Improve Team Productivity with One-on-Ones

One of my clients recently explained to me that her team was often behind on important deadlines.  As a result, her office was engaged in a constant struggle to catch up.   This was very stressful for my client (let’s call her Ellen), and it was tiring for her employees and her outside contractors.

In discussing this issue, we found that Ellen’s design studio was in a pattern I see in many successful small businesses.  Even though her team was in constant communication, they were always in fire-fighting mode.  They weren’t taking time to zoom out, and plan strategically.



My suggestion that Ellen make time for weekly one-on-one meetings with her team members met with understandable skepticism.  “We don’t have time for more meetings!” she said, exasperated.

When Ellen took a leap of faith and implemented the regular one-on-ones, she was pleasantly surprised.  A month later, she told me that her team was running smoother and more on schedule.  And in the occasions when they were running behind, she had more advance notice and time to course correct.  “And you know what?” she asked, “My employees really love our one-on-ones.”

Benefits of Regular One-on-One Meetings

Sync Up on Priorities

A big reason employees miss deadlines is that they’re prioritizing their time differently than you’d want them to.  They don’t see the big picture like the owner does.  It’s your job to explain to them which tasks and deadlines are most urgent for the firm.  Equally important, give them permission to deprioritize other things, so they can make the best use of their time.

Improve the Quality of The Team’s Work

How often are we disappointed when someone on our team delivers their finished work, and it’s not done correctly?  How often do we end up fixing it ourselves?  Your one-on-one is an opportunity to head this off at the pass.  Check in on their progress, and give feedback along the way.

Team Members Know They’ll Get Your Help

Often, when my clients implement regular one-on-ones, they report that pretty soon, their employees are eagerly driving the process.  Many employees really appreciate KNOWING they’ll have the boss’ undivided attention at a specific time, to get help with any issues.

Address Personnel Performance Issues

In my experience, when most interactions are in public and on tight deadlines, it’s easy to let performance issues fester.  The one-on-one gives you an opportunity to broach such an issue proactively and privately.

How to Conduct Your One-on-One

I recommend you pick a regular meeting time with each team member (employee or ongoing contractor).  Weekly is best for most businesses; bi-weekly is the minimum.  It’s better to have a shorter meeting but more frequent–even 15 minutes weekly will make a huge difference in team performance and morale.

You need to work hard to keep this a priority.  Your business is crazy, and client emergencies WILL come up.  The one-on-one will be the first thing on the chopping block.  This defeats the purpose, and leads back to constant reactivity.  If you must preempt a one-on-one, reschedule it on the spot.  Just as “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” a one-on-one every week keeps fire-fighting mode at bay.

Sample One-on-One Agenda

Conduct your one-on-one in a private place, such as a conference room or a coffee shop.  For virtual teams, use phone or Skype.

  • [Employee] Top accomplishments from last week
  • [Employee] Top priorities for this week
  • [Employee] My upcoming deadlines
  • [Employee] I need help with…
  • [Manager] I need help with… or have feedback on…

Practice this, and it will become quick and routine for both of you.

Action Plan

Set a standing time with each of your team members.  Ask them to create a recurring meeting and put it in both of your calendars.

Show them the sample agenda above and ask them to come prepared to each meeting ready to discuss the first four items.

Weigh In

Let me know what you think!  And tell me what you have found helpful for one-on-one meetings.  I look forward to your thoughts.

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