One-on-ones are like dancing tango: the music never stops

After running dozens of one-on-one meetings since the beginning of the year, I dare to share a bunch of insightful takeaways. For such a small team as ours, these lessons are valuable and eye-opening in many regards. Long story short, the main perk links to clarity regarding communication across the team, and active contribution to people’s evolution.

October 2, 2017
Reading time 5 – 7 minutes

I tried to sum up only the must-have ideas regarding delivering effective one-on-ones. Take the following thoughts with a pinch of salt and try to see if you resonate with my approach. It might work or not for your particular team, it depends on a bunch of things, but feel free to adjust everything to your rhythm. Let the music play!

One-on-ones need a clear agenda.

Without an intense focus, these quick gatherings can surely become a never-ending story about everything and nothing at the same time. I’ve always been trying to keep a clear goal in mind. Since I’m wearing the people-person hat, my primary focus is to help people adjust behaviors and attitudes. In the end, you are not what you preach but what you do. The small gestures define your character.

I’m showing-up with clear expectations to make the most out of the time spent with my teammates. If the first one-on-ones took an hour (sometimes even more), now I can keep track and do my homework in 30 minutes or so. It depends on the context and the general energy level for both of us, but I mostly succeed to make it happen within this timeframe.

Key takeaway: I take time to draw the agenda and I prepare myself by getting as familiar as I can with the topic and the general context. I start with positive assumptions aboard and adapt my message on the fly.

One-on-ones require patience and empathy.

Pixelgrade’s team is diverse regarding personalities, educational background, passions, ambitions and so on. We love this diversity, and we encourage it as much as we can. On the other side, different people react to different communication approaches. At least that’s a particular insight that I learned after several years of being a storyteller.

I practice empathy and read about it on a constant basis as much as I try to dive into other psychological concepts, such as reciprocation and confirmation biases. They’re helping me understand better how to manage the one-on-one meetings from an emotional perspective, which can be draining.

Key takeaway: I take business coaching sessions every two weeks to make sure I am down to earth and keep my perspective as objective and relevant as I can.

One-on-ones involve constant follow-up.

I quickly noticed that one-on-one solve nothing if I don’t run follow-up sessions. With other words, sharing the message in right way and with the right tone of voice doesn’t imply a real commitment. Not at all. In fact, I learned that I need to constantly go back to what I agreed with my teammates to reassure them that I’m aware of the status and I’m there to lend a hand.

One of the main struggles I’m still facing today is tied to the lack of speed regarding progress. I know that it’s quite normal to have a slower pace since it’s tremendously hard to make significant changes regarding behaviors, attitudes, beliefs. Most people get stuck in a mental model that keeps them hostages. However, there’s a thin line there that I need to manage.

Key takeaway: I connect the dots on a bigger scale and give my best to follow a macro red thread, but also stick to what’s in the present. I deeply believe in the power of immersing into today’s reality.

One-on-ones are all about being vulnerable.

After nine months, I highly believe that one-on-one doesn’t work without being honest and vulnerable from both parties. I started to share stories about sensitive moments in my career’s path from the very beginning of running one-on-one meetings. I let my colleagues know that I was in the middle of professional battles which made me feel exposed. The good news is that those particular contexts shaped my evolution and made me who I am today.

Acting like a detached moderator who just asks questions, listens, sets expectations and monitors the results is not enough. I found out that my team needs to know that we are in this together and the simple fact that we’re spending this quality time means a lot. Gratitude is part of the game.

Key takeaway: I’m making room for every one-on-one meeting (by the way, I never run more than two, maximum three per week, but not every single week), and dig into the playground with a positive attitude.

One-on-ones should act like a guidance session.

Along the way, I observed (several times) that some folks were referring to the one-on-one chats as a gateway to solving a bunch of personal and professional endeavors. They projected these occasions like a one-size-fits-all kind of moment when a lot of their struggles should be diluted.

In fact, reality shows that it happens the full opposite. I’m no savior, nor I am their best buddy who will get a 360 degree understanding of their life. It’s everyone’s choice to become better, to evolve, to expand their mental plasticity, to become more inclusive, more tolerant, and improve their soft-skills. I can lend a hand, but it’s their selfish call.

Key takeaway: Nobody needs heroes, but almost all of us are happy to have an active listener around. I stay away from intimate issues and I avoid being involved in that sense because it affects my mindset.

If you’re in a similar scenario and want to start running one-on-ones, but you need a bit of guidance, I suggest you to consider the following best practices. They’re not the equivalent of a blueprint, but it should help you kick-off:

  • Create, maintain, and adjust your agenda — take your time to work on it, there’s not an ”over a coffee” kind of task;
  • Connect to your teammate’s state of mind and emotions — it’s not about you nor your plan to deliver the message;
  • Start the follow-up game as early as you can — people forget, so try to keep the dialogue alive and reconnect in two-three weeks;
  • Be humble and human and manifest vulnerability — it’s the best liaison that anyone can refer to with ease and emotional effect;
  • Be an adult and try to understand; lead, don’t solve — everyone is in charge of their life, reinforce this message and stick to guidance, not fixing;
  • Hang tight and don’t drop the ship — you will face plenty of moments when you will feel alone, walking in the dark, and hoping that someone will shed light (they will, but in their swing).

I’m happy with how things went so far even and I know that nothing spectacular happens without effort, giving before getting, and a lot of hard work. I’m confident with how far we’ve headed in this area, and I’m eager to contribute to a better crew, ready to hit the play button for the next tango!

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