I have personally been through a couple of such workshops at two different companies which lasted several hours each. Several hours… too much. That’s because when removing aside the long lists of tips and principles it eventually comes down to doing two things when you want a one-on-one meeting to be great: Be yourself, and apply the following four guidelines.
The first thing you want to do is set the scene and keep it informal. Like when you go to play and the atmosphere is very much driven by the way the stage is set. In our case if you are having the meeting in an office, then never sit behind a desk. Have the space between you and the person you are having the conversation with open, and barrier less. Moreover, try for the meetings not to occur only at your office, it reflects too much on hierarchy and brings the unwanted formality into the meeting. Have some of the meetings at the other participant’s office, some in a neutral area, and sometimes at a nearby café if you have one close. The point is, change the scene and always keep it as informal as you can.
The one-on-one meeting between an employee and a manager, belongs to the employee.
A one-on-one meeting should always start with ‘how are you these days’. With ‘how is your family these days’. Or with ‘How was your weekend’. Endless ways to start, but only once guideline that bundles them together, start personal. There should not be any exceptions, like lack of time so ‘let’s get right to the agenda’. These meetings between yourselves and people you lead or manage are meant for getting out of the daily routine items and reflecting on each other’s feelings and thoughts that have lately surfaced.
To be very clear and remove any confusion or redundant debate: The one-on-one meeting between an employee and a manager, belongs to the employee. This gets meaning in the agenda which should cover the employee items with a higher priority, it gets meaning with considering the employee availability with the same attention as the higher ranks, and it gets meaning with allowing the employee to start, always. ‘What’s on your mind’ can be a good starting hint to allow that to occur. And ‘What did you want to talk about today’ can be another.
I know well how real life looks like. You came into the office today after traffic jams from hell, all stressed up with back to back meetings not even allowing you to get lunch today, your bosses boss asked you for an urgent report about the recent outage from the weekend, you cannot go home late today because you promised your significant other they’ll go to gym class today while you watch the kids, and you have a one-on-one with your employee. Now quiz question, which is the easiest to cancel? As much as the answer is obvious, it is not. Your employees cannot be at the bottom of your priority list as much as the short term impact from canceling your meeting with them seems lowest. In the long term, everyone will appreciate your priority and commitment to your employees.