Having Effective One-on-One Meetings
A guide for managers and direct reports
One-on-one meetings are a requirement of modern office life. They are also a double-edged sword. Whether short check-ins or long discussions, they can be either a worthwhile investment or a dreadful waste of time.
If you go into your one-on-one without a clear agenda or purpose, you're likely to leave disappointed. The key to effective one-on-ones is to treat them as a tool, a means to achieve alignment between you and your manager.
Think back to the worst managers you’ve had. What were those meetings like? I once had a manager who was completely unfocused. They would give me conflicting guidance from one meeting to the next, based on whatever was on their mind at the time. It felt like they were talking at me, not with me, and constantly changing what I was working on to align with the project du jour. The meetings would start late because they were always running behind, and often they would also run over into the next time slot. All this led to one-on-ones that felt chaotic and disorganized, and it was a battle just to motivate myself to show up. Sound familiar?
Now think about the best managers you've had in your career. Those are the ones who use one-on-one meetings to help you focus and grow. They invest their time to help you be better at your job, and their support makes you look forward to your time together. My best one-on-ones were never about monologuing or moving the goalposts; they were about aligning on objectives, prioritizing key work, and leveraging our time to get me and my manager on the same page.
No matter your role, you can use one-on-ones to gain clarity, set goals, work through problems, and improve your relationship with your manager. With the right preparation and approach, these meetings can make a lasting positive impact on your career.
Ahead of the Meeting
Before you walk into your first one-on-one meeting, you need to have a plan. What do you want to achieve in your job? In your partnership? In your career? Think in terms of long- and short-term goals.
Your next step is to break down what you want to talk about in each meeting. This will give you a starting point and allow you to make better use of your time. Start by creating a shared document where you and your manager can keep joint notes and action items between meetings.
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