23 tips to have more effective one-on-ones

It’s no secret that we love a good one-on-one meeting at SoapBox. But it’s not always easy to leave every one-on-one feeling like 🙌.

In fact, according to our research, while 78% of managers leave their one-on-ones feeling more motivated, the same is true for only 58% of employees. So, how can you make sure you’re both leaving your meetings feeling motivated and excited? Like you’ve really accomplished something?

Don’t worry – we can help! 💪 Here are 23 one-on-one meeting tips to help you every step of the way.

Before your one-on-one meeting

A little prep work goes a long way when it comes to having meaningful conversations in your one-on-ones. Even if it seems a little forced at first, you’ll quickly get into the habit of scheduling prep time and creating agendas (especially when you use SoapBox to make your agendas for you!).  

Here are a few tips to help you prep for your one-on-one:

1. Schedule recurring meetings. Don’t assume that you’ll remember to book a meeting every week or month. Make your one-on-one meetings recurring ahead of time, so you both have them in your calendar long-term.

2. Set expectations for your team. Start by telling them exactly how you want your one-on-ones to go. Explain how you’d like them to focus and contribute to the meeting. Share your agenda ahead of time. Ideally it should be ready to go 48 hours before your meeting.

3. Keep everything in one place. Corral all of your one-on-one meeting agendas in one central and accessible place that you both can access at any time.

4. Send a reminder. Give your employee a little nudge a day before the meeting to fill out the agenda (if they haven’t already). 

5. Set aside time beforehand. Block off 15 minutes before the meeting to collect yourself. You don’t want to go into a one-on-one meeting hot off the heels of a sales call or a big team meeting. Use the time to review your agenda and truly show up calm and prepared.

During your one-on-one meeting

Once you’re in your one-on-one, your biggest focus should be on listening. Rid yourself of any distractions like screens and phones and devote all your attention to your employee. Don’t get us wrong, we love taking notes in meetings – just don’t stay glued to your device.

Here are a few tips to help you have an amazing one-on-one:

6. Show up on time! Nothing makes a person feel more undervalued than when their time is wasted waiting for you to show up. (And this goes without saying…don’t cancel your one-on-one unless absolutely necessary.)

7. Remove all unnecessary distractions. If you’re taking meeting notes on your phone or laptop, great! But make sure you shut it down when it’s not in use. Also, avoid snacking or eating lunch during your one-on-one unless you’ve agreed your one-on-ones are food based.

8. Try a change of scenery. Some of our best one-on-ones are at picnic tables outside. ☀️ Separating yourself from the office once in a while is the kind of change of scenery that allows you to hyper-focus on what you’re talking about.

9. Distance yourself from the team. Don’t have your one-on-ones in a glass box in the center of the office 👀. It’s intimidating – and can make having tough conversations even more challenging.

10. Start with an icebreaker. Whether it’s a random question or simply asking what’s up for the coming weekend, kicking things off with an icebreaker question will set a positive tone for the rest of the meeting.

11. Do less than 50% of the talking. It is so easy to fill uncomfortable silences with your own voice. Don’t do it. Let your employees lead the conversation and choose questions that will open up the discussion. Stop yourself if you feel like you’ve been talking too long (trust me, you’ll know).

12. Be open to feedback (and don’t get defensive). Feedback should flow both ways in a one-on-one.  Add, “What can I be doing differently to help you be successful?” to your agenda, and don’t get defensive with critical responses. Instead- listen, digest and learn.

13. Avoid project management discussions. One-on-one meetings should be the time for you to talk about performance, coaching and progression. Project updates should be saved for your team meetings.

14. Ask about the good, bad and ugly. I mean this literally: add, “What’s good, what’s bad, what’s ugly” to your agenda (or your version of this). This is a great way to gut-check how your team member is feeling, and get to the root of what has them excited (and overwhelmed!).

15. Pay attention to body language. Your posture and tone say a lot, even if you’re not intending them to. Be sure to send silent cues that you’re open and listening. Avoid crossing your arms or looking at your feet. Make an effort to connect.

16. Avoid yes or no questions. Open up the conversation by avoiding close-ended yes or no questions. That goes for when you’re adding items to your agenda, and also when you’re asking follow-up questions during the conversation.

17. Get personal. No, you don’t need to spill your whole life story. But being relatable and open in your one-on-one meetings will help you have really meaningful conversations.

18. Don’t go beyond an hour. Try to limit your check-ins to 30 minutes. ⏱ Block off the whole hour, but the expectation should be 30 minutes is enough. You’ll be amazed at how productive and effective your one-on-ones become when they aren’t all about project management.

19. Start and end on a positive. Even if you’re having a tough conversation, or dealing with some negative feedback, try to end on a positive note. Whether that’s “We’ll tackle this together,” or some other encouragement, it will send you both away feeling motivated and positive.

After your one-on-one meeting

A common mistake that managers make with their one-on-ones is not following up. You should have taken meeting notes, and identified any next steps that need to be taken – afterward, you need to make sure that all those decisions don’t go to waste.

Here are a few tips to help you follow up after your one-on-one:

20. Put your notes in a central place. If there aren’t any notes, did the meeting really happen? Be sure that your employee has access to the notes you took during the one-on-one, and can clearly see any next steps assigned to them (or you!).

21. Revisit past meetings. Both you and your employee should be able to quickly and easily access past meeting notes, to review next steps, decisions made and conversations covered. 

22. Ask for their outlook. Create a baseline by consistently asking your employee for their outlook after your one-on-one meeting. Has their outlook gotten worse, better or stayed the same? Monitoring this long-term can help you to track engagement and identify red flags faster.

23. Follow up, follow up, follow up! What’s the point of making decisions and setting action items if you don’t check in on them? Give yourself a reminder to check in with your employee regularly on how they’re feeling about your conversation, and the progress they’re making on their next steps. And be sure to follow up on any feedback they’ve given you – they’ll appreciate the steps you take to make sure they feel heard.

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be! It seems like a lot, but once you get going, all these one-on-one habits will start to feel like second nature. Just remember to prepare, stay focused, and follow up – the rest is icing on the cake. 🍰

 

Need help organizing your one-on-one meetings? 

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