Several years ago, I found that when I start a group meeting, the time is always kept by the second, and in some cases, we even finish earlier than planned. At the same time, the one-on-one meetings with members of my team were disastrous. We always started on time, but the meetings often continued long after the planned end. Many of the decisions we were making on these one-on-one sessions did not happen within the promised deadlines, and people looked more nervous than happy after the one-on-one. I was confused. Trying to be friendly and give space to others to show themselves and share what they think was necessary did not lead to positive results. And the pattern repeated in almost every one-on-one meeting I have organized. At once, I stopped these meetings and continued with group meetings only. But that also did not help. People started showing distance and disengagement, thinking that I had done it with the thought that the one-on-one sessions were boring for me and I did not care much about the team members.
At this challenging time for my team, I met a Dale Carnegie consultant who helped me create my one-on-one meeting agenda. With this agenda, I have started taking back the control and the results from the one-on-one meetings. I have made a model based on a plan with six simple questions to ask in every operational one-on-one meeting. These questions cover a wide range of topics and move the discussion to a successful end without breaking the schedule. So let us now start with the questions.
How do you feel?
The first question is more like a polite way to show that you want to learn the physical and mental condition of the person opposite you. People are emotional beings, and sharing their feelings is vital for everyone. Here you can hear trivial answers like: “Great,” “Not so good,” “My head hurts,” “I am sick,” “I am nervous,” and many others. Many leaders do wrong when asking this question to continue digging deeper on the first words they have heard from the person. It loses time to both sides and can hurt both’s agendas for the rest of the day. The purpose of this question is not to allow space for digging deeper and losing precious time but to only inform of the condition the other person is in at the moment. Getting the answer is enough to move forward. If the information is about something negative, you can show empathy with a simple phrase like, “I am sorry to hear that. “Hope you do well faster” or express happiness if the state of body and mind is with a positive sign like “ I am happy for you,” but that is all. You have an agenda to follow, and losing time to dig deeper at this time is inappropriate. So shoot the following question to move the conversation forward:
What have you achieved?
You have seen each other with the employee back in time. Some things have been planned for achievement. You now need a status report on what is done. Ask what you need to know. The purpose of this question is only a status report. The information you will receive will be a progress map in your head or an element in your much more extensive plans for the department or the team. The answer to the question must be simple. You have planned something for your last meeting, and now it is time to receive information on progress. The person should focus on giving that information, and if you as a leader see that he is not focused and delays the answer, you must then help him concentrate again. Take out your notes or an e-mail you have sent after the last meeting and point out the things planned for the previous session. Point on what was said or agreed and ask again on progress and only progress status.
What obstacles did you meet?
You may not like what you see as a status, or you may be surprised to understand that the person has overachieved. In both cases, the third question is crucial. The answer to this question describes obstacles and gives information on the level of challenge and the specific learning path the person has been going through. What new has happened, what made him move from his comfort zone, what new knowledge and skills have been added to the set of skills he already poses. For example, suppose you do not recognize something new, and the person describes an ordinary day. In that case, you will need to re-think the responsibilities and complexity of tasks for that person to help him continue learning and achieving results instead of boring him with easy tasks that do not allow him to move out from the comfort zone.
What are you committing?
To move the agenda forward, you need to come to this question. Commitments are our goals for the next week. But what many leaders and employees miss is that they have to be aligned. If something comes from the manager or the leader, it is a task. But if the engagement erose from a conversation where the employee is the top side, it is commitment. The role of the leader is to slightly push employees to commit to things that are seen as priorities for the position and the organization. What many people mistake is to agree on a too small or too large list of commitments. In this part of the one-on-one meeting, both the leader and the employee must agree on what the person will commit to delivering until the next meeting. Settling the goals is a crucial step in balancing workload and achieving sustainable results alone or with a team of others.
What will be each role?
In many of the meetings, role distribution is often missing in the feeding path for success. It is not enough to agree on a task or a project, or a goal. One other important step s to agree on how the leader, the employee, or someone else will achieve that goal. Distributing resources and roles is vital to achieving results. The role of the leader here is to help the employee understand the impact of different resources in delivering on the commitment. You have almost done your job if that happens, and the burden is 90% sure to happen. But here is one thing missing, and this thing comes with the last question:
By when are you committing?
What we often forget to define in one on ones is the deadline. First, we talk about the task, then agree on the deliverables, estimate resources and involvement from others needed, and then stop. Not defining the period in which something has to happen can ruin all the work on it. To be sure that the workload will be balanced and the results will be satisfying, every one-on-one meeting should finish with the commitment by when the task or the project has to be completed. That gives both sides the horizon of the expected results and balances the energy to be invested during the completion period. Nothing is more potent than a commitment to deadlines. That shows the level of accountability and can be used as a describer personal engagement toward priorities and future wins.
One-on-one meetings are the most challenging type of meetings. At the same time, there are no other people around us. As a result, we often tend to lose focus and need more time to finish them. Having a structured plan in mind on how to conduct them will save time for both – us and the other side – and at the same time will help to get faster to a conclusion and decision beneficial for both sides. The six questions to ask are only one of the models used in this type of meeting. They work for me, and I am convinced that they will also work for everyone else. So, what are you waiting for – analyze the patterns in your one on ones and move forward to change them from compromising to promising meetings for success.