Help Your Team Improve in 30 Minutes or Less

To help you get the best out of the one-on-one meeting, and the best out of your employee, Harvard Business Review collected actionable tips from go-to experts on team development.

If there’s anything you don’t have to worry about, it’s keeping in touch with your direct reports. You can IM, DM, chat, call. You can email. You can text. Once, in a pinch, one of my bosses ran a team meeting through a Facebook comments thread.

But none of that will improve your team’s performance better than the classic one-on-one: you and an employee in the same room, at the same time, actually talking to each other. In fact, reports Rebecca Knight in Harvard Business Review’s “How to Make Your One-on-Ones with Employees More Productive,” running a good face-to-face meeting is one of the most essential skills for team development.

Two things can happen in the one-on-one. First, you can build the rapport that makes an employee feel seen, heard, and appreciated. Trust me, that kind of simple affirmation is worth its weight in gold. Second, you can work directly with your employee to see how she is contributing to your company’s strategic goals, and what she needs to be able to contribute at her highest level.

Achieving those two things, however, takes what Wellcoaches Corporation CEO and author Margaret Moore calls “cognitive agility.” In essence, you’re switching between two distinct ways of connecting with your employee within one 30-minute meeting. And that can feel taxing, especially if you’re pressed for time, energy, and focus. To help you get the best out of the one-on-one, and the best out of your employee, Knight collected seven tips from her go-to experts on team development. As someone who’s had stellar one-on-ones and real, soul-killing stinkers, here are three of my favorites.

Be fully present

If you have to take five minutes of deep breathing before the meeting to fully get there mentally, do it. If you need to make it a walking meeting to stay focused, then walk. Go ahead and silence the phone and computer. A one-on-one isn’t “just another item on your to-do list; instead, consider it a “precious moment of connection. Think, ‘I’m here to make a difference in the life of this person,’” reports Knight.

Lead with curiosity

Knight points to Margaret Moore’s vital advice: “You are there to learn.” Ask open-ended questions. Listen to the responses, and give time for the other person be thoughtful. If you want to ask big questions, such as long-term career plans, give your employee a heads up prior to the meeting so they can organize what may be complicated or unclear thoughts.

Say thank you

End your meeting with an honest moment of gratitude for something this person is doing well. Or stick with a simple, genuine “thank you.” The vast majority of your direct reports are working hard and faithfully, and when they know that you see their efforts—and that you are invested in their improvement—those efforts will only multiply.

As Knight reports, “Don’t say something if it’s not genuine or doesn’t feel authentic to you, but if you can talk about something they’re doing well or say something like, ‘I appreciate and value what you’re doing,’ it’s powerful.”

Read more at Harvard Business Review.

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