FoxTricks

One-on-One Meetings

All kinds of people work in a company, you have Frank who likes to continuously curse at his computer and there is Tom who quietly works all day. We all know somebody like Andy, who will stand up and defend his opinion tooth and nail. And there is Sophie, who is so shy that she never dares voice concern. Finally, are all the people with a character falling in between the extremes.

The good thing is, no matter what kind of people you have in your team, an easy way to build a trust relationship while offering a forum to express thoughts and worries is organizing regular One-on-One meetings.

One on One - One2One - 1to1

Many team leads have these meetings informal, over a beer or at the coffee machine, but in my experience, the best way to ensure they happen consistently and to show that they are taken seriously is to have a formal meeting. There is nothing which communicates more "I take your opinion seriously" than a regular timeslot where all you will do is listen and be available to solve someone's issues. 

An important part of the One on One meeting is explaining the purpose.

Practical

My One-on-One meetings are organized on a monthly basis. I book a recurring 1 hour slot during the first week of the month. Potentially they can be arranged more frequently, but in a sizable team this could quickly eat away a large chunk of your time and restricting the meetings to 30 minutes or less makes them too short to really get to the difficult topics. Monthly works best for me. 

I will reserve a private office somewhere, and I'll sit next to the person so we can agree on what I am typing as meeting notes (Disconnect network & smart phones. I consider it extremely disrespectful to interrupt the conversation).

All my notes are tracked in OneNote Notebook with a section per person and a page per meeting.

At the end of the meeting we quickly review the notes and I will send them to the person with my line manager in CC.

Agenda

I break the meeting down in 4 parts.

What have you done last month?

This part of the meeting has a double purpose, it puts your team member at ease; he can talk about stuff he knows; and you get the chance to validate your project progress information. Let the person speak and ask specific questions to get them to talk. For people who didn't have the best month you will have to stress that it's not about blaming or attacking them, it's just to make sure that you have the right information and to make sure that they spend the time to check if they are on track or not.

(Sometimes it is not obvious to somebody that he is behind on his work.)

What will you do next month?

Now we are reaching the meat of the meeting. It is the point where you get to see if they have enough information on the upcoming projects. (Sometimes it get painful when I didn't do the best job in letting people know what is upcoming, but still very useful). It also lines up goals for the short term, which give a sense of purpose for the work to be achieved.

Where are you in achieving your yearly objectives?

This one I only added recently. Some people were complaining that they were taken by surprise at their yearly performance evaluation. "I didn't know that was an objective!", "You never gave me time to do this!". Going over the list of objectives on a monthly basis gives people advanced warning and allows them to ask me additional questions on how to achieve these objectives. It's also handy to plan in extra time in their planning.

I have a page in OneNote with the objectives listed as a check box list and we can simply tick off the things which have been achieved. This is very satisfying for both of us.

Any open topics, any issues to raise, or worries?

Here I push people to tell what's on their mind. Very often it is easy since you already talked about a lot of things and you have gotten the time to re-establish the trust needed to hear the complaints and critics. Most of what I do here is shut up and take notes. It is useful to stop people from descending into the "complaint-mode" by asking "What could I do for you?" or "How could we have prevented this."

Results

Initially about half of the team members were reluctant to go to these meetings, or tried to push them back, but after 3-4 sessions everybody is happy they happen and they even insist on the meetings happening on time. My impression is that they feel better since the meetings were established, and for me it gives a wealth of information on how they are doing, how they feel in their job and if I can do something for them to make things better. If doing these meetings prevents only one person from searching for another job, it is time well spent.

If you have never tried doing One-on-One meetings, give it a try for a few months, the initial investment is small, and the results are potentially big.