The Importance of One-on-Ones
15 July, 2021
Engineering Manager at Jimdo
Usually, whenever conflict flares up within a company, a breakdown in communication is to blame. People can often become frustrated with one another. It leads to a pattern that is difficult to break.
Having regular one-on-ones with your employees helps you keep a close eye on problems before they snowball and become insurmountable. It can be thirty minutes every two weeks — there is not always enough time to focus on everybody that you’re working with. Sometimes, people forget; things come up. Still, the effort expended when planning and conducting these meetings will be well-spent. There is no substitute for one-on-one time with your employees.
When planning to have a one-on-one with somebody, I always prepare an agenda in advance. I ask them to do the same. This gives us both time to reflect. It’s a really good strategy that keeps you both on the same page and proactive about potential problems before they arise. Creating strong action points for your reports to follow gives them concrete measures to take after the meeting is over. Periodically check in on how far they have moved ahead.
Personally, according to my own management style, I almost never focus on projects during my one-on-ones, unless the person is asking for feedback or guidance in that area specifically. Instead, I talk about things like career development and personal feelings. The happiness of the employee is always a concern. Deep-diving into technical matters during this time is ill-advised. There should be other meetings dedicated to discussing the technical work.
If people are happy, they can do pretty much anything. Give super clear feedback about everything; there is always an opportunity for people to improve, especially if you tell them what you expect from them. This part is crucial. You don’t want to be one of those managers who has an employee who’s fine one minute, and then, three months later, they’ve quit. I’ve seen many managers fall into this pattern.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to have some sort of competency framework in place to guide your employees to success. You state clearly what is expected of them so that they know what they will be evaluated on as members of the team. This gives them the means to think about these things autonomously and to identify areas where they can improve. They will know immediately when they are missing something.
I’ve worked with various colleagues for six or seven years at a time. It’s comforting and satisfying to make these connections; I enjoy the feeling of providing a psychological safety net for all of the members of my team. It makes the work feel worthwhile.
- I don’t think it’s necessary to expect people to constantly be making these huge leaps of progress. This “grow or die” mindset is not helpful when developing a team of professionals. What’s important is making sure that they themselves are fine. Help them find a good spot where they are productive and useful. They will move ahead and into other things naturally.
- There will be times where your team is less productive and less happy for one reason or another. These reasons can be personal or professional. If it’s a personal thing, you try to provide help in whatever way that you can. If it’s something professional, from the inside of the company, you have to get to the bottom of the problem within the team or concerning the work. It could be friction or poor management. It has to be an honest discussion. Sometimes, people just get bored.
- At my company, one day a week, we get to work on whatever we want. We call it Deep Work Thursday; we are free to explore something completely different and to experiment. I encourage people to think outside of the box when giving their employees opportunities to branch out. Personally, I put aside an hour every morning, just to think about things. I don’t do any work during this hour. I just think. I grow a lot by investing time regularly in this way.
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