At Friday, we’re huge fans of one-on-one meetings.
If you are responsible for the happiness/performance of a team and don’t have regular 1 on 1s, you are shooting yourself in the foot. Manager tools (a hugely popular podcast) calls these meetings the single most effective management tool.
Note: Get your free 1:1 meeting template and start having better conversations with Friday. Great for remote teams!
If you're interested in learning more about the origin story of one-on-one meetings (or 1-1 meetings), we recommend reading High Output Management, one of our favorite books on management.
When we launched weekly check-ins over two years ago, we heard from numerous customers that they would use the weekly responses as a conversation starter for 1-1 meetings.
With that being said, it was still a bit disconnected from the 1-1 meeting, so we decided to create a dedicated template for having 1-1s with your team. We’re trying to solve common problems with a little help from software. You can learn more about this in a video below:
As we gathered feedback during the development process, a few major issues popped up:
As a team leader, it’s difficult to prepare as a true 1-1 meeting is the employee's meeting. Sure, you could manually remind a team member or direct report to create an agenda, but you probably don’t want to be the nagging boss either.
You may resort to asking, “how’s everything going?” It’s likely that you will waste the first ten minutes of the meeting trying to get a sense of the topics that will be covered. This is 100% avoidable.
Heck, maybe the employee goes off on a tangent, and you spend the majority of the time on a single agenda item. If you had known what the topic of conversation would be, you could at least steer the conversation.
If only you had a better sense of the structure (and what topics would be covered), you might be able to prepare a bit more!
The next major issue is that a lot of ground can be covered in a quick 30-minute meeting, but the discussion and action items are not documented. The best leaders will take notes, but rarely are they shared.
There’s a huge opportunity for a team leader and employee to align around the talking points/conversation, but it doesn’t happen with the current reality.
Finally, 1-1 action items aren’t typically documented in a central location. This data can be helpful for a myriad of reasons outlined below:
In this book he introduces the concept of 1-1 meetings. Quite frankly, it looks a bit different than the best practice advice outlined above.
According to Grove, "there really is no answer to this, but the subordinate must feel that there is enough time to broach and get into thorny issues....I feel that a one-on-one should last an hour at minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly"
Interesting. That's a bit different than the current best practice advice.
According to Grove, "How often should you have one-on-ones? Or put another way, how do you decide how often somebody needs such a meeting? The answer is the job - or task-relevant maturity of each of your subordinates. In other words, how much experience does a given subordinate have with the specific task at hand?"
Interesting. Once again, quite a bit different than the best practice advice.
According to Grove, "At Intel, a one-on-one meeting is a meeting between a supervisor and subordinate, and it is the principal way their business relationship is maintained."
Good. The best practice advice applies to this one 😂
According to Grove, "it should be regarded as thee subordinate's meeting, with its agenda and tone set by him."
Okay, now we are 50% right with the best practices.
My goal with showcasing the origin story was not to discount current approaches and routines - one size doesn't fit all teams.
My point was to show the drift that's taken place from the original advice and to prime you to be a bit more open-minded by proposing a new approach to your 1-1 meetings (that also happens to be quite a bit more efficient).
In the rest of this post, I'm going to show you another approach that you might consider. This new approach can:
Here's how this works.
The first step is to schedule a bi-weekly meeting cadence and to chunk these real-time meetings together so they are back-to-back (in the morning or afternoon). This should probably happen on a Tuesday or Wednesday. This step isn't exactly rocket science.
Some of you may already be saying, "no no, this should be weekly, otherwise you can't catch potential problems as quickly as you should."
Keep following along to the next steps. We have a way to handle that, but it's going to look a bit different.
This is where the traditional path starts to diverge a bit!
We are going to create a feedback loop to catch these potential problems and understand the general mood of the people on our team, but we don't need a meeting to do this. We can do this asynchronously and complement things with a bi-weekly real-time meeting...or ad-hoc follow-up meetings if necessary.
At Friday, we can help you automate this cadence (try it free), here's how I have it setup with my team:
You can see with this cadence I have people fill this out at the end of the week, but you could easily customize the questions to be something like the following:
One major benefit of the emoji question in particular is that people process emojis similarly to how they process facial expressions.
As the responses roll-in, you can use this insight to kickstart your 1-1 meetings.
Another benefit to this approach is that you can start to benchmark trends and quantify results over time.
With an asynchronous check-in, there's little data loss. In fact, you may get better data. The reason why is that asynchronous communication has some interesting benefits listed below.
Have you seen people on Facebook or Twitter say things they would never say in-person? This is called the online disinhibition effect, here's how it's defined:
Online disinhibition is the lack of restraint one feels when communicating online in comparison to communicating in-person.
This may seem obvious. What may not be as obvious is benign online disinhibition:
Benign online disinhibition describes a situation in which people get benefit from the absence of restraint on the cyberspace. With the help of internet anonymity, people could share personal feelings or disclose themselves in the way they are reluctant to do in real life.
The takeaway is that people can be more honest behind a screen and you can use this in positive ways, especially to collect rich insights before your meetings.
The next advantage of an asynchronous 1-1 check-in is that it allows people to revise their message and establish a bit more clarity vs. being put on the spot with an unexpected question in a meeting.
Some people don't mind being put on the spot. Some people would prefer to have a little time to think and formulate their thoughts.
Once again, as a leader, this helps you capture information and insight that you probably wouldn't be able to get in a real-time meeting.
Another benefit to asynchronous 1-1 check-ins is that it automatically creates a running log of notes that you can reference over time. This can help resolve any ambiguity as it's the equivalent of transferring a conversation into "long-term storage."
This last point is self-explanatory, but you can use the asynchronous check-in to kickstart the conversation before you walk into the meeting. As a result, you can accelerate the conversation and talk about the meaningful topics and spend less time with the icebreaker/small-talk.
When asynchronous communication is paired with real-time interaction and relationship-building, it can create additional benefits. While I don't believe there's a replacement for spending time building relationships in-person, asynchronous communication can play a complementary role and allow you to spend more time building relationships and less time asking icebreaker questions.
Ok, now let’s talk about how we might be able to help you hold better 1-1s. The basic idea is that you should ask a few questions before the meeting. Worst case scenario, you can dramatically improve the conversation and eliminate the awkwardness. Best case scenario, everything is fine and you can cancel the meeting. You can see how it works in the video below!
In addition, these 1-1 conversations are stored on people profiles and can be referenced over time. You can read more about how to dramatically improve 1-1 meeting efficiency.
We’ve heard some great feedback from team leaders (here’s a quote below):
"It also helped me get back on track when we would go off track; we didn’t have to say, “Hmm, where were we?” Before this tool, I did not have employees share notes/agenda items before the meeting. This was great because I knew what I was “walking into.” It gave insight on the tenor of the meeting, as well – I could tell their moods by the topics they sent through. I loved it!"