How to Run an Effective One-on-One

As a team lead, one of your many responsibilities will be to establish and nurture your relationship with your team members. You’ll accomplish this over time. There is no shortcut to this. And just like any relationship, you can build it up, or wear it down. So consider that every interaction you have with your team, and every time you make a decision, etc. that your rapport will change. Something that you should be doing is having regular check-ins with each person on your team, and the most effective way is to have one-on-ones with them. But these one-on-ones can be beneficial, or a waste of time. To run effective one-on-ones, you have to be diligent, empathetic, communicative, and more.

Diligence with your one-on-ones

A major factor to ensure that your one-on-ones are effective is to ensure that you’re diligent and consistent about them. That means you must keep a regular schedule and stick to it. Even if you need to move one of them around to a different day sometimes, that’s fine. Just don’t cancel them unless you really need to. Again, just like any relationship, having meaningful and personal conversations is crucial to building trust, understanding one another, enabling meaningful and candid conversations.

It also means you need to take notes for each one. This will act as your guide over long courses of time. Your memory is not perfect. You won’t remember what you talked about six months ago, or something small but important that came up recently that you wanted to chat about in your next one-on-one. Diligence in note taking will enable your one-on-ones to have more value and meaning.

That also means you have to prepare in advance. Don’t just show up to the one-on-one without any forethought or outline. For every one-on-one, and for each person, spend some time before the meeting to read your notes, and then reflect on anything you saw or heard during the week. Then also write down anything you want to talk to them about. Having an outline gives structure to your one-on-ones and also shows that you’re taking it, and them, seriously.

Having diligence in your preparation and having consistency will enable you to grow as a lead, but also grow your relationship. You’ll find that your own skills will grow, like empathy, communication, planning, and more. And growing yourself is equally important as growing your team.

What to talk about during one-on-ones

There are a lot of things that you can talk about at every one-on one to make them meaningful. But what you talk about will be unique to every meeting you have, and to each person. You may hold all of your one-on-ones for your whole team in the same day, or week. But you’ll likely find the outline you prepare will be different for each person. There may be some overlaps, but overall this should make sense. Each person will have different needs at all times. So specifically what you talk about will take your diligent planning.

Also remember, that this is supposed to a conversation. One-on-ones aren’t an interview. So you shouldn’t just be asking many questions and writing down notes about their answers. To form a solid relationship with someone, you have to give as well. So make sure that you open up to your team, talk about how you’re doing, what you’re dealing with, and basically any of your questions should reflect back to you. This will make you feel more approachable, human, and enable them to be empathetic with you.

One-on-one aren’t for casual conversations like you would chat over a cup of coffee. So stick to important concepts like:

  • Working through their career growth
  • How they’re feeling about their job
  • How they’re dealing and balancing work and life
  • Are they facing burnout
  • Giving feedback to them
  • Receiving feedback from them
  • Giving them insight into what’s going on above them in the organization

Here are some resources to help guide you in more depth for your one-on-ones:

Benefits to making them meaningful

There are many benefits to having meaningful one-on-ones. You’ll be a more effective manager for your team as whole because you’ll be able to identify issues in your team, team dynamics, workflow, processes, and more. You’ll be a better manager and lead for your team on an individual level too. You can mitigate burnout, prevent someone from becoming too unhappy with their job early to try to prevent them from leaving, help them grow in their career, build on their strengths, improve their weaknesses, guide them into and through promotions, and so much more. With a happy and efficient team, your team will work better, more efficiently, and you’ll find you’ll be able to meet deadlines more consistently. The work itself will be higher quality. You’ll also find yourself growing with better communication skills, more empathy, and so much more. There are countless benefits to having good one-on-ones, but it all starts with you.