Subtitle: Leaders as Chief Conversation Facilitators
I was reading the proceedings for the 2004 OD Network Conference. Maria Seddio gave a presentation was called, ”Can Conversation be the Cure?” and said that leaders should be Chief Conversation Facilitators. I like the term and can’t think of a better use of a leader’s time than to improve corporate dialogue.
I’ve done several posts on the topic of improving dialogue in the last couple weeks. It’s so critical to the success of our businesses. Today, I am exploring one tool that can improve dialogue and execution: The one-on-one.
A couple of the larger companies I have worked for have had formal one-on-one processes. Few small and medium sized companies use one-on-ones, which is a shame, I think. One-on-ones are a valuable tool that I would like to see more companies using. And for we solopreneurs - how about one-on-ones with key clients?
What is a one-on-one?
A one-on-one is a meeting between two people to discuss current and future work. This is not a performance review, but rather a regular business discussion about the work. In many cases, it is a regular meeting between a manager and his or her employee, but one-on-ones can also occur between peers, team members, and customers and suppliers . The one-on-one lasts between 30-60 minutes and is held weekly, biweekly, or monthly. Topics of discussion typically include:
- Status of projects.
- Status of assignments and tasks.
- Barriers and roadblocks.
- Changes coming down the pike.
- Development plans.
- Reviews of new procedures or processes.
- Idea sharing.
- Other general Q&A.
What are the benefits of having regular one-on-ones?
- Improved clarity and focus for all parties involved.
- Faster identification and removal of roadblocks and barriers.
- Improved communication and relationships - better mutual trust and cooperation.
- Improved performance to goals.
- Improved execution.
- Improved focus on development and a greater likelihood to follow through with development plans.
What are the limitations of one-on-ones?
- They take time!
- Although one-on-ones are held regularly, they should not become substitutions for daily business conversations.
- One-on-ones are only as effective as is the conversation - it is open, candid, lively?
- When one-on-ones are put off and rescheduled, they lose effectiveness. One-on-ones need to be high on the list of priorities.
- Some issues and opportunities should be discussed with the entire team.
Are one-on-ones always leader initiated?
One-on-ones are often initiated my the leader, but it does not have to be this way. Some companies ask employees to take the initiative to schedule one-on-ones. I scheduled regular one-on-ones with a couple of my managers. Peers with interdependent processes should regularly hold one-on-ones (sales and marketing, operations and engineering, HR and training, etc).
Ways to make one-on-ones more fruitful, fun, and worthwhile:
1. Meet as often as possible and makes sense. When one-on-ones are spread too far apart, there is too much to cover and the conversation suffers.
2. Schedule one-on-ones for a regular time and day a week and try to keep the schedule. The regimen will ensure that more one-on-ones occur. Hold one-on-ones in a place with few distractions. A meeting room is often better than an office.
2. Establish a regular agenda with some time for ad hoc topics.
3. Take notes and send a follow-up emails to confirm what was agreed to. The email should focus on the assignments and agreements, not the nitty gritty of the conversation.
4. Come to the meeting prepared with the information you need to have a good discussion. Bring reports and examples. Try to resolve as much as possible at the one-on-one.
5. Both parties should ask lots of questions and be willing to share fully (as appropriate). If all you do is go over project and task status, the one-on-one will lack oomph and impact. Managers should ask about barriers, challenges, and ideas. Employees should ask for feedback, relevant changes and news, goal performance, upcoming opportunities, and ideas. Both should ask about how they can help the other succeed. Peers should share challenges and ask about ideas, upcoming changes, barriers, and how they can help each other succeed.
6. Periodically, the entire one-on-one should focus on development and career goals. While development may be discussed regularly, it is wise to dedicate some time each quarter to discussing career goals and development. While this may seem most appropriate for the manager/employee one-on-ones, it would be beneficial for peers to discuss their goals as well. Peers can often help each other broaden their skills and experiences.
7. Take time to brainstorm new ideas. Have fun with this! If sharing new ideas is a regular part of the agenda, both parties are more likely to come to the table with ideas to share.
If you are using one-on-ones, please drop a comment and share your best practices and words of caution. If you do not use one-on-ones, consider giving them a try to improve execution, dialogue, and business relationships.
And while I am talking about meeting effectiveness, just a reminder that you can still get a FREE copy of my Meeting Cheat Sheets by clicking here.