“I don’t have time.”
“My team is fine.”
“I have too many reports.”
“I don’t want to mix personal and professional discussions.”
“We’re all adults here that can handle their own problems.”
“The meetings don’t scale and we only do scalable things here.”
There are a lot of excuses why you might not be doing 1 on 1s with your team. And while they may seem like good reasons, there are a lot more reasons why you should be doing them. If you’re a hold out or skeptic of 1 on 1s, or trying to convince someone to do 1 on 1s, here’s a set of reasons they’re a key weapon in a great manager’s arsenal.
21 Reasons You Should Have 1 on 1s with Your Team
1) Follow veteran leaders who swear by them.
Ben Horowitz, VC at A16Z and former CEO of Opsware (acquired by HP for $1.6Bn), considered it a fireable offense for any manager that did not hold regular 1 on 1s. Andy Grove, founder & CEO of Intel and legendary leadership author also advocates for them.
2) Give timely feedback and constructive criticism.
Are you doing annual reviews? Even if you’ve accelerated them to quarterly, it’s still not timely enough to discuss performance improvement. Think you can do it ad hoc? When was the last time you really made time to give that feedback? Chances are you thought of it, then got distracted by 37 other things and didn’t want to schedule a meeting just for that. The great thing about 1 on 1s is that this can be just a small part of the meeting that’s all about the team member.
3) Get private feedback.
It’s often hard to get feedback as a manager even though you know there are places you could improve. Not everyone wants to write out feedback on forms. In 1 on 1s where you’ve built rapport and trust, you have the perfect channel for the candid feedback that will help you improve, too.
4) Float your ideas before they’re fully baked.
Thinking about a new initiative and want unfiltered feedback before you invest a lot of time in it? A 1 on 1 is the perfect place for your semi-baked ideas you think may have an impact. Using 1 on 1s for this can be a great way to build trust that this is a place they can be vulnerable as well and not feel like you need a 50 slide powerpoint ready before getting feedback from your team on an idea.
5) Make time to talk about their career consistently.
Everyone has career aspirations. They will want to grow and try new things. If you don’t have the conversations with your people about this growth, they’ll look for growth opportunities outside your company. Without one on ones, these conversations often get lost in the shuffle and only surface during annual reviews which are quickly forgotten and never acted on.
6) Fix problems when they’re small.
Are you constantly fighting fires and dealing with issues once they’ve exploded? Then you need 1 on 1s. These meetings will help you catch these issues early on, whether between two coworkers or a problem discovered in a process in the company. You still have to follow through on what you hear, but knowing about the problem when it’s small makes it much easier to address than when you have to triage later.
7) Show you care.
You’re making a major statement to your team when you set aside time for them regularly to talk about them. Do not underestimate the impact that showing you care and that they’re important will have on morale, commitment, and trust in you as a leader.
8) Coach & develop your people.
In the middle of a busy meeting is no time to coach one person about something they need to learn, but a one on one is a perfect time for that. As the saying goes:
- CFO asks CEO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people & then they leave us?”
- CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”
You can’t afford to not grow your people and one on ones are a key place to discuss and plan your team member’s development.
9) Learn empathy for them.
Everyone on your team is different. They come from different backgrounds and experiences. If they’re struggling with something outside work, it rarely can avoid impacting their work. You can give them tough love and they’ll resent you, or you can help and show empathy and they’ll appreciate you.
10) Get forgiven for your mistakes.
We all make mistakes. When a friend or trusted colleague makes a mistake, we are much more likely to forgive them. As a manager, you’re going to make mistakes and the more trust and rapport you have with your team, the more likely they will understand and forgive you. You build that trust and rapport by having your own empathy for them, which comes from one on ones.
11) Make them feel heard.
Every employee has a unique perspective of how the company operates. Valuing everyone’s insights as to what they’re seeing not only helps you with getting more signal on important issues, but makes them feel like a valued part of the company. Especially as a company or department grows, people can feel marginalized and lost. One one ones are an opportunity to make sure you don’t miss out on what they have to say.
12) Avoid surprise departures.
If someone is thinking about leaving the company, the warning signs will come up in 1 on 1s. If you don’t have 1 on 1s, it will be much easier to feel like you’re not missing anything. Most lost employees can be saved if you address what’s bothering them, which is generally a discussion for 1 on 1s; most people won’t come to you with a series of complaints out of the blue.
13) Learn what drives your team.
Not everyone is motivated by the same things. Outside of sales teams, money is rarely the largest long term driver for people. The more you get to know your people in 1 on 1s, the more you’ll know how to motivate each person uniquely.
14) Create a safe space for their ideas.
Just like you can float ideas to your people, 1 on 1s can be a great place for your reports to share with you loosely formed ideas they have. Often a brief discussion in a 1 on 1 can help encourage them to prepare it to present to the team or understand why it’s not a good idea right now. Either way, they need a safe place to spare them making 50 slides on an idea to feel like they can share it.
15) Give them control of a meeting for once.
If you’re in a very hierarchical organization, lower level employees can feel powerless. One on ones give them that one time per week that they feel in control. It gives them the freedom to talk about whatever is most important to them without having to try to fight for time on your busy calendar ad hoc.
16) Relieve boredom or stagnation on your team.
Many employees, especially in Generation Y, are constantly looking for new ways to grow and learn. If they spend too much time with the same role and responsibilities, they can become bored and feel like they’ve plateaued. You can either milk them for their experience until they leave for a new company, or have a regular conversation about it in 1 on 1s and possibly help them get into a new role in the company.
17) Break up your day.
One on ones are a change of pace from other meetings. These meetings aren’t about deadlines and decision making; they’re about your employee and what’s important to them. That can be a breath of fresh air in a hectic day of meetings, powerpoint decks, and fighting for Inbox Zero.
18) Have an excuse to get outside the office.
It’s often helpful to get outside the conference room for these meetings, as it helps further establish the context switch from being all about what the company needs to what your report needs. If the weather permits, going for a walk can be refreshing. Aaron Sorkin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Arianna Huffington are well known for walking meetings, so why not give them a try?
19) Have the conversations you never get around to.
How many times does a thought cross your mind that you should talk to someone about? Maybe it’s something you know you should do in person, so you don’t send an email. Then a week goes by and you realize you never took the time to have that conversation and now the problem has gotten worse. One on ones are a great time to talk about those topics and by having them regularly, these topics will never build up too much.
20) Be more consistent with your team.
Are you treating your team equally? Do you fairly divide your attention or does the squeaky wheel get the grease? No matter how hard you try, there’s a good chance you’re investing more time in some people than others. By giving everyone a set amount of your time to focus on them in a 1 on 1, you can ensure no one is getting completely lost in the shuffle.
21) Have a happy, motivated team.
In the end, all of these reasons are just small pieces of what it’s really all about: getting the most out of your team and developing your people. One on ones are a big part of making sure you do all the little things that add up to creating a happy, motivated team.
(Bonus) Do it right the second time.
Maybe you tried 1 on 1s before and they didn’t work for you. Were you consistent in holding them? Did you follow through on issues they brought up? Did you give them a real chance? You have to follow through on what you hear and give a few months to really build trust to tackle big issues in 1 on 1s. They’re too important not to give them another chance.
Can you really fit all of this in a one on one?!?!?
No, you can’t cover all of this in a single one on one. And without one on ones, it’s highly doubtful you can ever hope to cover all of those important things. However, over time, you can cover all of these areas in regular one on ones.
It’s never too late to start. As the old Chinese proverb says:
“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”
There are many competing demands of your attention as a manager, many of which pay off faster than the long term investment in your people. One on ones are a tremendous tool and an essential part of being an effective manager.
Convinced to start or try again? Learn how to start having effective 1 on 1s here.