Easy ways to improve your one on ones

Posted on August 3, 2020

What is a one on one?

One on ones (or sometimes called one to ones) are common, particularly in office-based jobs, and are absolutely vital in keeping reportees happy and keeping managers in the loop. It's probably useful to start with a definition of what a one on one meeting is.

A one on one is a recurring meeting where two colleagues (usually a manager and reportee) discuss development, progression and day to day work.

This of course isn't a one size fits all definition, and the specifics of your one on ones may (and probably do) differ from this. However, it's a good place to start!

Why are they important?

It's difficult to sum up in one blog post the value that a good one on one can deliver, but here's a few key things they can help with:

  1. Building a relationship between managers and their direct reports
    • It's possible this is the only one on one time you get together, making it an important part of getting to know each other. It doesn't have to be all business!
  2. Giving reportees feedback on what's needed for progression
    • You may do this in a regular development meeting, but there's no harm in checking in more regularly too
  3. Helping managers understand what their reportees need from them in terms of support
    • This is often something that's missed. One on ones are a great place for managers to get feedback on how they can help their reports
  4. Keeping managers in the loop on day to day work
    • Being a manager means you likely don't have the time to join every standup or planning session. You can use these sessions to get a view on what your reports are working on
  5. Allowing managers to unblock their reports
    • Particularly for new hires, one on ones are a good opportunity to unblock them if they're stuck with something

What makes a bad one on one?

It's easy to send out a calendar invite and chat on Zoom for half an hour, but there's a real art to getting value out of that time. Below I've listed a few of the common pitfalls (keep reading to see how you can fix them!):

  1. Irregular meetings
    • Not setting the time aside regularly can have serious side effects. Not only does it show a lack of interest on the manager's side, but reportees can end up suffering in silence
  2. Lack of accountability (on both ends!)
    • Often your sessions will end in either or both of you committing to do something by your next one on one. If you don't keep track of these actions, it's likely they'll never get done
  3. No record of what you last discussed
    • Continuity between sessions can be vital, and unless you're keeping a record of what you've spoken about, it's very difficult to achieve
  4. A lack of structure
    • One on ones don't have to be totally formulaic, but if there's no structure at all then you can just end up talking aimlessly

How can I improve my one on ones?

It's possible that you're already doing everything you can to nail your one on ones, and maybe all you need is some one on one management software to help you get organised.

There are some simple steps you can take to get the most out of your time together:

  1. Set up a regular meeting cadence
    • I'd recommend at least a weekly check in between managers and direct reports, though you could do it multiple times per week!
  2. Keep track of actions for both managers and reportees
    • If you take one thing away from this article, it should be this. Keeping you both accountable will pay dividends in terms of the value you get out of your one on ones
  3. Make sure you both keep notes during the session
    • If you're one of those lucky people who can remember the details of every meeting, good for you! For the rest of us, it's important to keep notes that we can refer back to
  4. Have a set list of talking points that you run through in every meeting
    • This will give structure to your sessions and help you stay updated on what's important (anything you're struggling with, how can I support you, etc.)

Pontoon can help you nail your one on ones

Track actions, keep private notes, set up recurring talking points and run your one on ones over video

Learn more