Mastering the Art of One-on-Ones: A Guide for Today's Leaders: Part One
Dive into the transformative potential of one-on-one meetings, dispelling common misconceptions and revealing how they can foster trust, innovation, and a cohesive team dynamic.
When it comes to our everyday, non-stop, fast-paced work environment, it's easy for us as leaders to get caught up in the daily grind of work, projects, tasks, and meetings and completely forget about those meaningful connections that truly enhance our team's performance, one on one meetings. One-on-one meetings are those special pivotal moments to connect with our team members. To peer a little bit deeper into their work life that goes beyond the endless tasks, spreadsheets and project deadlines.
But I have to be honest, not everyone is excited and thrilled about these types of meetings. Oftentimes, I have found that team members feel a bit uneasy about them, like they’ve been called to the principal's office. But the thing is, it doesn't have to be that way! In reality, one-on-one meetings are great opportunities to foster trust, spark innovative ideas, and build a high-performing team that's works well together.
Let’s first discuss the importance of one-on-ones in our work environments. As leaders, you need to make sure that you carve out dedicated time where you can connect with your team members, not just as employees but as real individuals with unique thoughts, ideas, aspirations, and concerns. One-on-one meetings are a way to connect with your team members on a personal level. They help you get a sense of how they're doing and what's going on with them. It's a time to step back from the daily hustle and grind of the job and focus on the employee, after all this really is their meeting. These meetings can be a powerful tool that boosts morale, fosters innovation, and builds a cohesive team that is aligned with the organization's goals while also pursuing personal growth.
As I mentioned earlier, not everyone enjoys these types of meetings and I believe that it stems from certain challenges and misconceptions. So, let’s answer this question first, what are those common challenges and misconceptions when it relates to one-on-ones? As much as we champion the purpose of one-on-ones, we cannot turn a blind eye to the common challenges and misconceptions that surround them. Sometimes, employees might view one-on-ones as a formal obligation rather than a platform for genuine dialogue. Some could fear that they are being held under the microscope or have anxiety about receiving negative feedback. These types of challenges and misconceptions can sometimes give off a negative perspective and overshadow the potential benefits of one-on-ones.
There's also a prevalent misconception that these meetings are solely for the benefit of the organization, a time to hold employees accountable for their tasks and responsibilities. While accountability is a part of the process, it's essential to remember that the core essence of one-on-ones is to foster a two-way open communication, where both parties can learn, grow, and collaborate effectively.
Now, how do we navigate these challenges and reframe the narrative about one-on-ones? Well, let’s take a deeper look at how to master the art of one-on-ones, transforming them into meaningful and enriching experience for both leaders and employees.
Understanding Employee Reluctance Towards One-on-Ones
Look, I get it. Not everyone is a fan of one-on-ones, and that's perfectly okay. It's essential to understand why there is reluctance, where it is coming from, and how we are going to deal with it. Let's unpack some of the reasons why some employees might be a bit hesitant about one-on-one meetings:
Fear of Negative Feedback
We've all been there. The nervous butterflies in the stomach, the sweaty palms, the racing heart - all because we're worried about what might be said about our work. It's natural! No one likes to be on the receiving end of criticism, especially if it feels like a surprise attack. Some employees dread one-on-ones because they fear it might be a session filled with negative feedback, leaving them feeling deflated, overwhelmed, and under pressure.
Lack of Trust in Leadership
I have learned over the years that trust is either freely given or earned, and can be broken by a leader’s actions. If employees have had experiences where they felt their words were used against them or where confidentiality was breached, they might be hesitant to open up. They might think, "Why bother sharing if it's going to come back to bite me in the end?" Building and maintaining trust is crucial, and moving past negative experiences can lead to effective meetings going forward.
Have you ever been given a task without any direction or clarity or been to a meeting where there is no agenda or clear purpose? That's how some employees feel about one-on-ones. If there is no purpose or if the objectives aren't clear, they might wonder, "Is this just a routine check-up? Are we brainstorming? Am I in trouble? What are we really doing here?" Clarity is key, and without it, one-on-ones can feel like a lost cause.
Time is our most precious commodity, and everyone's pressed for it and juggling multiple tasks. Some employees might view one-on-ones as another item on their already overflowing to do list. They might think, "I've got a ton of work to do, and now this?" It's essential to convey the value of these meetings so they don't feel like just another time-consuming task.
Perceived as a Tool for Accountability
Ah, Accountability. The word that I feel at times many people fear. While keeping people accountable for their work is crucial, no one likes to feel like they're constantly under surveillance. If one-on-ones come off as a strict report card session, employees might feel cornered. It's like being called to the principal's office all over again! I never liked being called to the principal’s office. You have to strike a balance, ensuring that while accountability is addressed, it's done in a supportive and constructive manner.
Understanding these concerns is the first step. The next step is to address them head-on with empathy, clarity, and some creativity. As we move further into this article, we'll explore ways to transform one-on-ones from those dreaded calendar events to eagerly anticipated growth sessions.
The Foundation of Effective One-on-Ones
Now that we've delved into the 'why' behind the reluctance for one-on-ones, let's shift gears and focus on building a strong foundation for our one-on-ones. Before diving into the nitty-gritty, let's address the big question: Why are we even having one-on-ones?
The first reason is to build trust and rapport. One-on-ones should be used as a space to connect and understand your employees. What’s the phrase by Teddy Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” When done right, these sessions can be the foundation of a trusting relationship between a leader and their team member.
The second reason is for employee development and engagement. Beyond the daily tasks and projects, one-on-ones are an opportunity to focus on the bigger picture. Where does the employee see themselves in a year? What are their main aspirations? What skills do they want to develop or sharpen? It's a time to align individual aspirations with the team's goals, ensuring everyone's moving in the same direction.
The third reason is to provide communication and feedback where needed. Even though some employees may fear receiving feedback during a one-on-one meeting, if delivered appropriately and timely, it can drastically improve their capabilities. One-on-one meetings provide a dedicated time and space for leaders to communicate with their employees and offer feedback and guidance. This regular exchange helps in setting expectations, discussing performance, addressing concerns, and ensuring everyone is on the same page. It's a chance for leaders to provide constructive criticism, acknowledge achievements, and give employees the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns.
In Part Two of Mastering the Art of One-on-Ones: A Guide for Today's Leaders, we will look at how to effectively prepare for your one on ones and creating a conducive environment that facilitates a great interaction.