A Manager’s Most Powerful Tool: The Weekly One-On-One Meeting

Leverage this weekly meeting to unlock your management success

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The most powerful tool a manager has available to them is the weekly One-On-One meeting with each person on their team.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, “How can a meeting be the most powerful tool I have as a manager?”

That is a fair question. Many of our meetings are not effective. They drain our time and do not help us work smarter so we can focus on getting important work done. They are not valuable and often counter-productive. That may also be how you feel about One-On-One meetings, but, if done right, this meeting can be the more important investment you make each week and significantly drive up the return you get from this investment.

Think about how you feel when your boss does not have a frequent One-On-One with you. I have been there. I felt frustrated, misaligned, not valued, experienced a lot of noise, confused and not quite sure where I stood regarding my performance just to name a few. My guess is you have felt something similar when your boss did not have a frequent One-On-One meeting with you.

Guess what? That is exactly how your team feels if you are not having a frequent One-On-One with them.

How you & your team feels when you DO NOT have consistent One-On-One’s:

  • Your relational bank account is empty — Your team does not feel valued
  • Your team feels misaligned and uniformed
  • You get surprised. Small problems become big problems
  • Your team does not feel supported
  • You do not get feedback and your team feels they don’t know where the stand regarding their performance
  • Your organizational rhythm feel disjointed and misaligned

It is very difficult to deliver business results if the above characterizes the team you lead or the team you work on, but this is what the experience is like for teams where the manager does not have a weekly One-On-One meeting. But what about the other side? What does it feel like when the One-On-One meeting is happening frequently?

How you & your team feels when you DO have consistent One-On-One’s:

  • Helps you connect below the line in order to build relational currency with each person on your team
  • Helps ensure alignment and your team is working on high priority work
  • Helps keep problems small and allows the manager to help their team pivot quickly as needed
  • Helps the manager understand what meaningful actions they can drive in support of their team
  • Provides a consistent context for bi-directional feedback
  • Helps minimize the risk of surprise for the manager
  • Helps establish an organization rhythm where your teams knows they have a consistent context for having this type of conversation

This is the type of team I want to work on and the type of team I want to produce as a manager.

Data also shows the impact the one-on-one meeting has on employee engagement. Microsoft’s Workplace Analytics team researched behavioral KPIs and employee engagement results and published their findings in Harvard Business Review. Below is a compelling result found that demonstrates the impact of having your weekly one-on-one meeting with each person on your team.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, employees who got little to no one-on-one time with their manager were more likely to be disengaged. On the flip side, those who get twice the number of one-on-ones with their manager relative to their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged. We also tested the hypotheses that there would be a point at which engagement goes down if a manager spends too much time with employees, but did not find such a tipping point in these datasets.

And what happens when a manager doesn’t meet with employees one-on-one at all, or neglects to provide on-the-job training? Employees in this situation are four times as likely to be disengaged as individual contributors as a whole, and are two times as likely to view leadership more unfavorably compared to those who meet with their managers regularly.”

Disengagement has a direct and significant impact on not only your ability as a manager to deliver business results but on the top and bottom lines for your company. Disengagement is estimated to have a $3.5 billion impact on American businesses due to low performance. It is impacting your team, your business and you as a manager but can be mitigated by just having a weekly one-on-one meeting with each person on your team.

Below is additional data from Gallup’s State of the American Manager Report. It highlights that if people do not feel they can talk with their manager then engagement is highly unlikely. The One-On-One meeting is the space each week where you create a safe environment built on trust where the people on your team start to feel they can approach you and share information.

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So, what should a great One-On-One meeting look like? Below is a suggested structure for your One-On-One meeting that I have used for the past 15+ years. Setting up One-On-One meetings and using this structure is the first action I take when I take on a new team or new team members.

The Mechanics of Your One-On-One Meeting

Here are practical tips and guidelines for your One-On-One meetings. You can use this as a tool and personalize as needed. It is constructed to cover the (3) components of an effective one-on-one.

Who do I invite to the One-On-One meeting?

  • One-On-One meetings should happen with each of your direct reports

How often do I have the One-On-One meeting?

  • One-On-One meetings should happen weekly

How long is the One-On-One meeting?

  • One-On-One meetings should be no longer than (30) minutes each week

Standard Agenda

Relational Connection (10 Minutes)

  • Ask: How are you doing? Follow up on previous questions or things you know are going on in their lives
  • Ask: What’s on your mind? Invitation for them to bring up what’s top of mind for them

Priority & Support Alignment (10 Minutes)

  • Ask: What’s your most important task for this week? How are your OKRs?
  • Ask: How can I help you achieve success this week? What meaningful action can I help drive to support you this week?

Bi-Directional Feedback (10 Minutes)

  • Space for you to provide feedback, redirect priorities, share information, follow up on actions from previous meetings, etc.
  • Ask: What feedback do you have for me? How can I lead more effectively or support you better?

Frequency beats quality when it comes to your One-On-One meetings. Keep doing it and you will get better at doing it over time. Think about it, if you do it weekly you have (52) opportunities to drive up the quality and make it valuable for you and the people on your team.

Do not neglect, cancel or deprioritize your One-On-One meetings. They will become your most powerful tool and be the best source of intelligence that will enable you to lead your team effectively.

Leader. Storyteller. My passion is to inspire and instruct others on how to go further faster and live their purpose.

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