Many managers groan at the mention of regular one-to-one meetings with their direct reports. There are plenty of excuses that get in the way of conducting effective one-to-ones (none of which are valid and all of which prevent a manager from getting the most from his or her team).
Some managers say they don't have time to meet regularly with their direct reports. An efficient one-to-one can be completed in 20 minutes, and the investment is well worth it considering the time you will spend fixing little issues that go unnoticed and later evolve into bigger problems in the absence of regular one-to-ones. If you can't make 20 minutes for each of your team members once a month, you are not going to be an effective manager, period.
Another common objection to one-to-ones sounds something like this: "My door is always open. I chat with my team every day. They know they can come to me with problems; I don't need to waste time in a meeting." In reality, many employees will not sit down with you uninvited to talk about issues due to a fear of interrupting you, or of not having time to finish the discussion, or simply a fear of the difficult conversation itself. Making one-to-ones an expectation for your entire team ensures dedicated, focused time to discuss progress and challenges.
If you're still not convinced, consider these five specific benefits to implementing regular one-to-ones.
Turning the floor over to your employee in a regular one-to-one shows that you value them enough to carve that time out of your schedule. It demonstrates your leadership and the importance of the contributions they make to your team.
Recognition is vitally important to employee engagement, but only a fraction of employees feel they are fairly recognized for their contributions. A good one-to-one starts with a look at the prior month's achievements, providing a perfect opportunity to focus on strategic accomplishments and offer authentic recognition in the moment.
Coaching an employee while they are in the beginning phases of a challenge provides helpful guidance for them as well as a bit of protection for you. It's always preferable to know about a problem early on so you can guide your employee through it, giving them the tools they need to problem solve and proactively handle it versus doing a post-mortem on the issue once it's too late to do much more than apologize and analyze where things went wrong.
Have you ever delegated something and then realized at a point well beyond its due date that you have not had an update? Or have you been in a situation where you only see progress on a project if you nag and prod?
A good one-to-one incorporates discussion around mutually agreed-upon priorities from the previous month. If your employee knows that you'll be discussing these items regularly, you're much more likely to see progress on high priority initiatives.
You have enough challenges to manage in your day-to-day business without having to also deal with avoidable surprises that turn up due to a lack of one-to-one communication.
Perhaps you've experienced the discomfort of your boss asking you for an update on something that you're managing, but you can't provide a current update because you realize you don't have one from your team.
Or perhaps you're in the habit of casually checking in and asking if everything is okay, and your team says, "Yes, things are moving along." Surely they'll tell you if they're in danger of missing a deadline, right?
Then, when a deadline is missed, you realize that "Yes, things are moving along" means different things to each of you. To them, it may be a non-confrontational and true response that buys a little more time. However, you assume it means you'll have what you want, when you want it. A more specific question ("Is X project on schedule?") will certainly help in this situation, but a one-to-one meeting with "what's not getting done" on the agenda will probably put the issue on your radar sooner.
Regular one-to-ones are imperative for your business to be managed well. By requiring these check-ins, you're giving your staff the opportunity and accountability to discuss accomplishments, challenges, setbacks, and goals.
As the person conducting the one-to-one, your own listening and coaching skills will be critical to getting the most impact out of this time. Resist the urge to fix your team's issues for them during this time and instead, coach them towards their own solutions. As the proverb goes: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.