The One-On-One Meeting, A Non-Discretionary Management Tool

One-on-one meeting

After a career with more than 25 years at Intel, the one-on-one meeting is something I take for granted.  It is a non-discretionary management practice and yet I was surprised when I started working with leaders outside of Intel.  More often than not, they didn’t have regular one-on-ones.  I’ve learned this observation is not new.  Andy Grove, in his classic management book ‘High Output Management‘ noted “From what I can tell, regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings are highly unusual outside of Intel”.

Casual encounters are not a substitute for the one-on-one meeting

Many leaders rely on casual encounters with their direct reports and these are good for solving specific problems.  They aren’t a substitute for the one-on-one.  So what is a one-on-one and why is it so important?  Grove describes the purpose of a one-on-one as “mutual teaching and exchange of information”.

A key part of the manager’s role is to teach their team members and by doing so, expand the value they are generating.  In today’s increasingly complex world, there is another important benefit.  That is sensing and assessing the environment to identify emerging trends.  The leader cannot be involved in everything that is going on.  The one-on-one provides a listening opportunity through their team members.

Some leaders tell me their direct reports wouldn’t know what to talk about.  My answer is simple, ask them to talk about what they are working on, how it is going, how are the feeling about it.  If you respond by genuinely listening and being helpful, I am convinced your direct report will find the time valuable.

best practices

In his book, Grove describes several one-on-one best practices:

  • The subordinate is responsible for the agenda.  This encourages them to take ownership for the meeting and maximize the value they receive.
  • The manager’s role is to listen, ask questions and coach.  By doing this they extend the subordinate’s perspective.
  • The one-on-one should occur on a regular cadence.  The frequency depends on the job and the person in it.  The more familiar the person is with the work, the less frequent the one-on-one.  I recommend meeting at least monthly.
  • Grove recommends one-on-ones be at least an hour duration.  I have had many 30 minute one-on-ones and they always felt rushed to me.
  • It is important to capture the key points of the conversation and agree on who will do what following.

As you can tell, having a one-on-one is not difficult, and yet it is still not a common core management practice.  The one-on-one is an extremely high leverage tool available to every manager.  If there is one thing you commit to do to become a better manager, do this.

Comments (2)

Great post Andy, I was working with a leadership team last week and they agreed to introduce 121 meetings. I’ve just forwarded your post to them in support of their decision and your wisdom is useful for their implementation. The image shows two people sitting opposite each other, I find 120 degrees separation is more open and less direct or confrontational – what is your experience?
Regards, Dave

Good question Dave. If they have a high level of trust, sitting opposite is fine in my experience. As you note, 120 degrees can be less confrontational. For me, how they show up is more important. Are they present? Are they listening and asking good questions.

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