How To Run Engaging 1-On-1 Meetings

In a face-paced hybrid work environment, finding and setting time for one-on-one meetings can be difficult and nerve-wracking. Even more so when the “this could have been an email” sentiment happens on either side. But, on the other hand, it is an incredible opportunity to listen to your team member, get action points from it and improve their employee’s journey in the company, as well as to give guidance, steer the direction, address all major blockers, and ask some crucial questions. And as these do not come daily (we sure hope they don’t), they must be engaging and effective.

Unfortunately, we’ve all been in meetings with our managers, where we’ve left, and felt less motivated than when we went in. The chances are your manager also felt demotivated. It could be that some of the individuals in your team who’ve been in meetings with you felt worse afterward.

Why Are 1-On-1 Meetings Difficult?

If you are not motivated when you next go into a meeting to motivate those in your team, nothing will go your way. There is just so much going on in meetings, and it is easy to lose focus. 

Start by asking yourself this question: do you understand what makes each team member tick? If you don’t know what their motivators are, the likelihood is that they are already quiet quitting due to lack of motivation. However, if you were one of those bosses, we seriously doubt you would be here trying to boost your team’s engagement. 😉

Often, if you haven’t prepared, it’s challenging to ensure you cover the things you want to cover in a way that will motivate your team. As a human being, you are prone to bias, and with a lack of preparation, that bias impacts your performance as a manager. In addition, changing your mindset and motivating anyone is always challenging if you don’t prepare before you go into a meeting. For example, if you’re upset with someone in your team, there’s that tension inside you, and without structure, it may come out to the meeting. As a result, your meeting can have undesirable outcomes. Similarly, if you like someone or they had an outstanding performance in the past, giving any piece of negative feedback will be nerve-wracking. 

We spend a lot of time with our team, sometimes even more than we do with our partners. In those cases, we try to make our relationship with the team pleasant, avoiding conflicts we might cause when we bring up difficult situations. If you doubt yourself, it might affect your confidence in addressing some of the issues that need to be addressed. And the last thing is that you’re often encouraged or made to deliver a message you might disagree with because that’s the company’s strategy. Your job is to implement that strategy. Even when you might disagree with it, and sometimes you feel a conflict in authenticity, the fact that you’re getting your team to do things that you might not believe in yourself. More importantly, they probably know you don’t think it. 

The critical thing to remember is that this is not happening only to you – most managers with team responsibility have experienced all this. 

So how can we overcome these problems and make 1-on-1 review meetings pleasant and productive?

Getting In The Right Mindset

It is all about them, not about you. It’s all about them, and getting what they want will make them feel more inspired to go out and do their job better. The one-on-one review meeting is a two-way street. One of the reasons managers struggle with disagreement is that they are not prepared to be blamed. So if you want your team to be more motivated, and that is your job, make it a number one goal that your team leaves that meeting feeling better than they did when they went in.

What Motivates People In Your Team

How well are you connected with what motivates each individual within your team? You might think they should roll up and do an excellent job because I pay them well. What a base salary gets you is someone turning up and doing a job. If you want someone to do a brilliant job, you need to unlock their discretionary effort, and that’s the effort they’ve got to give if they feel super-engaged in what they’re doing. 

There are different theories and philosophies around what motivates people, and here is a quick list of things to consider:

  • External incentives, such as money, are powerful motivator, but it encourages focusing on short-term results at the expense of long-term ones.
  • Curiosity is ingrained in all of us, and when there is a gap in our knowledge, we get driven to bridge this gap to alleviate the sense of missing out. We want to know what we don’t know once we’ve been informed. Boredom or disengagement are the opposites of curiosity.
  • People like to feel in control and love the feeling of autonomy, as it makes us happier and healthier across several dimensions. So giving people a sense of having options is a compelling motivation.
  • A positive self-image, being perceived favorably by oneself, is a powerful motivator. Likewise, our actions offer a window into our personality and preferences. For example, we are giving money to a homeless person.
  • Hitting “rock bottom.” Some people need to feel the ground moving under their feet to feel pushed to do something. 
  • We enjoy winning, but we despise losing even more. The sorrow of loss is more intense than the pleasure of gain. Loss aversion causes status quo bias, a strong desire to maintain one’s existing state.
  • People are also motivated to validate or confirm their current self-perceptions. As a result, we want to associate with those who view us as we see ourselves and avoid those who do not.
  • Interestingly – current mood can be considered a form of motivation. There must be a fit between the advice we provide and the current perspective of the person in front of us. For example, people are considerably more inclined to participate in tiresome jobs when they are in a good mood.
  • The views of others are essential to all of us. We are motivated by the need to gain the respect of our peers, and we prefer accomplishments that are recognized by others.
  • Motivation from inside. The emphasis is on the enjoyment derived from doing something rather than accomplishing some final objective. People get older and become less interested in external-oriented aspirations.

Planning 1 on 1 meeting

When planning a meeting, the first thing to come to mind is the schedule, but that is where we get things wrong. Our number one priority should be to set a clear objective for the meeting. For example, if you are running a performance review, your goal should be to find a way to empower your team member to improve his performance. It is very easy to get caught up in minor details, and before you know it, two hours have passed, your meeting slipped out of your control, and you have not achieved what you wanted.

Once you know your objective, you can start planning how to get there. For example, what topics do you need to clarify on the way? If you anticipate challenging conversations that may come up through the meeting, you can mentally prepare for them and have your answers formulated. 

Additionally, you really, really need to ask yourself – could this have been an email (or slack message)? Finally, be mindful of your time and the time of your team members – make sure you focus on what matters, try to be fast and agile, and have 1 on 1 discussion when it makes sense and can benefit everyone involved.

Apart from planning meeting objectives, you must set time aside for listening. Even if you think your employees will tell you what is on their minds, the people who feel comfortable openly giving feedback to their manager are rarer than a dodo. So if you want to hear feedback, and if you want to improve and progress, you should plan to ask open questions that allow them to express an opinion. As long as you ask open end questions starting with tell me, explain to me, describe to me, how about, you will find you only do 10% of the talking in review meetings, and the other individual does 90%. And the best thing and the most motivational thing is feeling like you have been heard.

Structure 1-On-1 Conversations To Minimize Interruptions

What does having a structured dialogue look like in practice? The key is structure, and the reason for the structure is so both sides can prepare to make the best of it. The key to structure is to have a clear goal, set talking points and set a time frame for the meeting instead of interrupting each other. Then, of course, you should be able to talk informally over the in-between one-on-ones. 

So often, we interrupt each other, but nobody’s at their best when they’re being interrupted. The ideal thing is to track your reports’ performance in real-time, using Empowerly, and check in before. That way, you will know their burning issues and status updates on ongoing tasks and have all the insight you need. The key is that you will make that dialogue much more effective by preparing. 

The structure leads to the substance, and everybody’s different when it comes to the substance and structure. So the dialogue you need to have with one employee may be very different from the dialogue you need to have with another. So that’s why one-on-one is where all the action is. 

Best managers do not have one style – they have many, and they adapt to their team members with the single purpose of bringing the best in them. Someone might need you to review their to-do list with them daily. For others, that would be ridiculous. Some people are self-starting high performers. You meet with them to make sure that you’re helping them clear obstacles out of their way, get them the resources they need, or help them navigate interdependency. Or maybe you’re trying to get ideas from them because they’re so good. 

The conversation you develop with one person will be very different from the conversation you start developing with another person. The structure is vital, but it might be every week for one person, every other week for another person, and every other month for another. And likewise, the substance will be different, depending on what you need from that person and what that person needs from you.

The Fast Review

Now that you got your mindset straight, you understand what motivates your team, you’re prepared, and you need a straightforward structure for any review meeting you go into. This review meeting structure is called the FAST review meeting. 

F stands for Feeling. No matter what review meeting you’re running, it would help if you started with how people feel. What is their level of motivation, what challenges do they have, and what frustrations are they having now? This is the most important thing to start with because that’s the most important thing to them. You may have something you want them to do or think differently about, but if they are focused on their problems, they will not be open to new ideas.

The second aspect we’re going to talk about is Activity. How are their projects getting on, how did meeting with this person go, and how effective have they been at this? It’s about what they do daily and how effectively they have been with it. What challenges are they having, and what more do they think they could do to achieve their objectives? This is where you listen as much as possible. When they say their piece, try to give some recognition for their Success. 

The last bit of the FAST review meeting is targets. What are our focus areas for the upcoming period? And those focus areas could be based on projects pr behavioral focus areas, or things you’ve got to deliver.

Using 1:1 Meetings To Foster Belonging

One of the most overlooked parts of people in leadership positions is handling your team’s energy and emotions, specifically during one-on-one meetings. So, how can you use your position of authority to promote a sense of belonging in one-on-one sessions? 

One is to support others in reading your expressions. When you are in a position of authority, your expressions are no longer your own. Those around you will interpret your reactions to understand how things are going. For example, you might be exhausted and irritable due to a lack of sleep. Still, your team members, reading your expressions, are more sensitive in conversations because they might believe you are agitated due to something they said or did. 

Consider your tone and the words that you use. When you’re in a leadership role, everything you say carries more weight. Praise can generate high motivation and critique, and framing incorrectly can cause unnecessary angst. Even switching the type of question you ask from “why did this happen” to “how did this happen” can improve your communication. Instead of reacting defensively, your team members will start focusing on problem-solving. 

And lastly, help them know that they and their voice matter. The ultimate outcome of belonging is that people feel they matter;,; therefore, they have a more profound sense of ownership and are excited to bring their best selves to work. You generate that sense of mattering is to simply asking them how they’re doing. They think and convey that you care about them as human beings. When you can manage your expressions and tone, and say that they matter in one-on-one meetings, then you’re truly able to manage their emotions and energies in such a way that they not only know they belong, but know, feel, and believe that they belong.

We work with people, and people are different day-to-day, hour-to-hour. The key to enjoying your work is to empower others. Staying motivated in 1 on 1 review meetings is realizing it is more of an art than a science. It is a journey of improvement rather than nailing one-to-one review meetings from day one.

Empowerly provides everything for enabling a culture of success and collaboration, fueling the team with empowerment.