team meetings

How Can You Hold Effective One-On-One Meetings with Direct Reports?

As a leader, your time is tight. If you have more than 4 or 5 direct reports, then time is even more crunched. One-on-one meetings may feel counter-productive when you have limited time and the option to meet virtually. However, these meetings are a key opportunity you have to develop each of those direct reports.

Elizabeth Grace Saunders, the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, says "One-on-ones are one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager."

These are times when they can learn from you what it takes to get to the next level, and you can learn from them what is happening closer to the front-line and gain more practice developing a flexible management style.

Do your directs look forward to their one-on-one times with you?  Do you look forward to them?

The higher up you are, the more structure you will need to have since you will have fewer one-on-one times per month.

Here are a few tips that should help in establishing effective one-on-ones:

1. Come prepared.

One of the first one-on-one conversations you should have with your directs is how to have a one-on-one.

Is there a structure that you want to follow?  How about them?  What would make that time most valuable to them?

There is probably going to be a lot of overlap between the two of you but for clarity’s sake, encourage them to share their expectations, and you share yours.

After you’ve established what one-on-one’s are going to look like, you will know how to prepare for those meetings (see below).

Send an agenda for the one-on-one a couple of days in advance.  Be sure you have learned what it is they most want to talk about during their one-on-one.  Ideally, agenda items should be phrased as questions since questions get people thinking about answers.

This will help you both to prepare or at least start thinking about the topics.

2. Determine how often you will have one-on-ones and where.

Some direct reports may need more time than others, especially those who are newer to their role.  It is important to determine the pace of the meetings and stick to it.

3. Create an environment of focus.

One of the keys to effective one-on-one's is to create an environment where both of you can be fully present and focused.

Silencing or turning off phones completely helps.  But so does making sure there are no interruptions.

Another way to create a high level of focus is to shorten the meetings.  This forces both of you to be sharp.

4. Create a dialogue.

One-on-one meetings should feel more like a dialogue and less like a monologue.  One way to accomplish this is to start personally (see below).  Another is by starting with what the direct wants to talk about.  A third is by asking open-ended questions.  This limits the amount you speak and encourages your directs to say a lot more.

5. Start personally.

What is meaningful to them in life in general?  For many, it is going to be their families or another significant relationship.  For some, it is going to be favorite hobbies, restaurants, or adventures.  Show them that you care by remembering what matters to them.

Moving this way helps both you and your direct to be positive, open and vulnerable, ready to engage the meeting in a spirit of trust and collaboration.

Use your humor.  Laughing bonds people together.  Having a team that is tight with one another and with you will go far in developing the high performing team you’ve always wanted.

6. Start with a Win.

If each of you can share a win that you’ve had since the last time you met, that will go a long way in making the conversation positive.

7. Move to the core - discover what your report is doing in the most important area of their role.

Since time is usually tight, many clients have found it helpful to start with the most important area of their direct report’s role.  This is the point where you especially want to have influence.  It can help set them up for success.  Moreover, their best results will come by focusing on what is essential (cue Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism).

As part of your preparation, know what you want to know about the core.  Brainstorm here so that they can see how you process.  Also, they can sense how much you believe in them through this collaboration.

8. Update on project.

There is probably a project that you especially want to keep an eye on.  Typically, you do that by receiving email updates ahead of the meeting, then the update during your one-on-one is more about moving the project further.

This could also be a brainstorming time.  It could be an opportunity to discover the obstacles that your direct is facing, which you could help them remove.

Here is where you want to know how you could be of most value to them as they work on this key project.

9. Find ways to increase engagement.

You want to get a feel for what their overall engagement is like.  Do they love their role? Company? Their team? You?  What would help increase their engagement?

Getting a pulse on engagement is really important with your higher-performing directs.  Throughout the meeting find ways to increase their engagement by giving them opportunities to do the things that generate engagement for that specific direct report.

10. Feedback.

Feedback doesn’t need to be limited to formal reviews.  Start by sharing something you are grateful for concerning their performance since the last meeting.  Then give them some positive affirmations about their work, and one thing to focus on improving.  This kind of interaction can go a long way.

Hopefully, the more this becomes part of the dynamic between you and them, the more you will see how to help them grow and build upon their strengths.

11. Ask, “What can I do better?”

Asking for feedback is your chance to grow further.  You might not be able to accomplish everything all your directs want, but it is likely that gaining their feedback and modeling change and growth will go far for everyone on the team.

12. Both sides should send an email to one another with next steps

At the end of the meeting, it would be helpful to talk through next steps for each of you.  Get buy-in, and then each of you should send an email with those next steps to each other to make sure that you both are on the same page and know what each of you is empowered to do.

Chew On This:

  • What has been your experience with effective one-on-one meetings?


Ryan C. Bailey is President and CEO of an organizational effectiveness company.


*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients.  No one single client is being singled out.

12 Steps to Lead Effective Meetings

12 steps to lead effective meetings Meetings are inevitable.  They are important to get the team members aligned and leverage their talents.  

But do there have to be so many?  Some business leaders look at their calendar and realize that most of their week is spent in meetings.  There is nothing worse than going to a meeting and wondering why you are there or thinking that your time could have been better spent elsewhere.  

As the lead for your team, it is important that you train those who report to you on how to run effective meetings.  

Like it or not, an unacknowledged recommendation for promotion is the ability to lead meetings effectively.  Those who run meetings well are viewed as credible, capable and respectable.  Those who don’t are typically viewed as incapable, uncaring, disorganized, or incompetent.  

Here are some on how to lead meetings well:

  • Structure the meeting.

Everyone needs to get on the same page. It is important that participants know why they are attending the meeting and how to focus their contributions.  A simple structure that is effective for getting the team aligned includes:

      • What is the purpose of the meeting?
      • What are the objectives and goals?
      • What are we going to walk away from the meeting with?
  • Send out Request for Input.

Once you have the structure, send it out to the participants at least one day ahead and ask for any agenda items that are relevant, given the structure.  Let them know that they have until X day and time to get those agenda items in, so you can evaluate which ones to go with and send out the agenda to the entire team.

This Request for Input will help the participants to start thinking about the meeting.  It will clue them in on how to prepare.

It will help you to gain insights on what is brewing in each individual’s mind and in their various departments.  

  • Determine the agenda, time allotments and attendees.

Few agenda items should be focused on the desired action that will be taken. (Don’t use meeting time to review or share information.  That should happen in the pre-read.)

Make sure that the agenda flows according to your priority.  Don’t try to please everyone.  It is not going to happen.  Go with the best that you received for the greater good of the company and team.  (Show each participant that they are valuable even if others are given more time or accolades.)

For each item:

  • Determine start and stop time.
  • State the goal for that agenda item.
  • List who is the Presenter/Owner.

Make sure the Presenter/Owner is clear on what they are presenting.

Be sure to get their goals and objectives for their section so that you can send it out in the official agenda.

Leave time in each section for open discussion.

  • Prep the meeting locale.

If possible, change up the meeting locale just to give the team different experiences.  

(For shorter meetings, try doing stand-up meetings where all participants are standing.)

Make sure the room is equipped with what you need (whiteboard, markers, whiteboard eraser, projectors, screens).

On your calendar, set an appointment for yourself before the meeting to make sure that the room is set up as desired.

  • Disseminate pre-meeting prep.

Determine what pre-reads are absolutely necessary to make decisions.  This can include any supporting documents such as reports, surveys, etc.  If helpful, highlight the key points to make it easier for participants to scan those documents, in case they haven’t had time to do a thorough pre-read.

Also, have in mind which participants would be best for key roles, such as:

      • The Note taker- They are responsible for:
        • Action items, noting who is responsible and by when it will be accomplished.
        • Key decisions.
        • Issues that came up.
        • What needs to be discussed in the future.
        • Preparing all of the above in a template.
        • (Note: They are not to take notes on the discussion itself, only the decisions.)
      • The Time Tracker- They:
        • Have permission to interrupt, with countdowns of when that topic is to be completed.
        • If the leader says that more time is necessary, the time tracker needs to know how many more minutes is worth giving to that section.
      • The Option Generator:
        • This person is responsible for ensuring that at least three options for resolving a decision are generated (even if quickly dismissed).
  • Set up rules for meeting success.

As the facilitator of the meeting, it’s your call if a tangent is useful or not.  Keep in mind that tangents that generate ideas, or suggest solutions are typically valuable, but tangents that involve complaining, blame-shifting, minimizing responsibility, or rationalizing a mistake, typically are not.

Let the team know that you are going to risk hurting feelings for the sake of the team, and in the future there should be fewer negative tangents.

Let the team know that if one member starts to discuss a topic that is not germane to the goals of this meeting, you will ask the note taker to write that topic down for a future meeting.

Encourage everyone to speak, because even “dumb things can spark ideas in someone else’s mind, which the team would not have heard otherwise.

Also, let them know that in the interests of respecting everyone’s time, and to encourage each person to grow in their ability to contribute meaningfully, you will be ending the meeting on time (see below for exception).

  • Once starting the meeting:
    • Thank everyone for participating in the meeting.
    • Share what is going to happen in the meeting.
    • Share the desired outcomes.
  • Facilitate keeping the structure while still allowing for flexibility:
    • Know what stage you are in:
      • When it is time to brainstorm, let others know and make sure to stress that there is to be no judgment during this phase.
      • When it is time to evaluate options, let the others know that brainstorming has ended.
      • When it is time to make decisions, let them know that the evaluation of options has ended.

Spell out key action items framed in SMART format, decisions made, steps to follow-up, and future issues to consider so that the Note Taker has them

Use humor effectively to make meetings more fun

Make sure to add a flexible portion to the meeting towards the end.  It is important to give some open-ended time.

Don’t be afraid to chuck a part of the agenda if it is clear that the flow of the meeting is going in a different direction.

  • Radical idea- Always end the meeting on time.

Some participants can get really detailed.  Sometimes the details are important, but in order to help them and the others to be sharper and more focused, end the meeting on time, regardless of where you are.

At first, this may frustrate some people, but you as the agenda setter will learn how much time a meeting actually needs, and the participants will learn to be sharper and more succinct when they need to be.

If you let them know at the beginning of the meeting, that will help them as they go through the meeting.

The exception: if it looks like something major is about to happen, then just ask for 10mins to complete it, but the idea is to get the team used to working within a specific time frame, and no longer.

  • Close the meeting with action steps.

Summarize what was accomplished.

Ask the Note Taker to read the action items:

  • Make sure it is clear
  • Frame as much as possible in a SMART format
  • This creates team accountability

State that notes will be disseminated within 24 hours.

Ask for progress emails to be sent at critical intervals.

  • Do not hold meetings to discuss progress; that is expensive.
  • Only request follow up meetings if there are more decisions that need to be made.
  • Send out thank you’s with the meeting minutes within 24 hours of the meeting
  • Thank the participants for their contribution and time.
  • Clearly list action items, who is responsible for them, and the deadlines.
  • If not clear from the action items list, state what other things were decided.
  • Do not share what was discussed.
  • Refine, refine, refine.

Leave time after the meeting to ask yourself:

      • What were the highlights of the meeting?
      • What should I keep doing?
      • If I could wave a magic wand, what would I do differently?
      • What should I start doing?

Following a template like the one above will simplify facilitation and will give your team a routine to follow that everyone can get in to.  Be sure to refine the template as you go.  

Chew On This:

  • What would it be like if everyone on your team could run effective meetings?

Ryan C. Bailey is an Executive Coach who helps business leaders develop in-demand high performing teams.

Ten Actionable Steps To Facilitating Great Skip-Level Meetings Part 1

10 steFour years ago, a client of mine--let’s call him Bob--received the engagement survey results of the eight teams that directly report to him.  Three teams were at 100% engagement, two teams were at 85% engagement and three other teams had dismal scores, between 30%-40% engagement. Bob tried working with the direct reports of the three lowest teams, to build engagement across their team.  When he realized that the leaders wanted out of their roles, he found better positions for them.

Next, he hired three really talented and hungry managers to take the place of those he had re-positioned.  They worked hard to figure out what to do to increase engagement, and they implemented a strategy.

After about a year, the three new managers received the result of the latest engagement survey.

Guess what happened?

There was NO change in the engagement scores across all 8 teams.

Needless to say, Bob was really concerned about the bottom three, though he was still pleased with the top five.  What could the bottom three be missing?

In an attempt to create an environment in which his direct reports could safely share what was happening, Bob hired me to talk to one of the newer hires, Eva.  Eva shared that her team was being asked to handle far too many calls that were not a part of their original mandate.  “Somehow all of these support calls get dumped on us,” she explained.  “We can’t possibly handle these calls and still meet our goals.  It’s like everyone on the team has two full time jobs.”

I could see that while Eva, the direct report, is still engaged and hungry, those under her are struggling.  So how does my client help those two levels below, while still empowering Eva and the other two managers?

Here are the steps Bob used.  I hope they work for you as well as they worked for him.

  • As the leader, sit down with your manager and get the manager’s buy-in for a Skip-Level Meeting.

It would be easy for the manager to assume that the focus of the Skip-Level Meeting will be to hear all the complaints about her and build a case for her removal.  But a Skip-Level Meeting is NOT about that.

A Skip-Level Meeting is about hearing the perspectives of those closest to the front-lines so that you, as the leader, can best coach the manager.

Make sure that your direct report is comfortable with this meeting and can enthusiastically support it.

  • If you haven’t communicated much with people two levels down, start doing this months before the Skip-Level Meeting is solicited.

In today’s there-isn’t-enough-time-to-do-everything-at-my-job environment, it is not hard to see why a leader may not have much of a relationship with those two levels below them.  Before having a Skip-Level Meeting, walk around, start conversations, create an air of safety, learn about what matters to those employees, whether it is work-related or not, and make sure that the team views you favorably.  This is a critical step.  It will delay the Skip-Level Meeting for weeks, but it is very important.

  • You and the manager send a joint email to the manager’s team.

Co-create a positive and encouraging email detailing why you want to have the Skip-Level Meeting.

Be sure to tell the team what is truly going well, and how you want to make things even better.  Let them know what you are looking to understand.  I would send the questions you are going to ask ahead of time.  See under 5) in Part 2.

In this email, stress that you want to make the meeting as safe a place as possible in order to learn what needs to be learned.  Your aim is to make things run more smoothly so you can better coach the manager for the benefit of everyone, and therefore you will keep everything they say in the strictest of confidence.

No one on the team will know anything that anyone else shared.  Instead, you are going to integrate all the responses from all the meetings, and pull out themes to coach.  Stress that it is important that you know the details so that you can best coach the manager.

  • Create a safe environment

Make sure that the space where the Skip-Level Meeting will take place is free of distractions.  You want to be fully present with the person to whom you are speaking.

Once in the Skip-Level Meeting, reassure the employee that you will not convey anything they share with you to the manager, or to anyone else on the team.  You want them to “let it rip.”  You are far more interested in reaching solutions than in assigning blame for anything that is off.

Stress that you don’t want this meeting to be focused only on the negative. You also want to celebrate what is going well, and find ways to strengthen that.

Recognize something that they do really well, and tell how it impresses you.

Chew On This:

  • What do you most want to find out from those on the front-lines of your business?

*This blog is a compilation of three different clients.  No one particular client is being singled out.