The Ultimate Employee’s Guide to Driving Great 1×1 Meetings

Your relationship with your direct boss is a key to your success. To your performance. To your desire to stay with your current company. Or not.

When you’re not in sync with our boss, it can get funky in a hurry. Communication is uneven. You start second-guessing yourself. You’re working hard, but are you sure you’re working on the right things?

Staying in sync on priorities and performance expectations should be important to both of you.

But one of the most effective tools for both of you to accomplish those objectives, the 1×1 meeting, gets misused and underutilized.

They’re often not as productive as we’d like. They take on a “different day, same discussion” sense that takes us away from more productive time.

So we reschedule. We cancel. Or we suffer through them and dread them when they show up on our calendars.

What a mistake!

The following ideas can help you can drive your 1×1 meetings and deliver value. For you. For your boss.

Why They’re So Important For You…And Your Boss

If you and your boss both approach 1x1s with priority and intentionality, it can be some of the most productive time that each of you can spend. Period.

That makes them worth the effort. To prepare. To engage.

To figure out how to do them effectively.

A survey by Gallup found that employees who have regular 1x1s with their managers are almost 3X more engaged than those who don’t.

Anything that gives you three times more engagement should get your attention. Motivation. Job satisfaction. Feeling that what you do makes a difference.

1×1 meetings provide the foundation for your relationships with your boss. It is focused, uninterrupted time for the two of you to connect and get in alignment around your priorities and your performance.

The 1×1 meeting is the appropriate — and potentially perfect — place for you to:

Build trust — Trust is necessary for successful teams and one of the most important relationships for trust-building is between you and your boss.

Give AND receive real-time feedback — Honest and timely feedback can build trust and improve performance — for both of you. Be open to the feedback you receive. Receiving consistent feedback on a weekly basis is infinitely more productive than saving valuable feedback for a once-a-year performance review. If trust exists, you should be able to offer feedback to your boss. 🤔

Opportunity to get personal — You have some underlying personal needs when you come to work each day. We all do. They me be social or financial. They may relate to a family or health. Your ability to get those needs addressed during the course of the day may impact your performance at work. The 1×1 can be a safe place to share those needs.

Opportunity to get personal, part 2 — This may come as a revelation, but your boss is human, too.😉 Consequently, they too, have personal needs. You may be able to support them in meeting those needs. Or you may create another level of understanding and trust between the two of you.

Understand their default communication style — The consistent interactions with your boss in 1×1 meetings will allow you to gain a clear understanding of how they like to receive and process information. More or fewer details? More or less personal information? Do they need time to process information before giving you advice? The 1×1 meeting can offer helpful insights to working with your boss and communicating more effectively outside the 1×1 meeting.

Save time — It will save you from the disruption of hundreds of “hey, have you got a second” conversations during the course of the year. It also saves time from trying to clarify messages that are misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Course-correct, if necessary — One of the primary positive outcomes of a 1×1 is to get in sync on priorities. The 1×1 allows you to discuss any misunderstandings and to re-calibrate your priorities if necessary.

A previous post provides a guide for 1x1s from the manager’s perspective. When you both make an effort to make your 1x1s more productive, you will see dramatic improvements.

Your Mindset

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The 1×1 meeting is primarily for your benefit. Your mindset is critically important with ensuring that they provide value to you — and your boss.

Here is a list of perspectives to keep in mind for successful 1x1s:

  • Don’t settle for average. Your boss likely has multiple 1×1 meetings each week. You want make sure that your meetings are so productive that your boss actually looks forward to 1×1 meetings with you. You’ll be able to gauge the productivity by fewer misunderstandings, improved communications and growing alignment on priorities.
  • Be prepared. If any data or supporting material is required for an agenda item, make sure you get it to your boss in advance. Consider what questions you might get asked and think about how you’d respond.
  • Avoid the monkey. One of the most frequently downloaded Harvard Business Review articles is entitled Who’s Got the Monkey. It describes the boomerang effect of delegated tasks that wind up coming back to the manager / delegator. Guard against your 1x1s turning into a session where your boss feels like you’re trying to get them to make decisions for you or to take responsibility for your tasks.
  • Your brand is on full display. Be honest. Be professional. Be yourself. Commit to meeting any obligations that you take on during these sessions. DWYSYGTD — Do What You Say You Are Going To Do!
  • Act like an adult. Take responsibility for your attitude and effort. The 1×1 is no place for whining or excuse-making. Don’t be a source of constant drama. Take ownership of your past results and your current responsibilities.
  • Work towards an environment of psychological safety. While this is impacted significantly by your boss, you both play a part in establishing an atmosphere where you can both be open and honest. Where you both are open to being transparent, vulnerable, and commit to confidentiality. If you don’t feel that this exists, you should talk about it.
  • Be on time. Don’t cancel or reschedule, unless it is an extraordinary circumstance. Every time you’re late or cancel, you are sending a message that they aren’t important. Mutual respect and trust are the twin towers of strong relationships and high-performing teams.
  • Don’t be a rambling mess. Don’t try to fit an hour’s worth of content into thirty minutes. Focus on your priorities. Consider how you present your information and practice in advance, if appropriate. Be organized, concise, and focused.
  • Offer solutions, not problems. During the 1×1 you will have the opportunity to identify where you are stuck and where you need your boss’s help. Whenever possible, offer alternatives and solutions. Don’t get in the habit of dumping your problem in your boss’s lap.
  • You’re a work in progress. The 1×1 is a great place for you to learn. Don’t be defensive and encourage input that can help you be a better performer and team member. Ask for resources and recommendations that may help you on your journey.

The Ground Rules

You and your boss need to create ground rules that will govern how the two of you will approach 1×1 meetings. He are some sample rules:

We make a mutual commitment to meet and 1x1s are rarely if ever, canceled or rescheduled

We will conduct ourselves professionally and respectfully. We will commit to acting without whining, finger-pointing, blaming, or yelling.

We will meet for 30 minutes on a set day and time each week. (Note to employee: While this is preferred, I’ve also seen one-hour meetings every other week be successful)

Our meetings will start on time and end on time. Ending early is OK, but we will both strive not to go beyond our scheduled time. It is a sign of mutual respect to show up, be prepared and not take time away from the next scheduled meeting or important work time.

The direct report sets the agenda and will send a written copy to the manager by 5:00 p.m. the day before the scheduled 1×1.

During the meeting, laptops, iPads, and phones will be out of sight, unless needed to share information during that day’s 1×1.

The meeting is a safe place for both of us to be honest and open. Both parties will assume trust and mutual respect and will share if they feel that either of those assumptions has been violated.

The direct report will lead the 1×1, although both parties can participate freely.

Both parties will endeavor to stick to the agenda and protect against scope creep. We will both work to prevent agenda items turning into rants, rambling discussions, or morph into solving operational issues.

Agenda

Every meeting needs to have a written agenda prepared — and shared — in advance. If you truly respect one another’s time, it is worth the effort to prepare the agenda and how you want to share information and discuss agenda items during the meeting.

You may tweak your agendas over time, to better fit the circumstances, and your respective styles, but here are some suggestions. Since you are driving the meeting agenda, these are based on your perspective:

1. An update on the action items from the last one-on-one. What steps have you taken?

2. What roadblocks or barriers do you need to be removed? Where are you stuck or where do you feel like you’re bumping against a brick wall?

3. Share what you believe are your top three priorities for the coming week, in ranked order. (Note to employeeBe able to explain why you ranked them in the order you didIf your boss disagrees, ask questions to understand their thought process.)

4. What is one thing your manager needs to know — about you, the team, or the company? (Note to employeeDon’t whine or throw anyone under the bus. Think about this from your boss’s perspective — if you were in their shoes, what would they most want you to share with them that could most significantly impact their role as a leader?)

5. What is unclear or muddled that your boss can clarify?

6. Rotate the following four items so that one meeting a month each is being addressed

a. Progress on business goals / metrics / OKRs

b. Progress on a skill you are trying to develop

c. Progress on a personal goal

d. One thing that your boss needs to bring to your attention (Note to employeeMake sure that your boss has a two-week advanced notice on when they will be responsible for this agenda item)

7. Summarize commitments and action steps that need to be taken this week — as a result of this meeting — what will be done by when. Most of the time these will be action steps and due dates that you own.

You Can Make Magic

Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash

Your boss, at any given time, can impact the trajectory of your career and the speed at which you develop.

Hopefully, they understand that role and have your best interests in mind.

But remember, your career is your responsibility.

Effective 1x1s can ensure that you are making progress.

Connecting with your boss. Meeting performance expectations. Learning. Executing.

You can play a major role in determining how productive and effective your 1×1 meetings are.

For you.

For your boss.

For your growth.

For your career.

Develop the proper mindset. Create the ground rules. Establish the agenda.

Then watch what happens.

Clarity. Alignment. Growth.

Magic.

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