They are an opportunity to step away from the to-do-list and think more strategically about what you’re trying to achieve, the impact the work is having and the priorities moving forward. One-to-ones provide a dedicated space for managers to help their team members develop and grow in their roles. They also strengthen working relationships and show your team members that you value and care about them.
When you are managing at a distance, these one-to-one meetings become even more important. You’re not working in the same office, so there’s less opportunity to pick up visual clues about team members progress, motivation and wellbeing. This makes the times you do interact one on one with your team even more important. And that means as a manager, you need to prepare and be on the ball during one-to-ones held by phone or by video call. You need to use these precious moments of connection to think strategically, practice valuable inter-personal skills and to spot issues before they become problems. So how can you ensure you make the best use of them?
Set regular times in both of your calendars. The frequency will depend on how much help the team member needs. One-to-ones should be more frequent if the other person is new, taking on new challenges or experiencing change or challenge in their role. They should be more frequent when managing a distance than when you see the people you manage every day. Turn up on time and don’t cancel the virtual meeting unless absolutely necessary. If you need to reschedule, move it to the next day. By protecting the time you have together, you are showing that they are your priority, even if you can’t see them all the time.
You might have an agenda template for standing items you want to cover but the one-to-one is meant to be a discussion and the conversation should be flexible enough to accommodate whatever is important for you and them. Prepare discussion points in advance. Do you want to focus on anything in particular: their development, their wellbeing, their motivation? Ask your team member to add topics to the agenda that are most important to them.
The following are good topics to cover. Plan questions you can ask to help your team member reflect, think and share. Some examples are shown below. Only choose a couple at a time, you want your team member to feel supported, not interrogated. Share any key questions in advance if you think those topics require prior reflection and thought.
How are you? Be ready to share how you are too.
How are you doing against the agreed milestones? What has been successful? What did you do that helped? What did others do that helped? What feedback have we had from others? How does this link to our goals? Are there any obstacles, now or coming up? What can you do to work through them? How can I help?
What are your priorities over the next week or month? What is most important? What might need to wait? Is anything affecting your ability to focus? What are your biggest interrupters? What changes could we make to optimise your day?
What are you most enjoying? What work do you like least? What are you finding easy? What is challenging? What have you learnt from the successes or challenges of recent work? What have you learnt about yourself? What skills are you using (or not using)? What new skills do you want or need to acquire? How does this fit with your development and career goals?
Do you have any ideas to help us work more effectively or efficiently? Is there anything we could do to help us improve as a team? What is working? What could we do differently? Do you have any suggestions for improvement in the way you and I work together? How are you getting on with team members? Is there an opportunity to work with others? To support others or learn from others?
Where physically at home do you do most of your work? Do you have enough space? Is it physically comfortable? Do you have the IT equipment, internet connection or any other resources you need?
How is your health? Is anything causing you concern or stress? Is everything ok at home? Are you working normal hours? Are you giving yourself proper breaks in the day to eat, exercise and get fresh air? Are you able to turn-off at the end of the day?
When discussing challenges decide whether your team member needs your advice and help, or whether your role is to ask questions to help them problem solve. Ideally strike a balance of both, this ensures you are being helpful and building sustainability not dependency.
Take a look at the GROW coaching model here. It’s a very powerful way of problem solving with your team members that allows them to take ownership over the solution.
Consider within the conversation when you want to give feedback and how you will give it. Ensure there is some positive feedback on what they are doing well, as well as areas for development and stretch. The one-to-one is also a great opportunity to help your team member accurately assess themselves. Consider how you can ask them to reflect on what they are doing, what is working, and what they might want to adapt.
See this article for advice on giving effective feedback.
As with all things, managing at a distance gets easier with experience. And when working from afar, the benefits of effective one-to-one far outweigh the time investment. When one-to-ones are well planned, open and collaborative, you can build trust, develop a true sense of connection and help to shape a motivated and positive team.
To speak to one of our management consultants about a particular challenge you’re facing, call 020 7978 1516 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
You may also find the Managing at a Distance Online Learning programme useful. The next public date for this interactive session is 27th May 2020