Findings and learnings from running 1:1s

1:1s are a good opportunity to catch up with each team member, discuss what is on our minds, get to know each other better, and build relationships. Imagine this as some time set aside, periodically, for you and each individual in your team. 1:1s are one of the most important meetings you can have as a leader and personally I think they are a very good investment for the future.

I am going to be honest, initially, my 1:1s were quite awkward as I didn't have enough experience conducting them, but gradually they improved and I started having more fluid and productive conversations. In this blog post we'll walk through some of the learnings and tips that improved the quality of my 1:1s and helped building relationships with my team members. But before that, let's look at what a typical 1:1 looks like.

Typical 1:1

Different people conduct 1:1s in different ways. In my case it's a 30-45 minute informal meeting that occurs every 2 weeks with a very loosely structured agenda. General topics may vary, from what we were doing lately, to plans for the weekend project discussions/plans, sharing feedback with each other (how they / I can improve, and how I can make their lives better), things we can improve as a team etc. It’s a more private but also more open conversation where people can speak about things they wouldn’t be comfortable with in front of everyone. Last but not least, we discuss career related topics (e.g. setting up and discussing plans for career progression and evaluating progress made on existing goals).

Benefits of 1:1s

I might need to dedicate a separate blog post to talk through the benefits in more detail, but the most crucial ones are:

  • Building relationships and trust. This is an opportunity to have open and honest conversations with your team members, to learn more about each other and to understand what motivates them. In my experience (and supported by some research too), having 1:1s helped to strengthen and improve the relationship with my team members, based on trust, collaboration and respect.
  • Improves the team motivation and general happiness. It is very important that everyone in the team feels heard, however, this should not be restricted to just 1:1s. Use this time to bring more clarity and learn about any concerns an individual might have. Happy individuals results in a happy team.
  • Increases the overall engagement and productivity of each individual. As an employee it is very important to know that you and your work is valued and that you are important to the company's success. This, along with the above will result in more motivated individuals and in turn a more cohesive team.

Tips to improve/have good 1:1s

As I mentioned earlier in this post, in the beginning I felt that my 1:1s weren't as natural or as fluid as I wanted them to be. Here I'm going to share some of my learnings, and tips that helped me not just to improve the quality of the 1:1s I had with my teams but also to have discussions that are more open and genuine, which is crucial for building long term relationships:

  • Use 1:1s to get to know each other better. Have open and genuine conversations, and not just about work. Talk about other things - like how their weekend was, their hobbies and passions; culture, history, music etc. The best meetings are the ones where you learn something new, especially about each other. This will contribute to the bonding between you and them but also help to better understand what motivates them most, and the things they are most interested in, but also how to approach them in different situations (e.g. how to provide feedback more effectively).
  • Have 1:1s consistently. Your calendar may become busy at times, with lots of conflicts and unexpected meetings, but it is very important to make sure that no 1:1 gets cancelled, or at least make cancellations a very rare occurrence. Find some time later in the day or try next day but don't cancel it, if possible. This will send a message to the people in your team that you value them and will always try to find time for them regardless of how busy you might be. Also, consistency means you will get better at conducting 1:1s.
  • Take your time to thank them for the value they provide to the team and the company. This will definitely make their day, but will also let them know their contribution is noticed and valued. As a result, you'll see more motivated and engaged employees. An important aspect here is to follow the acknowledgement with examples which will ensure the feedback carries more weight.
  • Make it informal. The unofficial nature of informal 1:1s will increase your chances of having more open, relaxed and fluid conversations. Obviously, there are times when more serious and difficult discussions have to take place (e.g. performance related) but these should be a rare occurence.
  • On low performance: If you are concerned about low performance, get to know their opinion first. Most of the time you're working with mature people who are self-aware, and if you let them speak first then chances are they won't get defensive, and will work with you to improve.
  • If you are in the same office, grab a coffee and go for a walk. Walking is not just healthy; it also provides a tensionless environment, which is crucial for having open conversations.
  • Different people have different needs, interests and passions. You need to adapt to each person and show empathy.
  • Listen. Maybe even more than you speak. It is very important people are and feel heard. This will contribute positively to increasing the level of engagement at work. Make sure you allow time for and encourage people to raise any concerns or improvement ideas related to the workplace, team, or project etc. And don't forget to address these concerns.
  • Find common topics, this will make the conversation more interesting and engaging. Let's not forget that one of the goals of 1:1s is to get to know each other better. Also, this will help you to have more fluid conversations and not have moments of awkward silence.

Remember, the 1:1 meeting is a tool that can help to improve your relationships with your team members. While it's not a solution to everything, it is worth having it in your arsenal.

P.S. Special thanks to David Piggott and Lim Qing Wei for their valuable feedback.