Get the Most Out of Your Next One-to-One


Whether you self-identify as a Leader, Manager, Coach or some other term you prefer that reflects you have direct reports who you’re responsible for developing – you have one thing in common. You meet with these direct reports (team members as I prefer to call them) at some regular interval. Let’s hope it’s more than Quarterly – Ideally, it’s at least monthly that you’re face to face in a One-to-One.


You put the dates in the calendar, block out time and conduct the sessions. What happens in these sessions impacts their results, your results and most likely company results. How do you make sure that your time together is spent wisely? It’s all about your approach to the session and the questions you pose.


There are two ways you can approach a One-to-One: 1. You go through a list of results (the numbers) and have a general surface conversation about what they were and what they need to be or 2. You go deep and discuss events, behaviors & actions that created the results and then go deep again to identify what changes or support is needed to get a better result. Some Leaders want the result produced by the second approach, but only commit to the first approach scenario. They miss an opportunity to go deep and not only learn about what happened the month before, but also about the people they lead.


In the beginning I took the surface route and checked the boxes which made me feel I had done my job. As I matured as a leader, I invested more time in preparing for One-to-Ones and thought more on how I’d approach each team member based on their unique situation. I’d use the same general outline with everyone, but I’d make notes specific to each that I’d be sure to cover – what I thought they did well, where the issues might be, the ways I could help.


If you want improved results (which if you’re reading this – I’m pretty sure that’s the case), you must change your approach. You need to go deep. This may be scary for you, and it’ll be a big change for your team members if you’ve been avoiding important conversations. It’s time to rip the band-aid off and really get to know your team and what they need from you as a leader.


Now that you know you need to go deeper and find out more, you need to decide what and how you will ask. John C. Maxwell says, “Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more and become more”. What questions have you been asking? Would they inspire action? I believe it requires deeper questions to learn about dreams and to inspire your team to go for more. If you’ve not had deep dives into your team member’s hopes and dreams, you’ll need to ease into the deep end. I recommend you start with changing your approach with a willingness to ask a few questions before you look at the results. Do you think you could conduct a One-to-One where you don’t look at a scorecard, the numbers or the results for at least the first half of the session? That’s your challenge for your next One-to-One session.


Start with these three steps. First, discover your team member’s number one priority for the session. What’s the one thing they feel they need to discuss? That pressing item. I feel it’s essential to address that concern first and foremost. When they’re stressed out or thinking about that issue, they won’t be able to focus at the level you desire or on improving. You may not be able to resolve the issue immediately, but the issue will be aired which gives you an opportunity to help them identify possible solutions.


The second thing you should do is ask what they feel went well or not so well for them since your last session (it’s very important that you conduct these sessions at least monthly so everyone can recall enough). You should still be listening at this point. Numbers may be referenced, but they’re not the focus. The focus is how the team member feels about the events or the results.


The last and final thing you must do before you ever look at numbers or results is begin to uncover what help your team member needs from you. Do they need a resource, guidance, training or some other thing you can offer? This could be to help them perform their current job responsibilities better or it could be career development support. Know that this is your first pass with this type of inquiry, expect to ask again after you discuss the results.


Your first three questions could look like this:

Tell me what you really want to get accomplished while we’re together today.

Describe what you feel went well or didn’t go well last month.

Based on what we’ve discussed so far, how can I help?


I encourage you to be the leader that asks great questions to go deep and really learn about their people before the numbers. This small change can lead to BIG results by removing the results from the focus and putting your team member first.

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