One on one conversations that spark joy

❇️ Performance

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Nick Mackeson-Smith
Nick Mackeson-Smith
Chief Curiosity Officer, Founder and Director
September 22, 2019

One on ones don’t need to be a chore.

I often hear from leaders that they struggle to get themselves motivated to have the repetitive weekly or monthly 1:1 conversation with their teams… and worse still, it feels like they are compelled to have them.  I’ve been asked by leaders for templates for great 1:1s… and been shown templates for conversation flows that provide a rigid structure and boundaries for the conversation.

Unsurprisingly, the impact on their teams is noticeable, with team members talking about “one way traffic”, or being asked to dig up all the things that they did or didn’t do over the time period since they last had a one on one. Worse still, is hearing from people that they didn’t get the opportunity to raise things that were on their mind.

All of these things make me cringe at the wasted opportunity, the wasted time, and the wasted energy in having bad one on ones.

It can be better

In my view, one on ones can be one of the most incredible ways to establish, develop or strengthen a relationship. Some of the best leaders I’ve ever had, have focused on the person - not the work. One recent (exceptional) leader of mine would always begin our one on ones by asking how I was and how the family was. What mattered the most wasn’t that he asked, but that he genuinely cared about me and the people I care about. We’d sometimes spend the entire one on one talking about everything “non-work” - safe in the knowledge that we could talk about work any time we needed to.

Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do as a leader to make your one on ones great, productive, valuable, and trust building EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

  • Remember - it’s not about you, it’s about them. Everything in the one on one should be led by the team member. As a leader, you can keep it simple by asking things like “What would you like to talk about today?”, or “What’s going to be the best use of this time for you today?”, or “So what’s your plan for this conversation?”.
  • Make it your business to help them achieve what they want to do - even (actually, especially) if they want to work in a different team or want to leave the organisation you both work for.  Growing others at the expense of your own personal interest is part of great leadership, and it builds MASSIVE trust and delivers huge amounts of discretionary effort. My experience tells me that I unlock more effort from people in helping them to grow bigger than their current role, than attempting to drive better performance in their current role.
  • Encourage the schedule to be theirs - when you meet, how long you meet for, how frequently you meet. It’s highly likely that different people will have different preferences or requirements for support. Do your best to be led by their needs.
  • Encourage them to choose the location. Having one on ones in the same location every week can reinforce the idea of them being a chore. Mix it up a little. Go for a walk. Get out in nature. Grab a coffee. Sit somewhere new. Do it in a car.  Different environments can make us feel differently, and can create psychological safety. If your one on ones get deep, then going for a walk can help the conversation flow…
  • Listen with an intent to understand. One on ones are all about allowing someone to talk about what’s on their mind. Sometimes this can mean they share a fear, or a belief, or a value, or something that doesn’t resonate with you. When someone opens up, REALLY take the time to listen. You have two ears, and one mouth. It’s hard to without your opinions when you love talking as much as I do, but the one on one is your team member’s opportunity to talk and your role is to listen.
  • Where you can, nudge towards the future.  No-one can change the past. Yes, it’s important to learn from the past, but dwelling there and re-hashing things directs energy in the opposite direction to where it could go. Think about future improvements. Discuss how things might change. Encourage them to be deliberate about their future actions.
  • Throw out the templates! Honestly. They suck. All of them…. except the ones that are completely blank.

For those of you reading this thinking “yeah but when am I going to give people feedback, or talk to them about their performance, or tell them how to do their job”, then this handy table should help.

Do it in your one on one

  • Discuss whatever the person in your team wants to discuss (even if it isn’t anything to do with work)
  • Listen
  • Care

Do it all day every day as part of your role

  • Give feedback
  • Provide coaching
  • Discuss performance
  • Share experience
  • Discuss priorities
  • Discuss whatever the person in your team wants to discuss
  • Listen
  • Care

If you need help with leading your one on ones, then Five can help…. as long as you aren’t looking for 1:1 templates… !!

We’d love to chat with you.  

Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

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September 22, 2019
September 22, 2019

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