build a solid culture

How One to One meetings build a solid culture of engaged employees

How often do you engage with your direct-reports? I don’t mean a list of updates at a weekly meeting, or a drive-by debrief when something is falling apart. 

What I mean is: 

  • How often do you sit and talk about what is motivating them? what’s wearing them down? 
  • How often do you tell them what you’re appreciating about their work, and what you would like to see adjusted?

I get it – you’re ready to stop reading because, “I don’t have time for that.”  Give me another couple of minutes to hear me out. 

Why is it worth spending time every week with each direct report??

  • One-to-one meetings strengthen relationships between the manager and their team members, which is foundational to build a solid culture of engaged employees.
  • We all have a need to feel validated. Sharing thoughts one-to-one lets your direct reports know that their insights and concerns are appreciated and taken into consideration.
  • The above prevents all sorts of other problems and challenges, and sets you both up for big success.

There are many benefits to having short, focused meetings one-to-one with your team members:

  •  One-to-one meetings improve efficiency and productivity 

What’s critical to note is that the amount of time you spend holding ad-hoc conversations with your employees, communicating by email and tracking down crucial information will be condensed almost entirely. 

This brief one-to-one communication provides a high-level overview of current issues and progress. These unique meetings significantly boost productivity and cut wasted time. 

  • You’ll build loyalty

Employees will place a greater sense of trust in your leadership if you meet with them regularly for one-to-one meetings. Loyalty cannot be established through a drive-by relationship with your people; frequency and consistency are required.

  • It benefits both of you

Not only will you have the opportunity to discuss needs, goals and expectations, but you’re also giving your folks an advantage by providing your undivided attention. Within this time, your employees are given a chance to relay their progress and receive clear direction for upcoming priorities.

  • You can give feedback in a way that’s meaningful and personable

Providing feedback for your employees can be uncomfortable, but one-to-one meetings offer the ideal opportunity for letting your directs know how they’re doing, and what you expect from them moving forward – it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.

  • You can check-in on goals/objectives and clearly align on progress and next actions to attain goals

This keeps you (and them!) on track and gets things back on track faster when things are derailing. 

And hey, for those times when the weekly meeting doesn’t avoid a crisis and you have to have “the talk” with someone about a big mess-up, it’s a lot easier to do when you’ve built a foundation of weekly honest conversations full of good talking and good listening. 

So how do you have great one-to-one meetings to achieve all those great things, and not painful and awkward meetings?

Make it Safe

Making it safe and maybe even comfortable for people to speak openly is important. As coaches, we work hard to create this atmosphere with our clients and leaders should strive to do this with their direct reports. If these meetings feel too clinical or formal, they’re less likely to achieve the outcomes we listed above. 

Make this meeting an opportunity to get to know this person better. The point is not just to “get an update on their projects,” but rather, to really get to know them because strong work relationships are foundational to success. 

Not only does that build trust, which is key, but you can, for example, find out if there’s anything worrying them. This can help you foresee issues before they become problems. 

It takes time to establish trust, so don’t call it quits after only one meeting. It takes time to change and build a solid culture and get everyone engaged.

Listen More Than You Talk

Don’t dominate the discussion; instead leave plenty of room for the other person to talk, even if that means sitting in silence. I get it: silence can be uncomfortable, and some folks find it harder than others. It takes time to master the art of sitting in silence. But, silence can be very important, allowing for quiet reflection and encouraging others to speak.

Listen to Understand

This is one of our favorite rules for communication because too many of us listen with the intent to respond. When you stop thinking about how to respond, and actually listen to what someone is saying to you (even if you’re angry about it or disagree with them), you may understand what the other person’s issue or concern is. If you reply with a question to understand their perspective more deeply, they feel heard and then real communication can take place. 

Ask Curiosity-Based Questions

People talk more when they’re encouraged to share, not just with open-ended questions but with curiosity-based questions. Show that you are genuinely interested and eager to learn more by asking inquisitive questions. 

I’ve advised clients to consciously think, “I’m curious about…” when they start to ask a question. For example, if you’re talking to a direct report about a situation and they say something intriguing, you’ll think, “I’m curious about XYZ.” Asking, “You mentioned XYZ and I’d like to know more. What can you tell me about that?” might yield more information than more direct “yes/no” or “why?” questions, which can put people on the defensive.

Build Confidence

Here I mean their confidence first, then yours. Help your staff feel confident in a one-to-one meeting by letting them talk and showing concern for any problems from their point of view.  

For example, if a direct-report shares with you their concern about the risk of delays on one aspect of a project, your mind might immediately think of the negative impact that could have on things, how that would damage other areas you’re responsible for, how it might make you look bad, etcetera, etcetera. 

Instead, try responding by looking at it from their perspective. How difficult might it have been for them to tell you? How worried might they be about all the things you just thought about? How can you inspire them to feel confident in finding solutions?

Build your own confidence, too. You might be feeling silly or even weak – having a meeting where you aren’t guiding the conversation, where you’re not answering questions and telling them what to do when there’s a problem might feel alien to you. Using a coach approach to leadership takes practice, but as you move from being the leader who tells people the answers to helping them find the answers themselves you will see how much stronger your team becomes.

A lot of that feeling is about your own beliefs: thinking you need to solve all problems, thinking you need to always have an answer, thinking you have to have it all together. (If that were true, why would you need a team?!)

Practise letting go of that self-talk and reminding yourself that you’re in this together and you can help each other. Remember that by NOT responding and by NOT imposing your own solutions to problems, you’re helping them to grow and you’re being a great LEADER (instead of a BOSS!). You can feel confident in that – and enjoy the benefits of building a solid culture of engaged employees. 

Review Your Progress

Before you leave a one-to-one meeting, take a few minutes to go over what you’ve discussed. Ask:

  • What was helpful in today’s meeting?  
  • What would you like to have happen differently next time, to make our one-to-one more valuable to you? 

Keep in mind they might not have answers right away, but you can start the next meeting with the same questions – things may have come to them in the meantime.

Coach’s Questions

What benefits from one-to-one meetings do you most want to see with your team? What can you this week do to implement or improve one-to-one meetings with your direct reports?