1:1s with your team – worthwhile or waste of time?

1:1s with your team - worthwhile or waste of time?


What’s your reaction to that question: do you relish the time you spend having a 1:1 conversation with one of your team members to discuss their progress? Or do you find 1:1s a waste of time, a tick-box exercise? Or maybe, you find 1:1s a little uncomfortable?

Welcome to your job.

If you’ve progressed in your career to the point where you manage a team of people, their performance is your joint responsibility. It’s not about power – it’s about empowering. As I work with managers to develop their ability to bring out the best from those they manage, it’s always rewarding to see the lightbulb moment when they realise they have this responsibility.

However, I also hear of managers who:

  • frequently postpone or cancel their 1:1s (“something’s just come up…”)
  • don’t prepare for the 1:1 conversation
  • can’t remember what was discussed and agreed last time
  • don’t hold each other accountable

But as you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you want to do better than that. So here are my top 5 tips to make your 1:1s worthwhile for you and your colleagues:

1. Keep the goals in sight

Ensure that goals are robust and SMART: specific, measurable, relevant and time-bound. 1:1s are a perfect setting to track progress towards those goals. What’s working well – and what’s impeding that progress? What support might be needed?

2. Ask questions – and listen

Your 1:1 conversations are just that – so ask questions to get the dialogue going and listen well to your colleague’s responses. Try a few of the coaching questions in this post.

3. Encourage reflection and learning

When your colleague describes the work they’ve been doing lately, encourage them to reflect on what worked well – and not so well. What have they learned from the experience? Their answers, as they figure out what to do next / differently will be more powerful than you spoon-feeding suggestions.

4. Make notes and use visuals

If your 1:1s are ‘just a chat’ they’re unlikely to deliver the development required. You and your colleague need to make notes of what was discussed, steps to take and by when. Visuals are more memorable than words alone, so if you’ve drawn a diagram or process map for example, ensure your colleague can capture it on their phone. Use these to start the conversation at the next 1:1.

5. Give and get feedback

Ensure that feedback is given and elicited. As a manager, giving clear, actionable feedback is one of the most important development tools in your kit. But it’s not just one-way – ask your team member for feedback: about how you work with them, or about a colleague who’s doing a great job. Here are some tips for giving praise – without looking a creep.


Got a question about 1:1s? Want to help your people have more motivating 1:1s? please get in touch to find out more.



Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ and ‘How to be Zoomly at work’




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