, you can choose questions that in your case will have the greatest possible impact on your people’s experience and help you gain visibility into those issues you’d like to work on.