Every manager should meet with team members on a routine schedule. There are a lot of names for these meetings. The one we’ll use is a one-on-one, as we’re meeting with each member of the team individually. These allow us to check in on team members, see if they’re happy, let them know what they’re doing well, and challenge them to be better where needed.
Each company has a different definition of what should happen in these routine meetings. Early in the life of a company, we’re wearing so many hats, we often forget to have them. Later, when companies are mature, we often dilute them with checklists and make the meetings less about human interaction and culture and more about the formality of hitting a button in a database to show they happened.
One on ones should be valuable to both the employee and the employer. The employer has a certain level of performance that is expected. People not meeting that performance need to know in a clear and concise fashion. Those meeting and exceeding the expected performance should know as well! And our teams should get feedback not only on the current job but on how they’re tracking towards the next job as well.
The frequency and duration of one on ones is really based on the needs of a given organization. For those new to doing routine check ins with staff, begin with a half hour to hour meeting that occurs every other week and increase or decrease how often they occur and the duration based on how much time is needed for each team member. Remember these are about the team members, but also about making sure the organization is getting what we need from the team and finding ways to help everyone excel in their role.
There are a few main points to cover in our routine meetings. Consider the following:
Ask how things are going. Make sure to be personable, even when there’s an agenda. Make sure to understand a little something about their personal lives without coming across as being contrived. Authenticity is important as we won’t actually pick up on things we need to if we don’t actually care about people.
Inquire laterally. Are there any issues with other team members? Are there places where we can help facilitate cross-team alignment?
Communicate any changes in the organization that are impactful to the individual (staffing, alignment, budgets, new customers, etc).
Review any areas of exceptional achievement or areas that need addressing (it’s best to bookend problem areas with achievements when possible).
Ask how the role can be made better. This is a great way to give teams the ability to innovate their position or explain any areas of concern.
Review steps towards an Individualized Learning Plan.
We don't have to cover each of these, but it's helpful to have a cheat sheet of items to cover and show action. If a problem area is identified by the employee, identify what was done and potential time lines to resolve issues at the next meeting. This helps set an expectation that they'll do the same when there are issues they need to resolve or deliverables requested.
Notice that up to this point we haven't gotten into task management. Many developers will use Scrum or Kanban for that, and so careers get managed separately from the necessary work to be done. But these meetings are also an ok time to review tasks and update project plans. Just make sure to put in the time to address the well being of each person as well.
Delivering good news and adulations is a great feeling for both the manager and the employee. Delivering areas of improvement is harder but potentially much more valuable for everyone involved. Don't back away from this but instead be direct and concise. Problems don't go away on their own usually. Our teams need and want coaching - it's what improves their careers.
It’s often easy to overlook One on Ones when employees are really busy with customers in the field, when we have to ship a feature, or when there are too many sales calls. Don’t. Keep the routine check-ins, even if we need to move them around. It can be tempting to do so, but don’t put them after hours, either. We’ve made the commitment to hire someone and guide their career, and while we can certainly grab coffee or drinks after hours, we must show a continued commitment by doing business during business hours and by continuing to care about the well being of those who joined us on the adventure to bring our innovation to market.