How to make 1-0-1s work

3 min read

One of the biggest challenges for tech people is when they become team leads. Most team leads are technical people, used to working on data and less on other people. So when they suddenly find themselves in that position, new skills must be formed

I recently had a chat with a team lead who told me that he dreads one-to-one meetings because they usually take 3 hours. I was left with my mouth open, because as a therapist I know how deeply exhausting is to have a meaningful and purposeful conversation that lasts 50 min up to an hour. But three hours is a long time to hold someone’s emotions and show compassion & empathy. 

Moreover, when I asked him if these sessions were at least helpful for the people involved, he though that they had been at the time, only to notice that people seemed unmoved in their thinking and behaviours afterwards

And this all makes sense. We cannot expect making significant change in 1-0-1 meetings, per se. Maybe you can explore a complex situation, maybe you can brainstorm some ideas, but change is a process not an event. So a more realistic expectation is to plan to explore a topic, offer support and ask questions that would help the other person feel understood and help them explore different routes. 

In this short piece, I want to offer a quick guide into how to approach 1-0-1s as a team lead so they are less anxiety provoking and more satisfying. 

Let’s go:

1.Set a specific time frame. You may think that longer is better, but that rarely is the case with conversations. Start with 20-30 minutes and then set another time to follow up if that’s the case. More than this will lead to a conversation that is nopt suited for 1-0-1s and will get you unfocused from the topic at hand. 

2.Set a goal/topic. It doesn’t have to be too specific, but it is useful to know if the meeting has the goal of finding a solution or just exploring a certain worry that that the person has. This will prevent you from staying in the meeting longer just to get somewhere. 

You may say something like: ‘what would you want to achieve at the end of this discussion? Do we want to find a solution to x, or just explore possible causes?”

3.Don’t be their therapist. When people are overwhelmed, we can sometimes feel the need to make everything better. Don’t. Your role is to listen, ask questions, say it when you don’t have an answer. Be prepared with resources if you need to recommend a specialist, but don’t take it upon yourself to make that person feel better. 

4.Do not try to convince them about your ideas and way of working. Ok, true, we sometimes feel that we have the truth. Sometimes we do. Most times we don’t. When is comes to other people’s realities we never do. So if you find yourself trying to convince them of something, just notice that and get back to questions & listening. 

5.They are not you. Maybe it’s ok that you have your job as your main focus in your life. Or that you can do their job faster and better. They aren’t you and this is not why you hired them. Enforcing your standards on other people usually involves frustration on both sides. Find out what their standard is, what a good job looks for them and start from there. 

Having one-on-ones is a very powerful tool to keep your team engaged and find out in real time what they are dealing with. However, they have the tendency to turn into complaining/ therapy sessions. 

If you want to learn more about how to deal with giving negative feedback, resolving conflicts within your team or noticing sooner when someone is dealing with an emotional issue, be on the lookout for our Mental Health 1st Aid workshop.

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How to make 1-0-1s work

3 min read One of the biggest challenges for tech people is when they become team leads. Most team leads are technical people, used to working on data

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