Why 1:1s fail and how to fix them

Why 1:1s fail and how to fix them

Posted byAlex Hepworth on

managing a team

One-to-one meetings are a crucial tool for communication and collaboration at work. They provide a regular opportunity for managers and their team to discuss goals, progress and pain points privately, and get to know each other better.

Get it right, and 1:1s can help put you on the same page, build trust and identify issues earlier. But, 1:1s can also easily fail if they’re not well-planned, aren’t actionable or the conversation’s one-sided.

In this article, we’ll explore why your 1:1s might be failing right now, and how to fix them.

Why are my 1:1s failing, and what can I do about it?

There’s several reasons why your 1:1s might be failing — here are the most common, and some suggested solutions.

Our 1:1s lack structure and focus

Without a clear agenda or set of goals, your 1:1s can become disorganised and meandering. How’re you supposed to have a meaningful or productive conversation if it’s not focused?

How to fix it:

Always set an agenda before the 1:1 (and don’t just copy and paste from the last one). That way, you can stay focused on the most important tasks, as well as progress more generally, and everyone has a chance to prepare in advance.

In the 1:1 itself, avoid multitasking — put your phone and laptop on silent, minimise unnecessary windows and try to maintain eye contact. This will help ensure you’re fully present and engaged in the conversation, and show your direct report that they’re your focus.

Read more: 1:1s: Our tried and tested Notion meeting template >

Our conversations feel one-sided and unproductive

There’s nothing worse than a one-sided or stilted conversation. Whether it’s the manager or team member, if one party is not fully engaged, the conversation will be unproductive.

How to fix it:

There’s a number of reasons why your 1:1s might feel one-sided or stilted. Your direct report may be feeling disengaged for example, or they might be struggling with a work or personal issue. Perhaps you’ve not been working together that long — it takes time and effort to build trust and a good working relationship — or maybe they simply don’t like 1:1 conversations (many people don’t!)

Whatever the reason, don’t get frustrated but try these things:

  • Share your agenda in advance to give them an opportunity to contribute to it and prepare for the meeting
  • Avoid cancelling 1:1s — repeatedly cancelling 1:1s can send a message that your time together isn’t a priority for you
  • Minimise distractions and focus fully on the conversation, actively listening to what they’re saying and avoiding dismissive language or interruptions
  • Don’t fill the silence — give them plenty of time to respond and, if they don’t, reframe the question
  • Ensure your 1:1s are a safe space, where your direct report can talk honestly about their feelings without fear of repercussions
  • Be honest and open about your own feelings and challenges if you feel comfortable doing so — it can help encourage them to do the same
  • Follow-through on any promises you make, and complete any actions assigned to you in good time.

Our conversations are too focused on the day-to-day

While 1:1s can be used to discuss progress on projects and against KPIs, an important focus should be career growth. Without this regular check in, you can go months without talking about it, which can be seriously detrimental to your team.

How to fix it:

It’s important your team feel they’re making progress in their careers, not just their day-to-day workload, and that they have a clear idea of where the opportunities to grow lie. They’ll feel more motivated and engaged in their work, and that’s a win win. So make sure you set aside some time in every 1:1 to discuss opportunities for growth and how your team’s tracking against their goals. Actively invite your team to share their aspirations, and ask them where they might need some more support.

Read more: 26 Questions to ask your team in their next 1:1 >

We never seem to make progress after our 1:1s

If actions or decisions made during 1:1s aren’t followed up, or you don’t leave the meeting with any outcomes or next steps at all, it’s impossible to make the conversation a productive one.

How to fix it:

Rather than simply discussing issues or concerns, try to make concrete decisions or set specific actions during the 1:1, and keep a log of everything you’ve agreed. We don’t mean writing everything down verbatim, this is a conversation not a dictation test, but it’s important to make a note of things you’ll come back to next time and the actions you’ll both complete in between. And be sure to hold up your end of the bargain — if there’s any actions on you, complete them in good time!

My feedback is always ignored

It can be tough giving feedback, especially if it’s negative, but it’s so important. Without it, your team won’t know they might need to do something differently, and you won’t be doing your job as their manager. But if you’re repeatedly giving the same feedback without seeing any change, it can be frustrating.

How to fix it:

If you think that the feedback you’re giving is regularly being ignored, consider whether the way you’re providing it is constructive and motivating. Note down some actions that’ll address the feedback you’ve raised, along with some timeframes to keep things focused. Sometimes a simple reframing of negative feedback as an opportunity to grow can do the trick too.

Read more: How to give difficult feedback at work >

Progression can help you improve your 1:1 conversations: Here’s how

Are you bored of unproductive, unfocused 1:1 meetings? Struggling to look beyond daily tasks, or feel like your conversations are going in circles? Progression can help.

All of the updates you and your team add in Progression — the Wins, the Feedback, the completed Actions — live in their Work Feed, ready to refer back to whenever they’re needed.

So next time you’re struggling to work out what you want to discuss in your 1:1, use Progression as a guide. Is there any feedback your direct report needs to act on? Add a new action to keep it front of mind. How’re they tracking against their Focus Skills? Is it time to swap in a new one? Where are they excelling? What can they learn from the Wins they’ve received?

Learn more about Progression → 

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Picture of Alex Hepworth

Posted by Alex Hepworth

Content Writer at Progression

Alex on LinkedIn

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