you’re making 4 mistakes in your one-on-ones with your team

I recently wrote about mistakes to avoid in your one-on-one’s with your manager. Today let’s talk about the mistakes you might be making in one-on-one’s if you’re the boss.

1. Not taking a few minutes to reflect and prepare before the meeting. Hopefully you’ve asked your staff member to create an agenda for the meeting, but be sure that you’re also setting aside time to review it before you meet. If you’re walking into the meeting cold, you won’t have had the time to really think about the items your staff member has indicated she’d like to discuss, and you probably won’t have had time to think about items of your own that you want to allot time for.

2. Not letting your staff member run the meeting. If you want to help your team members take more ownership over their work, having them run your one-on-one’s is a great way to reinforce that. By putting them in charge of thinking through the agenda and how to make the best use of your time together, and by letting them set the pace of the meeting, you’re giving them responsibility for being thoughtful and strategic about what they need from you in order to keep their realms running as effectively as possible. Coach people to do this, and you’ll reap the benefits through a more engaged team.

3. Only talking about ongoing work or projects that are coming up, and neglecting to debrief work that recently finished. It’s easy to fall into this habit – after all, work that’s still in process or coming up quickly on the horizon is the most urgent and pressing. But if you don’t set aside time to talk over how recently completed work went, you’re losing out on one of the most valuable opportunities you have to develop your staff members’ skills and set them up to get better and better at what they do (or to talk about ways someone might be falling short, if that’s the case).

4. Not prioritizing them. If you cancel check-ins, regularly reschedule, or don’t hold them at all, you’re shortchanging yourself and your team. Sometimes managers feel that they talk so often with staff members throughout the week that there’s no need for a separate check-in, but even in that context there are real benefits to check-ins: They provide structured time to reflect on progress, give feedback, and talk about bigger picture issues that often won’t otherwise come up in the course of day to day work.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase.

{ 20 comments… read them below }

    1. Dani X*

      As long as they need to be? Seems like mine usually are scheduled for 30 min and then we either talk the entire time, or we end early. One manager always was 10 to 15 min and then we were done (he was a favorite of mine) most of the others went 25 – 30 min.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I schedule them for an hour, but if you don’t need the whole amount of time, you end early. That said, if you’re always ending before 30 minutes, I think you’re probably not using them as fully as you should be.

      1. Dani X*

        We met weekly so I think an hour a week would have been way too much time. But he was also a very “to the point” person – no small talk, no working up the issue. Just talked about how things were going and then we were done. It was refreshing.

      2. Evan*

        Interesting; my weekly one-on-one’s with my manager almost always end in fifteen minutes or so. Most of that time’s focused on status updates and upcoming work; how would you recommend we could better use it?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Lots of ways!
          * Debriefing recently finished projects — what went well, what could have gone better, what lessons you can take away for the future
          * Feedback on what you’re doing well and what you could be doing differently
          * Probing into how work is really playing out, not just surface stuff like “it’s going well” or “we’re on track” — stuff like what potential obstacles loom, how you’ll handle X if it comes up, how you’re handling the challenge with Y that came up last year, etc.
          * Are you on track to get impressive results for the year? If not, where can you course correct?
          * What’s your manager most worried about?
          * Getting your manager’s input/advice on tricky areas

          In general, I wouldn’t use them for project updates at all – those can be sent in a short bulleted list beforehand. Use the time for items that really require a dialogue.

          1. Sidra*

            Thanks for this – I am in a similar situation as Evan. I think part of the reason with me is that my boss sees me as not needing much management and my role isn’t very challenging, so we don’t have a lot to say to each other beyond “It’s all good.”

            If she probed into how I’m REALLY doing, well, I can’t really say “You give me tons of opportunities to stretch, but I’m still not challenged” … I’d just come off as a hard-to-please ingrate! Hopefully someday there will be an opportunity to move out of my role entirely and into one that is much more challenging.

          2. Evan*

            Thanks! I’ve got a semi-formalized every-couple-months checkin scheduled tomorrow, so that will be a perfect time to breach some of these questions. For the future, I can see a lot of these would be useful on a continued basis… it just feels sort of odd to ask every couple weeks where I can course-correct. Even though, when I think about it, it’s a very good question to ask!

    3. BadPlanning*

      Ours are scheduled for 30 minutes, but often run over (up to 60 minutes sometimes). Often this includes some non-work chatter, which I think is important. Not that the boss needs to know everything about you (or vice versa), but it’s nice to chat about vacation, some hobbies, crazy home repair adventures, etc. We meet every other week, so sometimes my “things I’ve done list” gets long — if we met weekly, I think we’d hit 30 minutes more often.

    4. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Here’s my breakdown:
      I meet with my admin once a week for 30 minutes, and it doesn’t always take this long. Items are usually pretty simple and straightforward. She does mostly routine tasks, but needs a set time to ask questions that can’t be easily e-mailed. And I need some time to delegate new tasks that require conversation or demonstrating something.

      I supervise four managers:
      One, I meet with every-other week for 60 minutes. She is experienced and the nature of her job makes a good chunk of her work routine. She is also an efficient processer, and conversations with her just don’t take very long. She is also better at asking complex questions via e-mail than most people.

      The second I meet with weekly for 60 to 75 minutes. His work is complex and brings up lots of questions that are valuable to talk through and strategize about. He is also in the midst of several complex projects in uncharted territory. He’s a newer/younger manager and I get a lot of bank for my buck out of time with him. He’s a verbal processor, so it takes more talking than the average person, but it’s productive.

      The third, I meet with two or three times a month for 90 minutes. Our schedules are hard to coordinate, so we set aside larger chunks of time. He also has many strategic projects, and his team is a bit tougher to manage for various reasons. His department has been through lots of changes in the past year, so he’s needed additional support. E-mail communication is hard for him on anything complex, so more face time is needed. After the transition is over, we’ll likely move to 2 or 3 60 minute meetings.

      The fourth, I meet with for 90 minutes twice a week. She’s very new (just a couple of weeks), and a lot of this time is training and sharing information that is new to her. I will drop this to 90 minutes once a week after 6 or 8 weeks, depending on where she is. Unlike with the other managers, our work overlaps, so some time is spent collaborating on projects we both have a role in. I also check in (by stopping by her desk unscheduled) for 10 or 15 minutes on the days that we do not meet to answer any questions that are holding her up and can’t be communicated via e-mail.

      I can’t tell you how much time it saves me to do these meetings. And how much more progress we make towards our goals. It is a huge amount of time, but it’s so productive, and, while I am a HUGE fan of e-mail, it keep the e-mail from getting out of hand. I started this about 3 years ago, and it has cut down on interruptions by at least 75%. Alison is right – you have to put it on the person you are supervising to plan at least most of the agenda – otherwise, you are taking too much ownership of their work and it takes way to much of your time.

  1. The Other Dawn*

    Hm. Mine tend to run about an hour. It seems excessive to me, but my manager is a micro manager so I guess that’s why I thought it was running too long. And most of the the time it’s him talking, not me. Seems like 30 minutes should be enough in most places though. I’m completely new to these types of meetings and it’s painful.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I agree that you have to customize for the situation (see above). In my office at least, it’s essential to set a time block – people have so many other things on their calendars that at least one of us can’t run over or we won’t make it to the next meeting.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Also, I ask my staff to request additional time a few days beforehand if they have a lot of stuff. There’s no point in skimming over important things because you don’t have enough time.

  2. TaylorCruz77*

    My manager routinely cancels my team’s monthly one on ones. I’m sure she thinks it isn’t a big deal but considering the fact that she also cancels our team meetings (every two weeks), it’s not looking like she really values our input. She says it’s because we are “sooo busy” which is true but it’s starting to affect the morale. Perhaps we should start pushing back. It can’t hurt, right?

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