Guest Post by Tom Birchard – My Strategy for Effective Weekly 1:1 Meetings
We’ve likely all had that recurring meeting where we roll our eyes, let out a big sigh, and go into it knowing it will be a waste of time. Meetings often get a bad rep, and rightly so. They start late, you talk about the same stuff every week, there’s no follow-up or accountability, and it’s the same people dominating the conversation. Time is more precious than ever, and we can’t be wasting it in poorly run meetings.
One type of meeting I’ve found particularly helpful is a regularly scheduled 1:1 meeting, where a manager and their direct report meet to discuss issues and stay aligned. Over several years of managing teams of varying sizes, I’ve experimented with various methods of conducting 1:1’s. This is certainly an area where there’s no “one size fits all”, but what follows is what’s worked best for me.
Let’s start with the basics. I’ve found either 30 minutes weekly, or 60 minutes bi-weekly to be most effective. It’s critical to set them up on the calendar as recurring at the same day and time. Obviously there will be times where it needs to be rescheduled, but this allows both parties to plan other activities around this dedicated time, and to prepare accordingly.
Speaking of preparation, this is one of the most important aspects of a good 1:1. As John Wooden said, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” I like to create a shared file that both the manager and direct can add topics to in advance of the meeting. This could be via OneDrive, a Google Doc, or whatever program you prefer.
Between 1:1’s, if something comes up that I want to discuss with that direct report, I run it through the filter of how urgent it is and whether it can wait until the next 1:1. Many topics can wait and sometimes resolve themselves before the next meeting. This also cuts down on frequent distractions and interruptions, and allows topics to be grouped together making the best use of both parties’ time. Using the shared document also allows both parties to review what the other wants to discuss going into the meeting and possibly do some quick homework to make the discussion even more productive.
During the actual 1:1, I think it’s healthy to start with chit-chat and personal topics, but limit that to 5 minutes or you’ll run out of time. I like to have the direct report go first with their topics because the primary job of a leader is to provide coaching and remove obstacles, and having them go first sets that tone.
I target switching to the manager’s topics around the halfway point, but no later than 2/3 of the way through the meeting. During the meeting the manager is taking notes in the shared file and assigning actions to both themself and the direct report. Those can be left for discussion or marked complete during the prep for the next 1:1.
There will also inevitably be some big hairy topics the two of you can’t resolve or decide on without involving others. Those may get moved to another recurring team meeting or one of you takes an action to set up a separate discussion with the appropriate stakeholders. My 1:1’s end of feeling a bit like rapid fire as we cover a lot of ground, but if something is overly complex we park that for a separate discussion.
A few other miscellaneous notes on 1:1’s:
- Performance reviews or development/careers discussions are not to be discussed during the recurring 1:1’s. Those are critical topics that deserve their own dedicated time at whatever frequency you use with your team.
- Face-to-face is best, video chat will work, phone only especially when one party is driving or on the move should be on exception basis and rare.
- No distractions, treat this time as sacred. If I get a phone call, I have a saved text reply that says, “In a meeting, is it urgent? If not, I will call back later.” There are emergencies, but more often than not whatever it is can wait and not interrupt the flow of the 1:1.
- If as the manager you find that you’re bringing all the topics, and your direct rarely has anything to discuss, that should be a red flag. Unless their job is overly simple or they’ve truly mastered it, there should be topics where they need support or coaching.
Those are some tips on 1:1’s that have worked well for me. If you’re interested in learning more about 1:1’s and other management tools, check out The Effective Manager by Mark Horstman. He dedicates three entire chapters to 1:1 meetings and the book overall is a great back to the basics on management.
Thanks for reading!
This Week in SMB Twitter
This Week on Think Like an Owner
Today I’m joined by Kevin Knoepp and Zack Seely. Zach acquired a healthcare software company called FSI in late 2020 with technical diligence help from Kevin, a software due diligence advisor and Trilogy operating executive.
Our conversation doesn’t discuss the attractiveness of software as an investment, which it very much is, but rather on how to properly diligence software and operate and improve the business once acquired. We review common technical issues in software companies, how much technical debt is acceptable, Zach’s experience in diligence and operating improvements at FSI, and constructing a capable team to move a software business forward.
Think Like an Owner is sponsored by:
Live Oak Bank – Live Oak Bank is a seasoned SMB lender providing SBA and conventional financing for search funds, independent sponsors, private equity firms, and individuals looking to acquire lower middle market companies. If you are in the process of acquiring a company or thinking about starting a search, contact Lisa Forrest or Heather Endresen directly to start a conversation or go to www.liveoakbank.com/think.
Hood & Strong, LLP – Hood & Strong is a CPA firm with a long history of working with search funds and private equity firms on diligence, assurance, tax services, and more. To learn more about how Hood & Strong can help your search, acquisition, and beyond, please email one of their partners Jerry Zhou at [email protected].
Oberle Risk Strategies– Oberle is the leading specialty insurance brokerage catering to search funds and the broader ETA community, providing complimentary due diligence assessments of the target company’s commercial insurance and Employee benefits programs. If you are under LOI, please reach out to learn more about how Oberle can help with insurance due diligence at oberle-risk.com. Or reach out to the CEO, August Felker, directly at [email protected].