Ask These Questions to Improve Your One-on-Ones

BY Kathy Crosett
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Have your weekly one-​on-​one meetings become routine? You should be asking yourself this question on a regular basis. Meetings are expensive. If you’re not getting as much out of them as you should, it’s time to make a change.

One-​on-​one meetings can start going wrong when you lose track of purpose. A simple check on an ongoing project shouldn’t be the basis for a one-​on-​one meeting. Claire Lew reminds readers of this detail in her recent Medium column. “A one-​on-​one meeting isn’t a report session. It’s not an accountability session.”

A better use of this valuable time is to find out how an employee feels about their job during these meetings. But, you don’t want to ask them a discussion-​ending question. If their answer to any question can be ‘fine,’ you’re asking the wrong questions. Try asking something like, ‘what’s the hardest part of this project so far?’ The answer to that question will give you insight. You’ll learn exactly where an employee is struggling. You might be able to improve their professional development by suggesting some training in areas where they clearly need help.

Similarly, managers all seem to be asking team members the same question these days. That popular question is ‘How can I help you?’ The problem with this question is it seems like a set-​up. If an employee admits they need help, they might also believe they’re admitting weakness. Lew suggests getting more specific when you’re on this topic. Find out if the employee wants you to back off and give them more breathing space. If you’re worried about meeting a deadline, ask if they want to hand off a piece of the project to someone else. You can take that line of thinking a step further. When you want to determine whether an employee might also be managerial material, set up a project that will require some assistance. Then ask the employee to divvy up the work and watch over an intern or another staff member who can assist.

Lew strongly feels that the one-​on-​one is “one of the only ways you have to unearth what is going on with your team.”  Show that you care about an employee by asking a broad personal question or two. Show that you’re a good manager by asking questions that will help the employee improve their performance and work on their career goals.