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The power of one-on-ones in the workplace

The power of one-on-ones in the workplace

10 Nov by Deborah Wilson

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Labelling 2020 as ‘a tough year’ for most people and businesses is an understatement. In Australia, the year kicked off with a string of devastating bushfires and by March, the COVID-19 pandemic was well and truly changing the way we all live and work on a day-to-day basis. When the going gets tough, particularly in the context of business and the workplace, we often look to our leaders to show us the way.

Generally, people look towards leaders to inspire them with a vision for today, tomorrow and the future — to create certainty during the most uncertain of times. Doing so provides people with the solid foundation to work from and the confidence that they need to perform at their best. People are capable of achieving great things when they feel stable and like they are part of a bigger, collective purpose.

While everyone is different in terms of how they prefer to lead and communicate, in my experience, it is critical that leaders allocate time for one-on-ones with each member of their team. Sure, it’s great to get regular email updates and to have a weekly team meeting but neither replaces a dedicated one-on-one session. A session with your manager or leader that focuses on you alone — the challenges you’re facing, your wins (regardless of how big or small they are) and anything else that needs to be discussed. These sessions help you to build a relationship with your manager or leader so that you feel comfortable discussing whatever is needed in a timely manner. Meanwhile, this provides your leader with the opportunity to recognise you for your work and contribution, provide challenges and further direction and more generally, for you both to ‘chew the fat!’

As leaders, we’ve all had experiences where our best people resign, seemingly out of the blue. While this may seem like a surprise to us as a leader, it seldom really is. The signs are typically always there. Regular one-on-one sessions help to minimise such surprises and create a better environment for a team member to give you a heads-up about anything they are struggling with, both personally and professionally. Many organisations opt to conduct annual performance reviews — feedback given annually is often too little, too late in my view. If you are encountering issues with a team member, best practice is to address them with the individual as soon as possible… not wait numerous months until their next performance review. Your people will appreciate your transparency and respect your honesty. Letting issues fester over time will only create more problems down the track.

Relationship building and keeping the lines of communication open with your team, at all times, are at the heart of quality leadership. Regardless of how under the pump and busy they are, the best leaders always make time for these one-on-one sessions and in time, may increase how much of their day is dedicated to catching up with team members individually. With time, you’ll gauge what’s going on for people and how you can engage with them to help them achieve the best possible outcomes. Trust me when I say: investing time now saves time later!

So what might a one-on-one session look like?

I meet with my team members once a fortnight and they love it. Ahead of our session, they complete a form with four simple questions — this gives them an opportunity to talk about their successes, as well as challenges. I am often surprised at what my team writes when preparing for these sessions.

If you only gain one takeaway from this article, make it this: keep in touch with your team. This is what good, consistent leadership looks like.

Any tips you have for 1:1's - please share.

Deborah Wilson is a Thought Leader and a Career Strategist. She takes a personalised approach to strategic career coaching and career transitions, mentoring and leadership development. Deborah provides expert guidance for individuals while supporting organisations through change and connecting people and purpose.