How to have open, honest, one-to-ones

September 22, 2021

Two women having a one-to-one meeting

Google’s multi million dollar research into teamwork revealed that the highest-performing teams shared one commonality above all: psychological safety,  that is the belief that you won’t be punished when you inevitably make a mistake.

By creating a situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, team members can voice their opinions and ask judgment-free questions. But getting there takes time and consistent effort, especially in teams which have been established for some time and have picked up different habits.

Your one-to-ones with direct reports, managers or peers are a great opportunity to get to know each other better and trust each other more. Here is how:

Remember your personality differences

Different personality types on your team can often require different approaches:

  • Those who are more introverted and organised may be able to give better ideas if they prepare ahead, so if you’d like to exchange thoughts on a specific subject, let them know beforehand.
  • Excitable colleagues might not engage fully in the one-to-one if it’s scheduled during a very busy or stressful time.
  • A night owl may not be at their brightest if you schedule your catch-up at 8am.

Awkward is okay

Building trust can feel a little awkward at first. Let that awkwardness run it’s course rather than avoiding it.  “You should have enough awkward in you to use up a chunk of each meeting. This is what solves problems that otherwise go unsolved. It breaks the cycle of repeated issues or an impasse. It lets you be you and let down your guard. It builds trust and relationships. It creates growth for both of you.”   The Art of the Awkward 1:1

Keep one-to-ones frequent and regular

You won’t create psychological safety in your team with a one-off one-to-one. Make a commitment to have one-to-ones on a regular basis and do everything you can to stick to it!

  • If you get into a regular cadence with a structure that works best for you, your colleagues will know with certainty when they’ll be able to talk about whatever is on their mind. This can be very reassuring and shows them that the support is there.
  • Regularity also means you can improve. Spend a few minutes after your one-to-one reflecting on the format and what you’ll do differently next time, eg too much talking = not enough listening;what ratio of talking-to-listening would work best?

8 Questions you could use in your one-on-ones with direct reports

  1. If we could improve in any way, how would we do it?
  2. What’s not fun about working here?
  3. Who is really kicking ass in the company? Who do you admire?
  4. If you were me, what changes would you make?
  5. What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on?
  6. What are we not doing that we should be doing?
  7. Are you happy working here?
  8. Can you set the agenda for the next one-to-one? (if structured format works best).

Use Saberr's built-in One To Ones to set agendas with these suggested quesitons and more!

Encourage peer one-on-ones

These catch ups are not just for managers, but depending on the size of your team, it may not be feasible for everyone to have one-to-ones. Identify key relationships withing the team where more trust would improve the team’s overall performance and encourage them to discuss:

  • Getting to know each other through the Base exercises (see Personal Profile sheet).
  • Discussing blue sky ideas – need a sounding board.
  • Finding 10-15 mins to give face to face feedback on anything (see 4 quick tips for giving constructive feedback)
  • Getting support if work is great but personal life is challenging.

one-to-one meeting agenda templates

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Two male team members having a meeting