It’s the same … but it’s different!
Whether you call them check ins, supervision or 1-1 meetings, the regular conversation between manager and team member has always been an important element of a leader’s role.
Why? Well for many reasons.
- It’s a way of having focussed time, to understand what the team member has been working on, what they’ve got coming up, helping them to overcome challenges and blockers
- It’s opportunity to give feedback. To help people understand what they’ve done well, and where they can or need to improve.
- To help them develop, with coaching or advice.
However, for some, those conversations may have always been a challenge (what do I say? What’s ‘normal?’) and now that many are virtual, the challenge seems a step too far.
There’s no such thing as normal
I’ve had many managers of the years, and not one has run 1-1s in the same way.
- Some have used fixed templates of questions to cover, that I populated before the conversation as a way for them to prepare
- Some started off the 1-1 asking what I wanted to cover, and focussed purely on me
- One seemed to mostly focus on the manager who monopolised the conversation and then was notably absent for the rest of the month (not highlighting that as a positive by the way!)
- Some were fairly formal and formulaic
- Other were informal, and involved coffee, conversation and even walks
I think the key here is to think about the purpose of the conversation. What will make them valuable for both you and your team member? Also, be aware of the consequences of NOT having them. In teams or companies that don’t invest in 1-1s, it’s common to see:
- Challenges with performance when people haven’t had any feedback
- Projects failing, as blockers and errors weren’t picked up at an early stage
- People resigning due to lack of development, motivation, and engagement
And on that note – how you act before and during the meeting is crucial. When you regularly bump them from your diary at short notice, or stare at your emails during the conversation, you’re sending clear signals that the other person isn’t important.
Sooner or later, and it will happen, they’ll stop talking with you and the whole conversation will become like pulling teeth. Which then spirals into both of you cancelling future meetings, as neither of you see the value.
What you then have, is a manager who’s not managing effectively, and a team member who’s rudderless, and not performing to their potential.
Making meetings work virtually
Given some resistance levels from people already, for those whose workloads have increased since working remotely, and the fact that they may feel more distanced from their teams mentally as well as geographically, virtual meetings have for some become almost impossible.
I’m asked almost daily for tips, advice and guidance on having great 1-1 meetings virtually. Here’s eight that you might want to consider:
- Have the cameras on when you can. It enables you to pick up more cues and clues than by voice call alone. However, do be mindful of people’s privacy.
- Be present. Put down your phone, switch off your emails and notifications and concentrate on THIS conversation. Listen, ask questions, give space.
- Make the conversation about more than the To-Do list! You’ll need to work harder at engaging your team virtually and may need to adapt what worked for you face to face. Try more social conversation and asking how things are for them.
- Check in about ‘Ways of Working’. Make sure you’re both clear about how to provide updates to each other, whether the communication levels are right, how meetings are working for them.
- Help them to still feel part of a team. Ask who they’ve been working with, encourage them to share updates with colleagues, make connections between what they’re working on, and what others are.
- Flex your expectations. Ask how they’ve been managing their workload, and how they’re balancing ‘living at work/working at home’. Discuss how you can adapt priorities or schedules to support.
- Promote health. The longer we work from home, the more reports emerge of increased level of burnout. Ask what time they’re taking for themselves, how they’re managing boundaries.
- Share information about what’s going on. Let them know what’s next for the company. Whether that’s longer term plans for working arrangements, or how the company and other business units are performing. Help your team to understand the broader context.
Your next steps
If they’re absent from the dairy, book in the next 1-1s and think about how you can make them really valuable.
If you’re already having them – great! Hopefully some ideas and questions here may help you to add some variety!
- What’s the most important thing for us to talk about today?
- What are the biggest priorities for you moving forward?
- What challenges or blockers can I help you with?
- What have you learned since we last met?
- What’s working well?
- What positive feedback have you had?
- How well do you think we’re working as a team right now?
- What could we do to improve communication?
- What’s your team superpower?
- How are you feeling about work?
- What’s working well? What’s frustrating you?
- If you could change one thing, what would it be and why?
- What are your biggest achievements since we last met?
- What are your proud of?
- What successes have you had?