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Your 1:1 Meetings: Move Beyond a Simple Checklist

meetings Aug 04, 2021

Dion was just coming out of a meeting with his manager. The frazzled look on his face told everyone how that meeting went. Dion was more stressed and more overwhelmed by the meeting. Like all too many meetings, his already lengthy to-do list got longer and his energy got lower. The bounce in his step when he went into the meeting was lost on his way out. 

Have you ever been in a meeting like this before? We might think that too much on the to-do list is the problem, but it might actually be the design of the meeting itself. As a leader you can design a meeting that keeps the bounce in Dion’s step and helps him walk out of that meeting feeling energized and confident in his role.

Let’s do a quick check-in. What activities below get most of the meeting time in a 1:1 with someone on your team?

  • Problem-solving and putting out fires
  • Sharing decisions that impact your direct report
  • Updating on the checklist of “to-do” items
  • Discussing ideas for the future or setting goals
  • Intentional personal and leadership development discussions or activities
  • Connecting on a personal level and on what energizes them in their work

All of those are valuable agenda items for your regular one-on-one meetings. Often, though, we tend to default to one or two items over and over. Then, these meetings become the same old, same old meeting.  We park them on our calendar and then more often than not we go into autopilot when leading the meeting. 

Without some planning and design these meetings can become very focused on to-do lists and putting out the immediate fires. It works because the immediate need is met. However, a pattern can easily be established where team members default to “doing” and leaders fall into the trap of “telling”. It can be harder to get ideas or buy-in on key decisions. Information you need to make better decisions might not be shared because the bigger question doesn’t get asked. Opportunities to truly engage and retain your key team players can go unnoticed and untapped.  

Let’s revisit the check-in list at the beginning of this blog. Embedded in the list are three key areas that make up a good one-on-one meeting: 

Think of these three as domains you can plan to address in your one-on-one meetings. Design your approach to the meeting to include some element from each domain. If it seems like one of the domains is getting too much attention over time, then plan to ask a “starter” question or incorporate a specific discussion point to change up the meeting and break the pattern to bring to the forefront a domain that isn’t getting the attention it might need. You can be more structured by building your agenda around each domain, or less structured by casually flowing back and forth between the domains as you simply keep them in mind.

Next Steps:

If you have a “Dion” on your team and you notice he’s getting a little bored or overwhelmed by your one-on-one meetings, it might be time to change things up. Try this:

Ask these questions:

  1. Continue: What is working for you about our one-on-one meetings?
  2. Stop: What is not working for you about our one-on-one meetings?
  3. Start: What additional things would be helpful?

Map your agenda into the three domains: 

  1. Role: Priorities, resource needs, project updates, problems to address, etc.
  2. Organizational: Updates, ideas, changes, feedback, etc.
  3. Personal: What’s working/not working, personal goals, career aspirations, etc.

Change up your next meeting based on what you heard and how you mapped your domains.

  1. Consider changing up the location of the meeting and go out for coffee to avoid the same old patterns as you start something new.
  2. Ask them for feedback and incorporate it into your next one-on-one agenda plan.

 Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about your experiment in the comments below or email me! Want to brainstorm how to structure your next one-on-one meeting? Sign up here for a free 27 minute strategy session to get started.

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