Dial up the impact of your 1:1s

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How was your last 1:1 with your boss?


Did it leave you feeling heard, understood or possibly even inspired? When I ask most people this question, a small majority say yes, but most reflect back a conversation about the numbers, meeting targets, areas for improvement. These people also work in companies that trot out the statement 'our people are our most important asset' - yep, they're assets alright, income producing assets!


I've noticed from talking to people in my network that some companies are adopting more frequent, less formal check-ins as a way to meet the desire for people to have more feedback; but equally few organisations have provided any training, guidance or coaching to support the transition to this new way of engaging the rank and file.


1:1 meetings can be a powerful forum for transforming the attitudes, behaviours or skills of your team members one conversation at a time. Let me be clear though, I don't use 1:1 meetings to go over the numbers or look at the figures. This might come up anecdotally, but for me, the purpose(s) of a 1:1 are connection, support, coaching and mentoring.


When I hired a coach a year ago, I was given a conversation framework that I thought was a bit weird until I realised how powerful it was for empowering me to take responsibility for my own progress and to direct the conversation i.e. to get what I most want and need.


The four questions my coach shared with me are brilliant in their simplicity and when I studied neuroscience during our coaching I could see how the sequence of these questions helps to facilitate a powerful conversation.


Before I share them though, it's important to state that you will likely want to use a different structure for direct feedback about areas of performance that need improvement. If you're really good, you'll be able to weave in the feedback within this structure in a powerful way through deeper reflective questioning about specific elements of work.


Question: What Is Working / What Are You Celebrating?

Let's face it, life is busy and hectic and for some people it can feel like there are endless problems to solve or things to worry about.


In reality, each day there is something to celebrate (read, be grateful for). These small steps forward are like the bricks carefully placed by a stonemason until one day there stands a beautiful building.


When you ask someone what they are celebrating, it focuses the brain on the positive and helps to release the feel good chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin (Glaser, J., 2015). It literally makes people happier. One last thing that helps is to take the time to allow team members to feel the wins, not just list them one by one.


Who wouldn't want to start a 1:1 conversation talking about what's working and what they are celebrating.


Question: What's Not Working?

It may seem counter-intuitive to ask this question just after you've been celebrating, but it's my experience that looking at the problems after first considering all the good things actually helps to grease the wheels of a 1:1 conversation.


Having just been present to the feelings of celebration and what's working, problems can seem less large, if even by degrees. A simple test is to switch these two questions and ask yourself - do you really want to celebrate any good stuff after recounting all the things that aren't working right now? I didn't think so.


Question: What Insights Do You Have Since We Last Spoke

I love this question. As a leader it gives me some insights into self-awareness, their discovery process and the conclusions they are drawing about the situation, challenges or issues they are working on.


It also means that it's on them to do the work. Phrased differently, this question could be - what solutions have you come up with to the things that are or aren't working. This question takes me, the leader, out of the equation - after all, it's not about me.


Question: What Would You Like To Work On Today

Leaders may have their own agenda for what needs to be discussed and as I noted above, the structure of the meeting would change - just as it would if you have agreed to use the 1:1 time to do mentoring on a specific topic.


By asking your team member what they want to work on, you let them decide what's most important for them. The have the opportunity to feel heard and understood and to have agency over their own development. In my experience, even people who 'struggle' to come up with something, often have an issue niggling in the recesses of their mind but in the moment may be embarrassed to raise it.


If nothing is offered, there's an opportunity to return to insights, learnings or to focus on any outstanding issues that need addressing from the perspective of the leader.


Leaders will often find that there's enough to discuss in any of the areas above, that this question doesn't get asked. In these cases it helps to check in with the team member to make sure there wasn't something else that they specifically wanted to focus on for today.


This is by no means the only way to approach 1:1 meetings, and there are a multitude of ways that you can structure powerful conversations that get below the surface of issues within your teams. Other ideas to consider are:

  • walking meetings - getting out of the office and taking a walk for an hour helps to break up the day and can offer new insights and perspectives.

  • adding a social element like a meal or coffee somewhere can make a meeting feel more relaxed, but it can also make serious conversations feel more casual, which may not be your intention.

If you do want to do this, pick a venue that elicits a feeling you want to evoke through the meeting.


I'm keen to hear how you structure your 1:1 meetings. I have my experience as a coachee, a coach and a line manager, but I'm curious to hear about yours.


Tim Snell is a Coach, Facilitator and Senior Director of Bid & Capture at ICF. Tim will be facilitating an interactive breakout session at the UK Association of Proposal Management Professionals Conference on Trust, Connection & Stress Resilience in Bid Teams at London Heathrow, October 8 & 9. Full details are available here.


At the APMP UK Professional Development Day, Tim will also facilitate a breakout session on Coach to Lead for Bid Teams.

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