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Empower your line reports to own their one-to-ones with these four stepsEmpower your line reports to own their one-to-ones with these four stepsEmpower your line reports to own their one-to-ones with these four steps

Empower your line reports to own their one-to-ones with these four steps

Allowing your line report to manage the agenda of a 1:1 helps them get the most value possible from it. However, it can require a little setting up to for them to do it effectively. Here are four simple steps you can follow to get your 1:1s set up so that your line reports can manage the agenda effectively.

Step 1: Be clear on the purpose of 1:1s

1:1s are quiet, focused time for you to collaborate on issues that are important to your line reports. It's important to remember that the 1:1 is their time. Because of how most organisations are structured and the balance of power/seniority between managers and line reports, you can get your line reports' attention on specific issues whenever you need it, however they are unlikely to be able to do the same with you.

So, considering this might be their only private time with you during the week where they own the agenda, the most valuable activities for the meeting are likely to be coaching, mentoring and even a little venting of their frustrations – activities they are unlikely to get a chance to do elsewhere.

Over time, 1:1s often become get used as a catchall meeting to discuss things that have been forgotten or overlooked elsewhere. If this is the case, get realigned on the purpose of 1:1s with your line report. Talk through what the most valuable use of the session would be for them and explain the changes you'll make to ensure they get the most possible from their 1:1s.

Step 2: Make space for 1:1s to be as valuable as possible

As mentioned in the previous step, 1:1s often become a space for discussing things that fall through the gaps elsewhere at work, and many of the things that end up using time in 1:1s could be addressed better elsewhere.

Look back over the 1:1s for the last few months and make a note of the things that took up time which could be better addressed through different channels.  Once you've flagged the activities taking up time in 1:1s that can be tackled at other times and don't add value, set up alternative, more appropriate channels for them. Here are some common examples to get you started.

  • Project/product status updates – These are best addressed with email, dedicated team meetings or project management tools.
TIP: Create a dashboard for current open projects that makes statuses immediately clear. This could be dynamic and baked into your productivity tools or a simple spreadsheet or deck that all line reports keep up to date.
  • Updates from your side – Unless it's personally sensitive to a particular person, this doesn't need to be in a 1:1. This can be handled very similarly to status updates. Especially when it is information that needs to be shared with the entire team, it's an inefficient use of your time to share this individually with each team member. Find a way to distribute the information as widely as possible, and as few times as possible.
TIP: Do weekly update email to the team where they all contribute key info and you can share information once to all the team together. If there's something in there they want to dig into in more detail, they can raise it with you of their own accord.
  • Appraisals / performance management – Better as a dedicated meeting to manage expectations. Schedule as needed as a stand-alone meeting to make sure there is enough time to do it properly, as it often takes longer than most 1:1s.
TIP: Schedule appraisals for the year well ahead of time according to your company's cadence. If they are in the diary well in advance with links to all the forms/docs that need to be completed, it's easier to keep track of them and make the most of the times.
  • Firefighting & urgent blockers – No one should be waiting for 1:1 to tackle major issues, but often they do when it's not clear how else these to address such situations.
TIP: Make escalation pathways clear for urgent issues and set expectations for how they will be dealt with. This could be as simple as an email with 'urgent' prefix or a flag that people add to comments/tickets that need your attention

Step 3: Set up a clear home base for 1:1s

If the 1:1s are to be a development opportunity, it's vital to be able to look at progress over time. Having a shared document where all the 1:1 information is captured also helps you and the line report align over what was discussed and provides a space for the line report to set the agenda before the session.

Agree on when you'll look at it before the session so that the line report knows when to add their agenda items or notes.

We'd suggest a Lean Coaching Canvas but even a simple document can work - the important thing is that everything is captured in one place and you can both take a look beforehand (no surprises in the session).

Step 4: Get aligned on the goal for the session

If you've set everything else up right, your line report should be arriving at their 1:1 with a goal already in mind. You can encourage them to focus on this goal by starting with an honest non-leading question that lets your direct report set the agenda for the conversation. For example:

  • What would you like to work on together?
  • What do you want to get out of the 1:1 today?
  • What's on your mind? (and follow up with coaching questions)

The rest of the session

Once you've started with a coaching question, you should be in a good place to coach or mentor your direct report through their current challenges. The Lean Coaching Canvas is a great format for using coaching in your 1:1s and if your line report gets stuck coming up with ideas, you could try one of these 20 coaching questions to help them get unstuck.

If you'd like to build your skills further and use coaching to optimise your 1:1s, our Learn to Coach Sprint will help you do just that. Or if you'd prefer to chat to us about being coached yourself, please book a free coaching consultation call.

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Wil Procter

Head of Learning at The Product Refinery, Wil has been working in digital learning since the early 2000s designing digital learning experiences and building learning teams to solve the interesting problems that arise when learning and technology meet.

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