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The Key to Having More Effective 1-on-1 Meetings With Your Employees Meetings get a bad rap, one-on-one meetings included. But they don't have to be cumbersome. They can actually be … great. Here's how.

By Matt Auron Edited by Chelsea Brown

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

By now, most of us have come across a version of the meme that poses the question: "Couldn't that meeting have been an email?" Meetings get a bad rap, one-on-one meetings included. But they don't have to be cumbersome or a waste of time and energy. They can actually be … great.

First, keep the objective of the meeting in mind. Your team members' main objective is to get the necessary support to do a great job. This includes your help prioritizing issues and unblocking them if they are stuck. It is ultimately "their time," and team members should "own" the one-on-one meeting to ensure they cover all of the necessary subject matter.

The best one-on-one meetings feel like a great conversation rather than a report-out. This means following your team member and guiding the conversation as a form of coaching. This means listening with an open mind, asking high-impact questions and giving thoughtful feedback as appropriate. Many managers don't spend nearly enough time listening and can even monopolize the time by talking in place of their employees. They can miss critical data and also miss opportunities to find deeper solutions embedded in the employees' narrative.

Related: 1-on-1 Meetings Are the Key to Great Leadership. Here's How to Do Them Right

Tips for a successful one-on-one

The one-on-one conversation should be informed by a thoughtful, loosely held agenda. Encourage your team member to own the agenda that includes a prepared set of materials; this helps to guide the conversation. An agenda should include the following:

  • Updates that can't be found within a company dashboard or data tracker

  • Support needed from the manager and other members of the leadership team

  • Questions the team member has about particular issues

  • Feedback the team member would like to receive

Request that your direct report send key information ahead of time so that as a manager, you can be prepared and come ready with questions or discussion points.

A brief check-in at the top of the meeting can help team members communicate how they are feeling about their role/job responsibilities and what it's like to be in their position. According to TLNT.com, "Checking-in is an intentional practice for a team to open a meeting or session. Each participant shares what (mindset) they are bringing to the table before the work conversation starts ... When everyone can remove their personal distractions, it's easier to focus on getting the job done. A mindset check-in is about the status of your mind, not that of the project."

However, it's important to remember not to process this too much. Let it be their experience unless part of the check-in needs some specific support. The goal is to establish the check-in as a safe space and encourage more and more candor. Of course, there may be critical and obvious things to follow up on, and you can always ask if they need support with any specifics mentioned.

Your role as a manager is to help your direct reports learn, build capacity and execute. Part of the job is helping them learn to prioritize and problem-solve on their own; this creates capacity for you! It also gives them the gift of learning they can take for the rest of their career. In fact, I've heard many employees highlight managers who have supported them as being some of the biggest influences on their life. This is effectively coaching; managers should listen deeply and intentionally to a team member's concerns, ask questions and offer clear feedback.

Although the team member owns both the meeting and the recap, managers should take their own notes to track developmental points; these can be used for bi-annual development conversations or performance management reviews. When a manager takes meeting notes in a one-on-one, it shows they value the team member with whom they are meeting.

Related: The Recipe for Successful One-On-One Meetings

Post-meeting tips

It can be challenging to incorporate each and every issue into a time-limited one-on-one meeting. Encourage your team, and schedule bi-annual development/career check-ins and monthly or quarterly strategic roll-ups, which can serve to address the concerns of the team at large.

Meeting recaps are important tools to measure progress, identify project owners and address accountability. While recaps should be brief, they should "live" somewhere that's readily accessible by those who need it.

Related: 10 Ways to Have Better Check-Ins With Your Employees

In addition to the meme mentioned at the top of this article, most of us have seen or heard the quote about people leaving jobs: "Employees don't leave companies; they leave bad managers." And management is simply a relationship with conversation about how work is going and what needs to be done differently. These conversations are actually best when simple, and over-structuring them and creating unnecessary ornamentation can actually detract from their core purpose.

Sometimes the best one-on-ones can be initiated with the simple prompt, "What is the most important conversation we should have today?" The best one-on-ones essentially all orbit around this principle and feel like rich conversations about important work. One-on-one meetings are conversations of meaning and impact, which support a lifetime gift of growth for the team member and move the business forward.

Matt Auron

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Managing Director and Co-founder of Evolution

Matt Auron is the Co-founder and Managing Director of coaching, culture, and leadership development firm Evolution. He is a master coach who empowers leaders to scale into their potential with sustainable success and has worked with clients such as Slack, Snapchat, and Dropbox.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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