A good manager will agree that one-on-one meetings are the single most important linking bridge in an organization. They help build a connection, share feedback, and discuss work-related issues honestly.
However, there are chances that managers make common mistakes in one-on-one meetings that end up making the meetings unproductive. These mistakes, if not eliminated, can demoralize employees and lead to the meeting creating more problems than it solves.
To help curtail this, we have gathered 10 common mistakes to avoid during one-on-one meetings in this detailed guide, along with tips to rectify them. Read on!
One major determinant of the success of any meeting is the team's readiness for it. Scheduling a one-on-one meeting without an agenda is a waste of time, as it begets irrelevant discussions.
As a manager, you should be prepared to lead the meeting and stir up the conversation with adequate questions. Creating an agenda with your employee before the meeting will not only guide the conversation but also give your direct reports a sense of belonging, making them come prepared for the session.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Collaborate with your direct reports to create an agenda before the meeting. Ask for their input regarding what else they may have to discuss. To make things easier and more efficient, you can use a tool like Airgram to create an agenda and share it with teammates, who can view, edit, and comment on it to facilitate collaboration.
With the frequency of one-on-one meetings, it is tempted to turn them into status updates. However, there should be a different avenue for status updates, and one-on-ones should be focused on your employees, paying attention to their career goals, personal growth, and exchange of feedback.
“One-on-ones are such an important time to build trust, and that’s tough to do if this time is treated as a status update.”
-Connor Bradley, Growth Team Lead At Jobber
You should maximize this unique opportunity to focus solely on your employees and get feedback from them. This is the key to building the required trust and synergy in a workforce.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Leave out everything that has to do with the project and assignment updates from the agenda. Structure your questions and discussions around your employees’ pain points, aspirations, and growth.
Distractions are show-spoilers. You should inculcate the habit of going to one-on-ones with total concentration. This is because the urge to frequently check your devices for new emails and messages will create a negative impression of you before your employees. It only goes to show them that this meeting and, consequently, them (employees) are not your priority at the time, and you have somewhere else to be.
⭐️ Pro Tip: You can start by keeping your devices out of reach or setting your status to "do not disturb." Maintain active eye contact and ensure a flow in your conversation with your employee.
Your actions and reactions during the meeting send a positive or negative signal to your employee.
When you give your employee the impression that you are eager to wrap up the meeting, they will naturally feel discouraged and uncomfortable discussing specific issues that may be personal to them.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Be sure to schedule a convenient time for the meeting. Also, it is a good practice to have a set duration for the meeting, and it should be known to the employee. If you can create a buffer to extend the time a bit if the need arises, that will be best.
Lastly, be punctual and attend the meeting with total concentration and in a well-composed state.
The purpose of one-on-ones is to get to know the human behind the employee’s face you see often, make them feel valued, and iron out crucial issues. This will never be achieved if you do most of the talking.
As a manager, you are required to be the trigger in the meeting. Ask a few questions that will provoke an honest and personal conversation. Then leave your direct reports to do the talking while you closely pay attention.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Intrigue your employees by asking the right questions, and then give them more time to discuss freely with you. Learn more about one-on-one questions to ask an employee.
Note-taking at meetings has proven to be a very effective method of keeping track of conversations and monitoring the progress of your direct reports.
Taking notes at one-on-ones not only gives you a head start for subsequent meetings but also allows you to capture the action items and make proper follow-ups, showing your commitment and dedication to your employees' growth.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Make note-taking a habit. Write short and meaningful words to ensure you don’t spend the entire duration taking notes. Better still, you can use a tool to generate meeting notes automatically. This allows you to focus on the conversation while keeping the record needed for follow-ups.
As humans, we frequently experience challenges and hardships that may affect our state of mind and productivity in our day-to-day activities. Your employees have personal issues to deal with, and these may affect their input into the workforce.
"Treating employees benevolently shouldn't be viewed as an added cost that cuts into profits, but as a powerful energizer that can grow the enterprise into something far greater than one leader could envision."
Harold Schultz - founder and former CEO of Starbucks
As a manager, the one-on-one meeting is your best chance to learn about your direct reports' well-being. Ask them personal questions and create the right environment that will make them feel comfortable to answer.
⭐️ Pro Tip: At the beginning of your meeting, open the floor with icebreaker questions such as:
How are you doing today?
How is everyone in the family?
Is there anything you’ll like me to help you with?
Lastly, you can trigger these personal conversations by discussing something dear to you. This will make the employee feel comfortable opening up to you.
The worst mistake you can ever make as a manager is having one-on-one meetings sporadically. This will create a massive gap between your company and the employees, leading to low morale and a decline in productivity.
Scheduling one-on-one meetings twice or three times a year will never achieve anything tangible, as too many things can happen, and small issues may turn into big problems. Prioritize one-on-ones and have them frequently so that you will always know your direct reports' status and progress.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Try scheduling the meeting with regularity, ideally weekly or monthly, and ensure you stick to the routine.
Never make the mistake of doing the thinking for your direct reports; the efficiency of the meeting should be measured by their feedback.
Try listening to their opinions on the one-on-ones; perhaps they have hints on how to make the meeting more effective. Are they comfortable with the present modality? Or would they like to try something new?
⭐️ Pro Tip: Give room for constructive feedback from your subordinates after every one-on-one. Doing this regularly will improve the quality of your meetings and the efficiency of your workforce.
Never shy away from mentoring your direct reports. What differentiates a normal manager from a leader is how well he can constantly inspire the employees to be innovative, think creatively, and aim for perfection.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
--John Quincy Adams
The atmosphere is often saturated with disturbing news about layoffs and the future of the organization; offer them words of encouragement and let them see the bright side of things.
⭐️ Pro Tip: Make yourself available as a point of reference for them. Be an open book they can always learn from, and readily share your experience with them even when they don’t ask.
As mentioned earlier, one of the significant distinguishing factors between a successful one-on-one meeting and an unproductive one is a well-planned agenda. Below are some of the other advantages of creating an agenda before your meetings.
Creates a meeting path
Meetings with a pre-set list of topics tend to be more organized and productive than meetings without. An Agenda allows you to focus on the decided topics and avoid deviation and time-wasting.
Coming fully prepared
Having an agenda before the meeting fosters a more engaging and productive session. It enables all participants to come up with various questions and answers that improve the quality of the discussion.
Exchange of feedbacks
Developing an agenda invites comments from participants about their areas of interest, ensuring that essential subjects will be covered. Modifying an agenda to incorporate the subjects that attendees wish to discuss can increase engagement.
While it is easy to talk about all things agenda, creating them can be challenging. Thankfully, Airgram not only allows you to build and share a meeting agenda but also offers free agenda templates created by professionals. These templates can be modified to suit your use case, eliminating the need to create an agenda from scratch.
Below are some popular one-on-one meeting agenda templates:
You can check this page to get more one-on-one meeting agendas.
The benefits that come with effective one-on-one meetings are unparalleled, and the secret ingredient to their success lies in mastering their fundamental values and averting those common mistakes that managers often make during meetings.
By avoiding the aforementioned mistakes, you may have more successful one-on-ones, form wonderful connections, and create a supportive and trustworthy work environment.
Michael started his career as a product manager and then developed a passion for writing. He has been writing on technology, remote working, productivity, etc., hoping to share his thoughts with more people.