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Young business professional communicating via conference

Good news:  conducting virtual one-on-ones with your manager can provide opportunities to rethink and recraft the agenda to make meetings a truly useful interchange. Why? Because an unprecedented set of conditions make it opportune:

  • Professionals are longing for authentic connection now, more than ever
  • Generally, people have more time on their hands due to the restrictions
  • The virtual (video) meeting environment allows for face-to-face sessions where you can pick up on nonverbal cues easily
  • Strategy is tantamount as we navigate how to adapt to the changes we find ourselves in as organizations, communities, families, and individuals
  • People are reflecting on what is truly important, including at work
  • Professionals are having trouble staying focused, so being organized will help you stand out and optimize the benefit all receive from each interaction

With the shift to working from home, it is an ideal time to uplevel the quality of your 1:1 meetings with your manager. We are all dealing with a LOT on our plates. If done with intention and preparation, one-on-ones can be an effective means of providing an energetic and emotional win for all parties. Note: you can apply these strategies to 1:1s with your peers and subordinates as well. 

Consider navigating your next one-on-one differently. Know that you may catch your manager off guard with this approach, which could lead to a few awkward moments of silence before the conversation deepens. Keep breathing and let that silence be. What you are doing is inviting your manager to co-create future meeting agendas with you.

Here are five steps to architect productive one-on-one meetings with your manager:

1. Start by stating your objective for this particular session is to recraft the meeting agenda to be genuinely valuable for both of you. That you want to walk away with a blueprint for how to conduct these meetings going forward to ensure they are productive, effective, and efficient for both of you. Take a moment to make sure your manager is up for the discussion; if not, schedule it for a separate time and go forward with your normal meeting as previously planned.

2. Ask open-ended questions that get your manager talking about what they most want to get from the meetings with you, followed by sharing what you want to receive. Here are some questions to consider asking your manager for a productive conversation:

  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • What would you like to get from our meetings to help you meet those challenges?
  • What outcomes would you like to walk away with to make this a truly valuable interaction for you on an ongoing basis?
  • What is the evidence that will show you have received those outcomes from each meeting?

When your manager is finished answering, reflect back what you heard to make sure you have fully understood, getting their acknowledgment that you have adequately captured their needs.

3. Now it’s your turn. Answer the same questions, sharing:

  • What your biggest challenges are. Try to think past the issues-du-jour to share activities that represent ongoing issues. 
  • What kind of input you would like to get from these meetings to help you address those challenges? Are you looking for solutions, validation, ideas or simply approval to proceed?
  • What outcomes you would like to walk away with that would make this a truly valuable interaction for you on an ongoing basis.
  • What is the evidence that will confirm you have received those outcomes from the conversation?

4. Overlay and interplay between the two sets of data. Together, craft an agenda to use for future meetings to target the needs you both have, including a discussion and noodling of:

  • What the agenda items should be, and the sequence in which to tackle these items in your meetings. 
  • How long of a meeting is necessary to achieve the desired outcomes? 
  • How frequently do you need to meet to make sure you both keep momentum toward your goals?
  • What time of day or day of the week should you meet so your meetings are least likely to get canceled or hijacked. Note: this may mean a change of day and time from what you have been doing to accommodate your new reality. 
  • How best to schedule your ongoing meetings? Be sure to confirm your next touchpoint before leaving the current meeting to ensure it’s scheduled.
  • What other means of communicating are most useful between meetings so both of you are getting your needs met. For example, revisit whether the weekly status report you are sending is actually useful, or if another format or data set would be more helpful? 

5. End the meeting by mirroring back what you have decided together, leaving with an agreement that you are both on the same page with the go-forward plan.

These best practices lay the foundation for compelling, value-add interactions for you and your manager’s future collaboration. I once had a CTO tell me that he wished his direct reports would take better advantage of 1:1 meetings with him so he could be more helpful to them. With the blueprint outlined here, you can ensure that your leadership does not share that same concern.

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