1-1 meetings are the backbone of successful performance management. If you want your team to perform at their best, it’s essential you invest your time in regular 1-1s with each of them. (You can either help them succeed, or leave them to their work and hope!).

In this article I cover the role of regular 1-1 meetings within your approach to performance management and how to make 1-1s with your team some of your most productive work time.

A quick note on the changing dynamics of performance management

It’s important to note that ‘performance management’ is changing. The annual, structured approach to setting goals and reviewing performance is in decline. What is emerging is a more fluid and dynamic approach to performance management that is more attuned to the volatile and uncertain world in which we live.

Regular 1-1 meetings as part of your approach to performance management

There are many kinds of 1-1 performance management meetings:

  1. FAST Goal setting conversations
  2. Formal / annual performance reviews
  3. Development planning conversations
  4. Career conversations
  5. Retention / engagement conversations
  6. Regular (weekly) 1-1 meetings

In this article we’re primarily focused on the regular (ideally weekly!) 1-1 meetings with your team and how to make them productive.

First, let’s take a quick look at the other 5 types of performance management meetings identified above:

FAST Goal setting: As I mentioned at the outset, goal setting is no longer just an annual process. Goals should be FAST: Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific and Transparent. Goal setting meetings can take place any time during the year, as priorities shift. And goals should be ‘Frequently discussed’ to make sure that all work is effectively aligned.

Formal / annual performance reviews: Even within a more fluid performance management system, there’s benefit in having an annual review. This allows for a different perspective on performance, looking back at across the whole year and looking forward to the coming year.

Development planning meetings: Every individual is responsible for their own development and as a manager you’re responsible for supporting that development. This requires regular conversations with a focus on the individual and their development plans. Once you have agreed a development plan for your team member, quarterly or six-monthly conversations can review progress and next steps.

Career planning: An annual conversation regarding career plans helps you keep in touch with your team member’s longer-term ambitions. This understanding will also feed into your development conversations with them.

Regular (weekly) 1-1 meetings: purpose, mindset and agenda

Your regular 1-1 meetings with each of your team members should ideally be weekly. If you have a larger team then biweekly is an option too, but not ideal.

If you manage these meetings effectively they will be some of your most productive work time. Why? Because the greatest contribution you can make as a manager is to lead a high performing team. And these meetings are all about supporting the performance of your team members.

The goal of your 1-1 meetings

The goal of each weekly 1-1 meeting is to ensure that your team member maximizes their productivity in the coming week.

To achieve that, your team member needs to:

  • Be clear about how they’re going to focus their time and effort
  • Be motivated to perform at their best
  • Have an open path ahead, with no ‘roadblocks’ that are beyond their control

These three points in combination are your recipe for success!

The mindset you should bring

As mentioned, these meetings can be some of your most productive work time, but only if you bring the right mindset. To be productive you need to ensure that you:

  • Prioritize these meetings. Fix the schedule and stick to it. These meetings are the rhythm of your management, your team members need to know that they can expect to be meeting with you. Resist the temptation to prioritize other activities.
  • Bring focused attention. It’s not just about turning up, it’s about bringing focused attention. Put your phone away, take a moment to clear your mind of distractions and bring your focus onto your team member.
  • Be in service of your team member. Remember the goal that we just looked at. Your team members need to be clear about how to focus their effort, be motivated to perform and have an open path ahead. You can only achieve this if you focus the meeting on them, their work and their needs.

The 1-1 meeting agenda

The agenda is very simple, it is built around the needs of your team member and relates directly back to your goal.

  1. Review of their previous week
  2. Their plan for the coming week
  3. Any risks, issues, uncertainties that they need help with
  4. Any updates you wish to provide

Notice that the topics you bring to the meeting are last. Within this simple structure it’s the team member that brings the content.

A good simple check is to ask yourself: who is doing most of the talking? Your team member should be doing 70-80% of the talking (at least!), you should just be asking smart questions.

Review of their previous week, example questions to ask:

  • How was your week?
  • What went well?
  • What problems did you experience?
  • Which parts of your plan did you hit?
  • What did you miss?
  • What have you learnt?
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Their plan for the coming week (including risks, issues, uncertainties), example questions to ask:

  • What’s your goals for the coming week?
  • How does this fit with our priorities and goals as a team?
  • Where are you now with those tasks?
  • What are your top 3 ‘most hit’ goals for the week?
  • What might get in the way and how can I help clear your path?
  • Is there anything else that we need to cover?

The questions you can see above fit loosely into the GROW coaching model. Here are more great GROW coaching questions.

As you’re asking questions there will be times when you need to switch into more of a managing or mentoring role.

Good phrases to use are:

  • I recommend that…
  • Please also think about…
  • What will you do if…?
  • In my experience you’ll find it easier if…
  • How does this align with…?

Also, take the opportunity to give feedback to your team member, to support their development and improve their performance. 

Finally, your topics for the meeting come last, and may not even be necessary. Most of your updates you need to share will be for your team and can be covered in team meetings.

1-1 meetings: in summary

Regular 1-1 meetings are the backbone of successful performance management. They can be some of your most productive work time.

The overall goal of each weekly 1-1 meeting is to ensure that your team member maximizes their productivity in the coming week. To achieve that, your team member needs to be focused, motived and have a clear path ahead.

You’ll achieve this goal if you bring the right mindset: prioritizing these meetings and being in service of your team members. And then stick to a simple structure: review their previous week, clarify their plan for the coming week and clear their path.

Spend most of the time asking questions and bring your manager and mentoring hats when needed.

And finally, don’t forget to enjoy these meetings! They’re an opportunity for you to connect with, support and develop your team.

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