A guide to leading effective 1:1 meetings

by Zach Montroy, SPHR

In the midst of a busy schedule, making time for 1:1 meetings with your staff can seem like a chore. However, individual meetings are loaded with significance – both for your team members and for your company as a whole. Don’t skip this critical piece of connection and leadership. Today, we’re breaking down the format of the 1:1 meeting to ensure that yours are as powerful and effective as possible.

Why Is A 1:1 Meeting So Critical?

If you’re looking to make a big impact as a leader, intentional 1:1 meetings with your staff will deliver impressive results. Not only is this a time for you to check in on the impact of their work and monitor critical progress areas, it’s a time for you to communicate your care for them personally and encourage their continued growth in their given craft. 

Often, leaders make the critical mistake of using these meetings solely to check on work, and they neglect the relationship side. If that’s you, you’re missing an important opportunity to strengthen your relationships with your team  – and in turn, your company’s success. Emotional health has been proven to correlate with positive results within an organization. It’s important to care for your team personally, building into your relationship with one another while at the same time creating continued pathways for growth and professional development. 

All Check-Ins Are Not Created Equal

Depending on both the tenure and experience of the individual, you must craft a custom check-in that serves you, your company and the individual. The needs of a new employee and a trusted senior team leader are vastly different. A cookie cutter approach doesn’t work, and may have the unintended consequence of coming across as disingenuous. Let’s break down some of the different needs of your team with some comprehensive guidelines.

A Road Map for Check-ins for New Staffers

Weekly check-ins are key, and likely, you’ll want to involve the new staffer’s entire team. This is the time for time-sensitive feedback on their work, an opportunity to ask questions, and allows for clear expectations. It’s critical that you set a new team member up for success from day one, and a strong onboarding process and frequent check-ins should be a part of that process. 

Structure of a New Staffer Check-in: 

When you’re working with a new team member, have their team present for the first part of the meeting before transitioning to a 1:1. When the team is present, start by asking the following 3 questions. Have each person (including the new team member) take a minute or two to share.

1) What does this person need to start doing? 

Are there new tasks you need to give this person? Are there normative behaviors that need to be articulated (like a same day response to Slack messages)?  Do you want them to start communicating in a different way? 

2) What do they need to stop doing?  

Which behaviors shouldn’t continue? This question doesn’t need to feel harsh. For example, a new team member may have trouble prioritizing. They may be spending too much time on a given task, trying to perfect a deliverable that will still go through further iterations. This is the time to point out the behaviors they can and should discontinue to save time and effort. 

3) What do they need to continue doing?

This is your time to encourage. Where are they shining? Where are they a rock-star? Positive reinforcement is the best kind of motivator, so point out the things that you want to see them continue or increase.

Then, dismiss the team and give the new team member some personal coaching. Offer any needed clarification on the DNA of the team and how you see them fitting in well. Use the time to make any personal expectations clear. Finally, get to know them on a relational level. Ask about their goals and dreams; find out why they joined your team, and ask what they hope to get from the relationship. Ask what they need from their boss, and find out how you can challenge them. Most importantly, leave an adequate time for them to ask you questions. 

A Road Map for Check-ins for Tenured Staffers

At this stage, Investment in the individual is key. Ask this person to paint a picture of where they want to be 5 years from now, and understand how you can help them get there. Take note – this can be challenging for you as a leader, especially if their plans include moving on from your team. Remember, no great leader ever reflects on a staff member and thinks, “I’m so glad I trapped this person in their current role.” 

If you create a growth orientation culture, you’ll tap into the law of increasing returns – great people will want to stay to develop the next generation. However, if team members choose to move on, make sure they’ll look back on their time with you as pivotal to their success.

Structure of a Tenured Staffer Check-In: 

A regular monthly 60 minute meeting focused on their growth and development is a good practice. This is not a time for project updates, task delegation or team-updates. The first time you meet, craft a growth and development plan for the individual. This should include questions like these:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

What are your short term personal growth goals for this year? 

What are the risks and constraints that could hold you back from reaching your goals? 

What are the behaviors that will drive you towards meeting your goals? 

At The Intention Collective, we use a helpful template to help construct this growth and development plan. Once this is complete, it’s helpful to review during a monthly 1:1 and gives you both a chance to update their progress. 

In subsequent 1:1 meetings, revisit the plan along with questions like these:

1) What is encouraging right now? 

2) Where do you feel like you’re making progress (in your craft or as a leader)? 

3) What is the greatest challenge or struggle you are currently facing? 

4) What can we tackle together to help you move forward? 

A Road Map for Check-Ins for the Experienced Team Leader

For someone in a senior role, it’s imperative to give them the time to pick your brain and ask pointed questions. At this point, your relationship should be more about coaching than hierarchy, and the focus should be on their continued growth and development as a practitioner or leader. 

Ask them about their perspective, with questions like these:

  1. What are you excited about? 
  2. What part of your work is bringing you energy? 
  3. What is one thing you’ve learned that’s inspired you?
  4. How are you investing in your team?
  5. How can I help you continue moving forward on your unique journey? 

If this is a trusted team member, you’ll want to give them the opportunity to speak into your leadership. Ask questions like: 

  1. How do you experience me?
  2. What is one thing I could be doing better? 
  3. What is one thing that I do well? 
  4. What is something you’ve always wanted to tell me but have been hesitant to? 

Questions like these require a healthy dose of self-awareness. Great leaders know they’re not perfect, and they seek feedback from employees to help them improve.

Always Choose Humility

You never arrive as a leader; the journey is about continual growth and learning. It’s about being mindful and treating everyone with intentionality. Reflect on what you want your personal impact to be on your team, and start taking small steps forward to create the kind of environment that’s healthy, productive and intentional about growth and development. 

Need a bit more direction? We’d love to talk with you at The Intention Collective. We’ve worked with top companies to help leaders have a positive impact while getting what they want from their business and life. Reach out anytime.

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