One of the most rewarding moments in my career came about as a simple question on my last day as a team leader. This question was short and to the point, but thought-provoking: “Who will have one-on-one discussions with me from now on?” Why this simple question made such an impression on me is that I understand well the role of constructive one-on-one discussions in leadership. I also see them as the most important means of developing a good employee experience. (Read more: 5 reasons one-on-one discussions are essential for leaders).
When beginning the practice of conducting one-on-one discussions, things can feel a bit odd or awkward. You might be unsure of what to talk about, and how often. Ultimately, one-on-one discussions are simple but meaningful conversations when both parties have prepared well for them.
When you adopt a practice of regular one-on-one discussions with your team members, they become an important element in developing a great workplace that helps both the team leader and team members to address ongoing matters regularly. This regularity makes leadership proactive; things can be addressed before they become problems. The regularity also fosters an atmosphere of trust that makes it easier to address even difficult topics.
It is not enough to ask employees “How are you?” once a month. Effective one-on-one discussions are based on a few simple best practices:
- Frequency. How often should I have a 1:1 discussion?
Based on global research by the OC Tanner Institute, one-on-one discussions should be carried out at least monthly. The same study concludes that bi-weekly one-on-one discussions reduce the risk of burnout by 84 percent. This means that increasing the frequency of discussions increase their positive impact. However, it is obvious that frequency alone does not guarantee meaningful conversations. More is needed, as I will explain below. When planning a one-on-one discussion process and the desired frequency of the discussions, you should consider the nature of the company’s business, the type of work the employee does, their individual needs, and ultimately what is reasonable and possible. If you are leading a relatively small team of professionals, holding one-on-one discussions once a month should be the minimum frequency. If this is not possible, you should re-prioritize your tasks accordingly. In a production environment, involving larger teams, a quarterly discussion should be a good benchmark.
- A meaningful conversation is prepared together. The best one-on-one conversations are prepared by both the team leader and the team member. When preparing for the discussion, the team member should be encouraged to add their own topics to the agenda. This helps to ensure that the conversation serves the needs of both parties.
Based on the context and from the standpoint of preparation, team members usually value dialogue about work situations, personal or career development, and overall planning. These elements can be addressed more easily and effectively if the conversation is prepared for in advance, for example by writing down some points to discuss. Quite often, this also means that about 80 to 90 percent of the necessary documentation is prepared beforehand, which saves time and leaves more room for a fruitful conversation.
- Based on the aforementioned OC Tanner study, an ideal one-on-one discussion includes several elements. When preparing the agenda, you should include the following: 1) Constructive feedback, 2) Reflection, consideration and recognition 3) The possibility to discuss new ideas and solutions 4) Areas for further improvement. The more you can include these elements, the more impact the conversation will have on your employee experience and company culture. If a one-on-one conversation is only used for discussing daily business and project updates, its effect on the employee experience can even be negative.
- What are the best questions for one-on-one discussions? When outlining the discussion process, you should ensure that it reflects and strengthens your company culture. The following structure has worked well when it incorporates topics and input provided by the team member. 1) How are you doing? 2) How are you progressing toward your target or in your plan? 3) What has worked well? 4) What would you have done differently? 5) Where do you need help? 6) What is the most important thing that would contribute to developing your employee experience? 7) Other topics 8) Discussion, agreement on the next steps to take, and documentation.
As previously mentioned, I am firmly convinced of the positive impact of meaningful one-on-one conversations. For me, they have been very useful in further improving my leadership skills and the employee experience. For team members, they have become a trusted setting for sharing highlights and difficult topics, as well as for being occasions to offer help and for brainstorming. In a nutshell, this is leadership as a service. I hope this article encourages you to employ one-on-one discussions in your leadership practices. If you would like to discuss this or learn about how Humbol can help you create a great one-on-one discussion process, book a meeting today!