Many employers believe in the concept of holding one-on-one meetings with their team members on a recurring basis. The idea sounds great, in theory: carve out time for a standing meeting in which suggestions can be made, grievances can be aired and insight can be gleaned between boss and employee. But, as the story so often goes, even the best-laid plans can go astray.

When schedules become tight, one-on-ones can be the first thing to be canceled. And even when they take place regularly, these types of meetings can quickly turn into social hour or, worse yet, offer an awkward environment in which candor is concealed.

If you want to make one-on-ones with your team members a meaningful and productive use of everyone's time, keep reading. These three strategies can help turn your one-on-one sessions around.

Make frequency a priority

Whether you prefer for your one-on-ones to be held weekly, make sure you're putting them on both parties' calendars as a recurring event. When you initially decide on the dates and time you'd like these to take place, be clear with your employee that this meeting is a priority.

Unless one of you is sick, this meeting should not be canceled. If an urgent matter comes up or a client meeting has to be put into your one-on-one time slot, agree upfront that you will reschedule your one-on-one sometime within that same week.

Not only do these parameters ensure that your time together will be frequent and consistent, but it also communicates to your team members that these meetings are a high priority to you. It shows that you value each employee, their happiness and wellbeing in and outside of the workplace, and the relationship you have with them.

Predefine the structure

Some leaders like to hold one-on-ones in their office, while other prefer to meet their staff members at a coffee shop or restaurant. Wherever you choose to meet, make sure the location is private (at least not within earshot of co-workers). In your first one-on-one, take some time to establish casual ground rules and the format you'd like these meetings to follow.

Determine the structure of the one-on-one based on your goals. For example, many leaders use these as a tool to strengthen their relationship with a particular employee. When that is the case, weekly, 30-minute, informal sessions tend to work well.

However, you format your one-on-ones, be sure you set aside time for your team member to have the floor. This time is really about them. Save your feedback for their review.

This might be the only time an employee feels comfortable enough to share fears or concerns with you, so it's important you create an environment of openness and trust. One idea is to give the first 10 minutes to your employee, the next 10 to you and the final 10 to a mutual discussion of the future.

Keep in mind, during the 10 minutes you have the floor, it's not an opportunity to check in on project status or give work-related feedback. From an employee's perspective, those they report to always have the floor and that's why this time with them should really be about hearing and getting to know them.

During their 10 minutes, let them talk about anything they want. Whether it's what they did last weekend or a project their struggling with, don't put parameters around what they should and shouldn't talk about. This is their time.

Set intentions for the future

If time permits, close out the meeting with a discussion about the future. This could be personal to the employee or big ideas they have for the company or a project their working on.

If they need something specific from you to help carry out that big idea and want support in holding them accountable, set an action plan to be sure you deliver. This is also a great time to discuss "continues, stop doings and start doings."

Again, let your team member do the talking here --you can share yours during their review sessions. This is simply a discussion of they think is working, not working and new ideas that could bring about improvement.

The idea of scheduling weekly one-on-ones with each of the employees that report directly to you may sound near impossible given your busy schedule. But effective, regular one-on-ones actually reduces how often employees come to you for answers throughout the day. Many managers find that their team will either hold the question until the one-on-one or determine to solve it themselves.

If you're looking for ways to improve your one-on-ones, you're already on the right track to elevating internal relationships, making everyone feel heard and boosting morale. Implement these tips, and it shouldn't be long before everyone involved starts seeing some major upsides.

Published on: Aug 22, 2017