As a leader, it's pretty easy to get distracted by business development, getting involved in the community, and the hundreds of other tasks that are seemingly always begging for your time. Some leaders get so wrapped up in these tasks that they forget the bedrock of their organization is their team. To effectively lead, you need to have an ongoing relationship with all those who directly report to you--and you need to do so on an individual level. The absolute best way to ensure this is being done is to have regular one-on-ones with the key members of your team.
The Importance of One-on-Ones
One-on-ones provide both you and your employee an opportunity to get to know each other better, communicate any issues, and strengthen your relationship. It's something that just can't be done in a group environment when you're distracted by other team members or priorities. It takes time to build a good rapport with each of your valuable team members, but you should notice that they open up more each time you have a one-on-one (if you're doing it correctly).
The Timing of One-on-Ones
Ideally, you should have a one to one with each of your senior management team members once a week. If this isn't possible, at least try to do it once every two weeks (or once a month at the very longest. If you are doing one-on-ones as regularly as once per week, you may only need 20 minutes for each, possibly a little longer at times when there is a major project going on. If you are leaving more time between each meeting then you may want to consider 45 minutes to allow time for catching up on everything comfortably.
How to Have a Successful One-on-One
Of course, all the planning in the world isn't going to help if the time you spend with your team members on a one-on-one basis isn't effective. Here are a few tips on making them more successful:
Come prepared. Both you and your employee should come with a list of 4-5 things you'd like to discuss during your one to one. These could be questions you want to ask, projects you need clarification on, issues that need to be resolved, or anything that happens to be weighing heavily on your mind. You'll notice that some team members want to discuss 'just the facts' while others get more into feelings or impressions. This is normal and you shouldn't push them to discuss anything they're not comfortable with.
Make sure your employees know the purpose. It's vital that your employees do not think these meetings indicate they are in trouble or that they're getting weekly performance reviews. If you haven't been doing them regularly, consider having a team meeting to explain to everyone why you're implementing individual meetings and what you'd like to accomplish at them.
Schedule adequate time. If you're rushed and want to get through a one-on-one so you can move on to something else, your employee will know and will likely shut down. It's crucial that you reserve enough time for each meeting, and time in between in case one runs long, so you're not constantly checking the clock. Some leaders find it helpful to clear their schedule for a whole morning or afternoon to conduct their one-on-ones, while others prefer to spread them out throughout the week, so you'll have to experiment to find what works best for both you and your team. Either way you go, it's imperative that while you are with that person you avoid checking emails or voicemails and stay fully present with them.
Building successful and mutually supportive relationships with your key team members is critical to your success as a leader. If you aren't currently having one-on-ones with at least your top management team, you're missing out on a huge opportunity to increase your leadership skills and empower your team. In addition, regular one-on-ones are one of the best ways to make sure you stay informed and ahead of any potentially emerging issues with projects or initiatives. This puts you in a position to be able to help your team members move through potential pitfalls before they become a crisis, increasing both their confidence in themselves, and their trust in you as a leader.
Trish Cody is an Executive Awareness Coach and Speaker who focuses on optimizing results for business leaders. With over 20 years of experience as a strategic consultant for some of the world’s top Fortune 500 companies, Trish Cody has coached and consulted with senior level teams in planning, designing, launching, and measuring the return for major initiatives. As a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Practitioner, Trish works with senior level leaders and business owners to raise their levels of self-awareness and create more trust, loyalty and success in their businesses and teams. Contact Trish at firstname.lastname@example.org.