How to Run Effective One-on-One Meetings

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Peter Coppinger, CEO of Teamwork.com, explains how one-on-one meetings help fast-growing companies stay connected–and what you need to remember to make them successful in your business.


If you asked me two years ago, “Should you be doing one-on-ones in Teamwork?”, I would have said that they were pointless corporate busywork. You’ll know from my other posts that we try to avoid unnecessary meetings as much as possible here at Teamwork.com.

But I realize now that with 100+ people, we absolutely need one-on-one meetings.

What exactly are one-on-ones?

Ben Horowitz describes 1:1s as “the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting.” This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.”

These manager-employee meetings are an essential part of a company’s communication architecture.

If you want to understand one thing to make them more successful, it’s this: let the employee lead the meeting.

The Benefits of One-on-One Meetings

Over the last year alone, Teamwork.com has grown at an astronomical rate. One of the challenges accompanying this growth is ensuring that we maintain a culture of effective communication so that good ideas and frustrations don’t go unheard. Introducing regular employee-led one-on-one meetings helps everyone stay informed about how employees are feeling about their day-to-day work, their professional development and the company.

It’s important that team leaders and members have the chance to meet together regularly in individual meetings instead of just at annual reviews, which can feel formal and daunting, or in large meetings, where it can be difficult to express individual opinions. These shorter, informal meetings provide team members with the opportunity to make suggestions and discuss potential problems with their team lead without feeling so much pressure.  

Ultimately, these meetings are all about the happiness of each of our individual team members–something we care deeply about.

How to Run Effective One-on-Ones

Effective one-on-one meetings are only possible if everyone involved understands that these are the “employee’s meeting.” Employees, rather than team leads, need to set the agenda and use these meetings as an opportunity to voice any frustrations or brilliant ideas they have.

The guidelines below are straight from an internal blog post where I gave team members some suggested discussion points that they could review and consider before a one-on-one meeting to make it more effective.


The agenda should be something like this:

  • Employee’s topics (try to bring some discussion items to the meeting, like questions about current projects)
  • Open-ended questions like:
    • What are your day-to-day challenges?
    • Are you happy with your career development?
    • Are you finding the job satisfying?
    • Anything else on your mind?
    • Do you feel you’re getting enough support in your role?
    • What can do to offer you more support?
    • Are you noticing process issues that need to be fixed?
  • What have you been learning lately? (professional development)
  • Discuss feedback from your team lead.

Additional guidelines

  • One-on-ones are not a status update meeting.
  • One-on-ones are not just an opportunity to shoot the breeze; if you have little to discuss, they should be over quickly. (Remote people, we realize this might be the only opportunity to shoot the breeze but it should be done after the meeting.)
  • Do please get all your frustrations off your chest – don’t let issues fester.
  • Don’t just dump problems – bring suggestions and solutions for them if possible.
  • We don’t want to turn our best developers (and other leaders) into full-time managers; the one-on-ones should really be short and sweet and easy.
  • We are aiming for one-on-ones to be held a minimum of every two weeks across the board.

We want every employee here to know that they are being listened to, that we are trying to fix any frustrations and make this a place where you love to work – we do care!

What We Have Learned from One-on-Ones

After using one-on-ones at Teamwork.com for the last couple of months, we can already see a positive change in our team dynamics. Issues are identified and discussed before they become problems, and they are helping to build stronger relationships between team leads and team members.

As we continue to grow I’m confident that one-on-one meetings will help us to avoid communication roadblocks and ensure that our team stays as connected at 100+ employees as we were at 10.

If you would like to share your thoughts on one-on-one meetings or tips for running these meetings more effectively, make sure to leave a comment below.

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2 Comments

Kay Joyce

Peter
I find this refreshing in terms of 121’s and what you are trying to do at teamwork. As you outlined earlier many people have been thinking it was a waste of time and this culture is changing gradually. As a HR professional, I truly believe in the art of conversation, having regular one to ones and going into an open space where employee-led discussions take place. This genuinely influences and changes culture, individual performance, team performance and collaboration and fosters healthy relationships between team leads and their team members which can only have a positive and optimistic impact on the work environment for everyone. Over all it helps with engagement of employees and I’m sure you have that experience at teamwork. I spend a lot of time coaching and supporting employees to be proactive in setting the 121 time up, taking your space on what you want to discuss, be it good or bad and embracing the opportunity. Coupled with that, encouraging team leads to use coaching skills when in the 121 space such as listening, summarising for clarification, questioning, asking for feedback on what is working and what is not, not always moving to solve or fix immediately but just to listen to what is being said. I was at Teamwork last week and was very impressed and love what you are doing in the whole area of engagement. My personal belief is that if we get engagement right in the workplace all else will fall into place!! Thanks for sharing.

Reply
Peter Coppinger

Cheers for that comment Kay. Yeah it’s definitely had a positive impact here at Teamwork and I’d encourage all companies over 30 staff to embrace them.

Reply

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