Free Training: Tools To Improve Employee Performance

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One-on-One Meetings

Are one of the most powerful tools in a high-performance leader's toolkit. Make sure you are using these tips to get the best performance from your people

One-on-one meetings are an invaluable tool to build strong relationships with your team members. They are the one meeting high-performance leaders don’t miss or put off on a regular basis.

So how’s your score-card when having regular catch-ups with the members of your team?

Do this First

Grab your calendar and count up the number of 1-on-1 meetings that you had scheduled (and possibly more importantly, attended!) with your team members during the past month.

To be clear, I don't mean meetings where you're discussing work content and projects they have got going on. Those types of meetings, happen on a daily/weekly basis: where you are looking at their priorities, deadlines, what they need help with, etc - and you walk away from the meeting with specific plans on Who, Does what, By when.

What Makes One-On-Ones Different

One-on-one Personal Development meetings are where you're talking with your people about their professional hopes, dreams, and desires. You’re not talking specifically about work projects and tasks. You’re more broadly looking at how they feel about their career and their experience of work, in a general nature. What they are happy, worried or frustrated about.

You can call these meetings 'Personal Development' meetings, 'Space to Talk' meetings, 'Thinking About Where You Are Heading' meetings ... find a title that works for you, your team and the culture you are creating. (I like to call them 'Space To Talk')

If you do have these types of one-on-one meetings scheduled, at least monthly, with your team members - well done you! However, be mindful of the Word Of Warning given below.

The Dangers of Not Having Regular One-on-One Meetings

If you didn’t have regular Space to Talk meetings I want you to think about this. What do you think it costs when people don’t believe in their leader, and/or believe in their organization's vision?

Believing is one of the 4Bs of high-performance. When people believe in their organization, their leader, their team, their degree of discretionary effort goes up. 

4Bs of High-Performance

An individual’s leader has one of the most significant impacts on the amount of discretionary effort he or she will use. Test the validity of this for yourself.

Did you once have a leader for whom you would walk over hot coals? I bet that leader knew a lot about you. Had spent time getting to know you and your dreams and hopes. You felt that he or she had your back.

If you want your team members thinking that way about you, it is imperative that you spend one-on-one time with them. Showing that they, as an individual, is important to you and the organization.

If your people don't feel that their hopes and dreams are important to somebody in the organization - in which they spend the vast majority of their waking hours - then you're likely to have people who are fairly disengaged.

If You Aren't Scheduling 'Space To Talk' 1-on-1 Meetings ...

You probably don't have strong relationships with your people

Sure, you'll need to have more in place than 1-on-1 meetings, to get people firing on all cylinders. To get them coming to work with a spring in their step. However, making the time for 'Space to Talk' is one of the foundational stepping stones.

When the people working with you aren't committed to you, your leadership and your team's success it:

  • means your career stagnates
  • means you deliver lower results
  • means  you don't get superstars into your team
  • means you're just another leader not an inspiring leader.

And, seriously, why are you a part of the Make A Dent Leadership family, if you aren't somebody who wants to make a dent? Someone who wants to be inspired and inspiring!

The Hassles in Having 1-on-1 Meetings

There's probably two challenges that come to mind when you think about holding regular one-on-ones. 

Firstly, it is your diary is already over-filled. Secondly, spending time in conversations with your team members might raise more problems than you're willing to deal with. 

Finding the Time in Your Busy Diary

Let’s start with the over-full diary. Possibly not spending time with your people, is the cause of you running in the hamster wheel. 

The upside of having regular one-on-ones is that you may discover you have people who are eager to get at some of the work that you are feeling overwhelmed by.  For example, during a Space to Talk with one of my team members, I discovered her desire to do more analysis work. It was something she loved, and I loathed. By spending time getting to know which of her strengths she wanted to use more of, we were both able to get our needs met!

Use the information, tips and ideas in the Time Genie training and the How To Delegate So You Get It Done, Done Well and Done On Time training to help you create the time and space to conduct these regular meetings.

The Hassle of More Problems Landing in Your Lap

Regarding them raising problems you don’t want to deal with. It’s better to catch problems when they are small blips on the radar, rather than major crises.

You'll find your one-on-ones will pay huge dividends to you in terms of trust and being able to keep your finger on the pulse of your team and its culture.

How often should you have Space to Talk meetings?

Well, at least monthly, maybe fortnightly. It depends somewhat on the size of your team. Also, they don’t have to be hour-long meetings. Sometimes a 10-15 minute check-in is enough.

What to Talk About During the Meeting

How to make these conversations boring/a waste of time!

Firstly, if you ask them - “How's it going?” That’s the type of question that will either open up a can of worms and/or you’ll hear crickets, as the person flounders to find an appropriate response.

It is human instinct to go to what isn't working. It is also true that most people don't want to be known as a ‘whingy-whiner.'

To avoid this challenge, you need to have an abundance of questions ready, that gives them 'permission' to bring up the awkward topics, but in a way that is a positive experience for each of you. 

You also want to keep some balance in the conversation by asking them questions about what is working.

If you don’t get the balance right, it will be a dissatisfying experience for each of you.

Secondly, if you keep the conversation focused on daily work tasks.

As mentioned earlier, this isn't the point of these conversations. The workflow/task conversations are very much about Behaving and Bottom-line. 

These Space To Talk conversations are focused on the first two Bs of high performance. Believing and Belonging. Helping your team member believe that their success is cared about by you (their leader) and the organization. Supporting your team member to feel that they belong here. That they are accepted with all their strengths and weaknesses.

There are probably four key areas you could cover in the conversation:

  • The team member him or herself. Their hopes, dreams and frustrations
  • You as his or her leader. What you should stop, start, continue doing
  • The team. What's working not working
  • The company. What's exciting, scary, confusing

Below are some sample questions you could use. You wouldn't ask these questions one after the other every session. Mix it up, play around with them. They are simply guides you can use, so the one-on-one meetings don't become stale.

  1. 1
    What are your hopes and dreams for your career?
  2. 2
    What would make for the best work environment?
  3. 3
    What sort of work really excites you?
  4. 4
    What worries/frustrates you - top 3 issues - short and long-term?
  5. 5
    Are you doing enough of what you like?
  6. 6
    Are you doing too much of what you don't like?
  7. 7
    What can we do to change these things and make them better?
  8. 8
    What skills do you bring to the table we aren't using?
  9. 9
    What are your strengths that you'd like to play to more?
  10. 10
    What weaknesses are you working upon - is it a good use of your time? Is your strategy working?
  11. 11
    What will stop you from being successful?
  12. 12
    What was the one thing your last leader did that you like, that I don't do?
  13. 13
    What do I do that you don't like? Is there anything I should, stop, start, continue doing?
  14. 14
    What makes this week a .....?
  15. 15
    What have you learned/changed improved in the past few weeks (looking for their continuous improvement - in themselves and in their work flow)
  16. 16
    Who in your team have you developed skills in/coached/improved performance?
  17. 17
    What rumors have you heard that you're concerned about, want more information about? (This helps them to get to the truth rather than the rumor mill)

If you want another 23 questions you could use, then download the Execution Plan for this article

Fine-Tuning ...

Making the meetings flow freely

Give thought to making these meetings 'walk and talks'. That is, instead of being stuck behind a desk in a very formal environment, try taking a walk around the block. When you do this, it becomes more informal, it shifts energy, and you'll be surprised at how much more open your team member becomes.

A great benefit of stepping out of 'work mode' and moving into 'connect mode,’ is that you also get to stay on top of any tensions that may be bubbling under the surface. Being able to discuss concerns gives people confidence that course corrections can occur expeditiously.

Make sure you schedule the meetings into both your diaries as a permanent meeting. Sure, ‘stuff’ will come up and you’ll need to shift. However, do try to avoid shifting the meeting too often. You don’t want to signal to your team member that their needs are low on your priorities list.

As well, do make sure that there aren’t back-to-back meetings around these Space-To-Talk meetings. It won’t enable you to be fully ‘present’ with your team member if you are stressing about the meeting before or the meeting to come.

Once you're in the habit of holding your 'Space to Talk' meetings, you can ask your team member to take responsibility for running the agenda. To come to the meeting with thoughts and ideas on what they want to do to get the most from their work experience.

Who Does What, by When

Any meeting you have … from a performance improvement meeting to a team meeting to a Space to Talk meeting, a “Who, Does what, By when,” should be the final point of the meeting.

This shifts it from being a nice rambling chat into the creation of an inspired action plan. 

Furthermore, here’s something to keep in the back of your mind. Make sure that your team member is the one who is taking most of the responsibility for Who, Does what, By when.

Sure, there will be some items you should take on, because you have the positional power, or sway that your team member doesn’t. 

However, as a leader, who helps people to be self-managing and self-accountable, you want them to be the one who is taking the actions needed to achieve their hopes and dreams.

Word of Warning

It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway! If you are holding one-on-ones just to look good. Just to put another gold star on your leaderboard – don’t bother!

People will see straight through you.


I had a leader who took me on monthly one-on-ones where he asked the right questions and made the right comments … BUT … his behavior, outside of that monthly meeting, told me he really didn’t give a rip about my success. 

It was blindingly obvious, to me, and the rest of the team, that he was narcissistically going through a process so he could tick a box. All his one-on-ones did was breed greater cynicism and lower levels of desire, by most of the team, to go the extra mile for him.

Your purpose in setting up the regular one-on-one meetings is to come from a place of wanting more for others. Sincerely wanting to help them to get the personal and professional success they desire.

It just happens to be a nice consequence that it is likely you will get more effort and productivity (but it shouldn’t be your driving reason for holding one-on-ones).

In summary 

Finally, if you aren’t fully convinced you need to create the time … go back and read your Position Description. I bet it has somewhere in it that you are responsible for the coaching and development of your team. Reading between the lines, this means that your organization wants you to grow a strong team bench for them for the future. If you aren’t doing this (and doing it well), you aren’t performing your job to the hilt, and you are certainly putting the brakes on your career. 

So, one on ones can be a potent tool for you. They can also be fraught with danger. Manage the danger, manage the expectations well. Run the meetings well and give full accountability to the individual. 

Your Space to Talk meetings will become a great tool to help you create a high-performance team and also set your career on the fast-track, as you develop an exceptionally strong bench of team members. 

Want to dive deeper on this topic?

If you want tap more deeply into my experience at holding successful Space to Talk Meetings, to get the 'how-to's' and the 'what to avoids' Click here to get:

  • A script you can use to manage Team Member expectations (so these don't become conversations where team members are expecting promotions and/or pay-rises that you can't deliver upon),
  • Tips on how to make it safe for them to open up about their career hopes - even if those hopes are for something outside of your organization,
  • What and how to avoid the trap of the Leadership Pygmalion effect in these conversations
  • An additional 23 questions you can use in your conversations
  • How to turn the meeting from a nice chat into an inspired action plan
  • The pdf and the audio of this article
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