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Are One-on-One Meetings a True Game Changer?


Many members of my team often anticipate that I'll schedule formal meetings periodically to discuss their work, our shared objectives, and prospects. However, they are left disappointed when they realize that this isn't my preferred approach.

I don't engage in one-on-one meetings; in fact, I don't believe in them.

Traditionally, companies advocate for such encounters as a means to prevent turnover and ensure employees feel heard and fully supported in their roles. However, I propose a more authentic way to convey care and support.

True concern for your team goes beyond scheduled one-on-ones. These encounters only serve to postpone the inevitable — the time it takes for individuals to express their concerns and work through challenges.

Effective communication should be an integral part of daily operations rather than waiting for a formal occasion. I believe in adopting a two way street philosophy that fosters continuous interaction.

What is leadership?

To grasp the essence of leadership, one must shift away from conventional textbook notions and embrace a more contemporary perspective. In this modern paradigm, effective leaders prioritize the long-term development of their teams. They invest significant time in honing soft skills, recognizing that this endeavor often surpasses the value of acquiring additional academic degrees. Their hallmark is the ability to instill a sense of genuine motivation and encouragement.

Contrary to common misconceptions, leadership isn't synonymous with wielding power, authority, or extraordinary technical knowledge.

A noteworthy article in the Harvard Business Review sheds light on William C. H. Prentice's insights from 1961, where he defined leadership as "the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants."

Prentice also outlined additional qualities integral to effective leadership:

  • Understanding people's motivations.
  • Creating a harmonious balance between individual needs and team objectives.
  • Offering employees opportunities for learning and growth.

These qualities underscore a shift from traditional leadership models, emphasizing the human-centric aspects contributing to a leader's success in accomplishing shared goals.

What are 1:1 meetings?

A 1:1 meeting serves as a regular check-in between two individuals within an organization, primarily fostering personal and professional growth. Typically, these meetings occur between a team leader and a staff member, covering a spectrum of topics such as feedback, issue resolution, new assignments, and guidance.

The challenge with these encounters lies in their infrequency, and when they do occur, they often take place under considerable pressure.

Alarming statistics from Gallup, a prominent workplace consulting firm, reveal that "only 14% of employees strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve".

This raises a crucial question: Why do companies persist with these meetings, and are they truly effective in extracting the best from their workforce?

Do these structured sessions genuinely provide the space employees need to feel heard and valued? It's a question worth pondering as we reevaluate the effectiveness of traditional approaches to performance discussions.

Myths and truths about 1:1 meetings

The notion that 1:1 meetings are an absolute necessity is the first myth I aim to debunk. Feedback should be a continuous, ongoing process, arriving when it matters most and not after the opportunity for improvement has passed. Often, by the time employees receive praise or corrections, the issues are already history.

One reason these meetings are infrequent is the time they consume, translating into a direct cost for the company. This formal structure punctuates the daily schedule, halting productivity rather than providing feedback in smaller, more effective doses.

Equally important is the aspect of training. If we subject employees to this kind of pressure, managers must possess the social and communication skills necessary to convey their messages effectively, avoiding the inadvertent demotivation of the entire team.

Embracing new approaches is essential, and one initial step could be seeking input from employees on the most effective ways to discuss their work. Cultivating flexibility and fostering a free flow of communication between managers and employees should be prioritized.

The key lies in engaging in meaningful conversations, and drawing from my own experiences, here are some valuable insights I've gained.

Create an open line of communication with your team

Formality is not a prerequisite for effective communication with your employees. One needs to establish an ongoing dialogue at both the team and individual levels, fostering an environment where they feel empowered to bring up issues independently.

Feedback from members of my team suggests that they perceive me as consistently available. Our conversations may not occur daily or even weekly, yet there's an underlying sense of closeness that assures them I'm there whenever they need assistance, and the response is immediate.

While my inbox or slack is flooded with work-related emails and messages daily, I prioritize responses for matters that are both serious and personal, promptly reaching out to my staff.

An example of this is when I receive a message like this:

Nico, I need to talk to you about something - can we chat?

With these type of messages pop up, I immediately drop anything I'm doing and call the person. It's usually something that concerns them personally, and I want to make sure they know I'm there for them.

Building a solid framework for communication is integral to building an effective team. It's not about the frequency of meetings, but the quality of the conversations that matter most.