After a 1:1 with a coworker (part of a series of 1:1s I felt were lacking and unproductive) I shared some feedback with him. I’ve reflected on that feedback and I believe it’s generally applicable to many folks in various situations. It is leadership guidance that I feel can be helpful for managers, tech leads, and individual contributors. The below recommendations can come in handy in 1:1s, regular meetings, or impromptu conversations.
For the purpose of this post, let’s envision we’re discussing a 1:1.
1:1s are an opportunity to develop rapport with another person. Building the relationship takes time. 1:1s should not feel robotic, prescriptive, or matter-of-fact. I want to get to know you, your thoughts, your hopes, and concerns. To move in that direction I recommend a certain approach: engagement.
Engagement is one key to establishing a solid relationship. It entails asking probing questions, active listening, and sharing a bit of yourself (from time to time). Probing questions are generally open-ended and include queries such as “How do you think we should proceed with Problem X?” or “What are your thoughts on moving us forward with Project Y?” It can even be as simple as “How are you feeling today?”
Next comes active listening. Once a probing question has been asked, sit back and listen. The probe and the active listening makes the speaker feel they are part of the discussion, and therefore, engaged. Also, the more one actively listens, the more likely it is that experiences can be shared (i.e. “That reminds me of a time I ran into a problem…”) and real, solid conversations result.
I noticed in our 1:1s that my coworker didn’t ask me many questions. When he did, they tended to be of the leading type that try to effect a desired outcome or specific answer. In cases like this, where one is trying to achieve some end, especially managers getting work done through others, I recommend another approach: setting expectations.
Start with the end in mind, including stating clearly what sort of outcome you expect to see, such as “I’d like everyone on the team to consistently track their work in JIRA.” You may then follow that up with an observation about one’s tickets appearing to need some updates and then a probing question asking the person what their process/mindset is around providing updates.
Generally speaking, as a leader, the best thing you can do when you want to get work done through others is to help them find the ways they can do so. There are some cases, however, where the above approaches are not fully successful. If so, a third approach is necessary: explicit direction.
If probing questions aren’t helping, you feel expectations are clear, and work isn’t being completed, start with leading questions such as “Do you think we can accomplish A by implementing B?” and seeing where that leads. Only after a person is either stuck or not meeting expectations in some other way should you provide explicit direction about how to proceed. Of course, if they request it, by all means, provide direction as well. An excellent question I often ask when I note someone having difficulty getting work done is whether I can help them in any way, such as identifying a solution or removing a roadblock.
There’s Always More
The above approaches are by no means exhaustive. Every situation is different. I have found, however, that at a minimum, some combination of these strategies are useful for a large portion of interactions with folks.
My hope is that these recommendations can be useful to you in having productive, maybe even fulfilling, interactions.