[008] How to get the most out of your one-to-one meetings with your team or line manager | The Big Bang Partnership

[008] How to get the most out of your one-to-one meetings with your team or line manager

Top tips on how to get the most from your one-to-one meetings

My inspiration for this week’s blog

This week, my blog is inspired by two people I am coaching, each from a different business.

I have been working with one of them to develop their leadership skills, informed by feedback from the 360 activity that we had completed. There was a clear theme in the feedback that the one-to-one meetings they’ve been having with direct reports are not working as well as they could.

The second coaching client feels that she’s not getting the outcomes that she wants or needs from her one-to-one meetings with her line manager, and really doesn’t look forward to her fortnightly sessions.

In this blog, I will give you my top tips for making the most of your one-to-one meetings, whether you are the direct report or the line manager. You can also click on this link to download your free one-to-one meeting plan.

First, break all the rules

In the classic management book, First, Break All the Rules, by Buckingham and Coffman, research by the Gallup Organization shows that the most successful and productive employees can answer ‘yes’ to these questions:

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the equipment and material I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?
  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my work is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. In the last six months, have I talked to someone about my progress?
  11. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

One-to-ones are a great opportunity to help generate a resounding yes to these questions and build a strong workplace capable of attracting and keeping top performers at every level.

One to one meeting in action, remember the top tips!

How effective are your one-to-ones?

One-to-one meetings can be really valuable, for both the line manager and the direct report, yet in so many cases I hear from both sides that the experience is less than ideal, that there is too much focus on the immediate workload, and that neither party does much preparation or planning for the meeting in advance. Plus, there is often very little guidance or training given by organisations on how to make the most from the potentially precious one-to-one time.

But before we dive in, take a few moments now to think about your own one-to-one meetings. Give each statement below a score between 1 to 5, with 1 being strongly disagree, and 5 strongly agree.

  • My one-to-one meetings are usually collaborative and productive.
  • We actively listen to each other and take each other’s perspectives into account.
  • Both of us seem to enjoy our one-to-ones, most of the time.
  • We are both always well-prepared for our meeting.
  • We usually agree clear, specific actions and next steps in the meeting.
  • We often discuss development needs and opportunities, as well as the day job.
  • We show appropriate concern and interest in each other’s wellbeing.

Why one-to-ones are important

When one-to-ones are done well, they bring mutual benefits.

From the line manager’s perspective, they offer a great opportunity to motivate, coach, develop, enhance productivity and loyalty, and gain feedback and insight into how things are going. The goal for the line manager is to connect the direct report’s work to the wider business and team strategy, provide appropriate situational leadership, develop a highly effective working relationship, help their colleague develop and make sure that their ideas are heard and considered.

From the direct report’s point of view, one-to-ones provide precious, valuable time with their manager, create the chance to discuss challenges, opportunities and options, get guidance and clarity where it is required, and receive feedback on their work on an ongoing basis. The goal for the direct report is to showcase their work appropriately, develop a great rapport with their boss, provide ideas and potential solutions for problems and risks, and align their activities to what the business, and their boss, need.

One-to-ones can be a really effective part of how you create an nurture a culture of innovation in your business. My own doctoral research shows that a dynamic environment in which people feel their ideas are  welcomed and heard, even if they are not ultimately acted upon, can contribute to a more entrepreneurial approach from employees.

They are essential for high-performance. If you’d like to learn more about how to perform at the top of your game and achieve outstanding results for your business and career, have a look at my new programme, Idea Time ® Perform, created from the research evidence from my PhD and my experience of working with high-performing leaders and teams.

8 top tips for getting the most out of your one-to-ones

Here are my 8 top tips for getting the most out of your one-to-one meetings, whether you are in the seat of the line manager or the direct report.

  1. Schedule your meetings as a regular event – and stick to the schedule, unless there’s a real emergency

You can review the frequency of your sessions together, and adjust to more or less often as needed, but only on rare, exceptional occasions should you cancel the one-to-one, especially at the last minute. Nor should it be rushed.


  1. Prepare the things you want to discuss in advance

Jot things down in the days or week before your one-to-one as they occur to you, so that you don’t forget anything.

When you’re in the meeting, start with the most important things first, so that if the discussions take longer than you think they will, you will have at least covered the priorities.

  1. Make sure the discussions go beyond the immediate day-job issues

Simple status updates are a waste of face-to-face time, and can be done outside the meeting. Use the one-to-one for higher value discussion that will enhance performance and contribution, as well as building your working relationship.

  1. Consider using a simple actions list

Committing to take action as a result of your conversation is really important to generate momentum, and turn your discussions into meaningful progress. Making sure that you visibly write these actions down, do what you promise and then update each other once you’ve completed your actions, by email, for example. This supports mutual support, collaboration and respect.

  1. Be fully engaged

Really listen to each other, rather than just waiting for the other person to finish talking so that you can say your piece.

Be aware of your body language, and use an open and interested posture.

Put your phone or laptop away and eliminate or at least minimise the potential for interruptions, such as other people coming and going, or the phone ringing.

  1. Say thank you and recognise achievement and great work

Bosses appreciate well-deserved positive feedback and thanks too, so this one if definitely for both of you.

Look for opportunities to say a sincere thank you or well done in the meeting. Don’t overdo it, though, or the words lose their significance and impact.

Appreciating each other and recognising each other’s achievements appropriately will help you strengthen your rapport.

  1. Seek to understand and be curious

This tip is especially useful if you find that you are not agreeing with each other on something. Aiming to understand and empathise with your colleague’s point of view will empower you with insight that can help to influence a better outcome for both of you.

Curiosity is a state of active interest or genuinely wanting to know more about something. It allows you to embrace unfamiliar circumstances or perspectives. Studies such as the one here by the University at Buffalo finds that the degree to which people are curious directly relates to personal growth opportunities. It also determines how deeply people become connected.

  1. Make sure you end well

At the end of your meeting, make sure that you end well by doing these 2 things:

  • Review the decisions and actions you’ve made to make sure you’re both on the same page.
  • Reflect on the experience and on whether the time was well spent. Identify anything you think would help you make it better next time, if that’s relevant.

More challenging relationships and situations

These 8 top tips will help take an ok or positive relationship to the next level, and enhance the productivity of both the line manager and the direct report. Sometimes, though, relationships, discussion topics or performance issues mean that robust and challenging conversations are necessary. I will give you some approaches for dealing effectively with these more challenging relationships and situations in an upcoming blog.

How to prepare for your one-to-one

I’ve prepped a free, downloadable one-to-one single page planner for you to use. Just click here for your copy.

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