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One-to-ones should be seen as a special time, it’s usually the only time set aside for you and a member of the team to talk…about anything! Unfortunately, it seems most time in one-on-ones is used up with status reports that a manager should know anyway. Set a target to learn something new from each of your one-on-one conversations.

Fill in the gaps

A manager cannot be in every conversation or meeting. One-on-ones are an opportunity to ask questions to fill in any gaps from missed meetings/discussions.

  • How did the meeting go? (give specific details in the question)
  • What was the outcome?
  • Is there anything I need to know?

You learn a lot about the person in the way they describe events. Was the context set? Can you understand the main topics from them? Were the outcomes described clearly? Did you notice any bias? These conversations let you fill in the gaps you’re missing while also observe how good the person is at describing events, it’s a skill that could need some guidance.

What’s important

One-on-one’s should be a time of open conversation and when people feel safe they tend to open up more. These are good opportunities to let them drive the topics that are important to them while asking questions to keep the flow:

  • how can I (or the company) support you with this?
  • what else is important to you?
  • what else do you enjoy/dislike?

The topics could be wide-ranging and possibly not work-related but treat them as a learning opportunity.

Other people

You can learn a lot about people from their peers. They can spot a strength in someone that you may have missed or even say if someone is quietly struggling. This information can be positive as well as negative so it needs to be considered carefully. You will only be getting an opinion and possibly not a full picture so caution has to be taken with any information. But the opportunity is still there to learn with more questions.

  • have you worked with someone before?
  • what do you enjoy about having them in the team?
  • what are their strengths?
  • what impact is that having on the team (or other people)? (regarding a specific event or behaviour)

I’ve been in a situation where certain people believe they play a certain role (or are strong in a particular area) in the team but this is not how others see it. At times, the actions that person is taking is hurting the team. This insight gives you the opportunity to observe and learn more before making any decision.

Teams do change, ideally not regularly, but the reality is people come and go. Learning from others can help confirm your observations on team balance or other team issues.

A time to learn

One-on-ones are to learn from your team. Fill in your gaps and discover if there is anything the team is missing. Ensure you are listening intently to show you’re interested in what they have to say and to pick up clues on their engagement in how they speak. Be sure to follow up on actions otherwise, issues will remain, ideas will be lost, and talent will be ignored. Show your team that what they say matters.

A one-on-one is about the other person but there are times when you need to drive the discussion. The questions you ask often relate how much you will learn – take them seriously. There are plenty of opportunities to learn from your team, be it any of the agile ceremonies to ‘water cooler’ chats, but one-on-ones provide a unique time. It’s a safe space for people to open up. It’s the ideal to time learn from your team so make the most of it.

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