Many leaders today are “meeting-ed” out. There are too many meetings that take up too much time and don’t really provide value or return. Sometimes it feels like your entire day can get filled with meetings and the only time you get to do “your work” is finally at 10 PM at night. Many leaders and professionals are working hard to find a healthy work-life balance and rhythm.  After you get the needed meetings and work done it feels there is definitely no time to have 1-to-1 meetings with your leaders.

I have talked to many leaders about this and often while they see the value of 1-1 meetings, it feels like we are in an extra crazy season creating a greater time squeeze making 1-1 “just not possible”. It can seem like a good solution to this problem by simplifying and allowing 1-1 to just be as needed. Plus, it seems like if we make ourselves available to people, all should be good. This feels streamlined, relevant, quick, and efficient.

There are a few challenges with this; sometimes we are solving the wrong problem and creating another.

  1. TAKES MORE TIME. By removing the meeting, we might be spending more time “meeting” dynamically vs an organized meeting (if you totaled up the time spent). It feels justified because it was “quick” and “relevant” but often creates more “interruptions”.  We know from time management studies one of the quickest ways to regain time is to work in blocks of focus and reduce interruptions and group communications (which would have been the old meeting).  Every “quick” interruption costs you the interruption time plus the time after it to get refocused and back into your thoughts (avg time for this is 15-30 mins). Additionally, sometimes the interruption took just enough time the window for that work you were doing is now gone and you only have 10-15 min more before a meeting or appointment, so you don’t want to get back to the task and absorb the time checking email, social media or extending the “quick” interruption conversation.
  2. LACKS STRATEGIC THINKING & PLANNING TIME. Dynamic meetings can feel more “invisible” because they are clearly dealing with something more immediately at hand. This tends to make your connections “urgent” focused vs “important” focused and things that are less squeezy fall in the cracks because in a “quick” meeting not only are the “important – not urgent” things not on your radar but there is no time to think or discuss them midstream of the current task/project. This results in strategic thinking and planning getting overlooked and can accidentally build a reactionary rhythm rather than the disciplined habit to stop, reflect, assess, plan, adjust and return to execution mode. Also, in relation to point number one, a meeting that is planned for tends to be quicker than an ad-hock one where both parties might not have all the information needed to fully solve a problem or answer a challenge.  
  3. FUELS A REACTIONARY RHYTHM. It is easier to “react” rather than plan. Planning takes work plus it can be frustrating when things go differently than planned, tempting us to think planning doesn’t work or have value anyway. Planning requires discipline and effort to think through things and create an approach. It helps to elevate communication and proactively work through obstacles, delegate with good margin ahead of time and arrange tasks in a plan that optimizes time and energy. Example: If you have planned, when you talk to your assistant, you have all five things you need to be done for the day rather than the current thing at hand, an hour later the next thing, lunch another thing, and so forth. Not only does it make you more efficient, but it also makes others more efficient because you are not interrupting them. Reaction cycles are hard to get out of because it feels like there is no time for planning. The only way out is to stop and plan and create space for what is important and not just urgent.
  4. YOUR LIMITED ACCESS LEADS TO MISTAKES. Often, we think we are more available than we are. People do not like to interrupt so if they have the perception we are busy, they will “try and figure it out” on their own, even when it would have been a good thing to discuss. When that leader does reach out, they are trying to make it quick for whatever urgent item they needed to interrupt you for. Additionally challenging is the fact that if a leader is “catching” you for a quick question, even if you are not in a rush, the likelihood of stopping to talk about other things is small. Plus, when one person is interrupting the other, you were not planning to talk and are therefore not prepared for a conversation. Many leaders are great at thinking on their feet and can cover a lot of information spontaneously, but it doesn’t allow the margin and the same preparedness as when you plan. (Yes, some leaders might admit they don’t really plan for their 1-1 but that is another issue and why a 1-1 would not seem as valuable as when you take time to prepare). When our team does not know when we are going to be free, it causes them to “catch us quick” more often and does not allow time for conversations about things that would be proactive. When you block time for regular 1-1 conversations it allows your team to gather questions and create a rhythm that allows them to feel supported. It lets them know that you are blocking time for them and not just making them “catch you”.
  5. MORE MISTAKES. Not meeting reduces communication, planning, strategic alignment, training, and more. Therefore, challenges and issues tend to be greater because there was no proactive training, strategizing, and planning. So, more people don’t have as much info, are doing their best but really lack the support they need, resulting in weaker decisions, miscommunication, and gaps. Allowing time for an organized and efficient 1-1 will save leaders time as better decisions are made and fire drills and emergency troubleshooting is reduced. This applies from day one in the onboarding process. Many leaders hire in a pinch and are already behind, so they do express onboarding and people hit the ground running. In contrast, when a leader creates time for a well-thought-out and executed 30-60-90 training and onboarding plan it is amazing how well new team members are better equipped. They strongly execute in less time with fewer mistakes if the painful time is taken upfront. This continues with 1-1 which feel like extra time but it really is a sacred and structured time for the leader to check in on tasks, follow up on accountabilities, provide support to what that team member needs (questions, training, checks, and balance), stay connected to want is happening in that area of business, stay in tune to the culture and pulse of that team member (the great resignation, etc.), and inspire them with encouragement, feedback and kudos for where they are winning and excelling as well as challenging them to their next upgrade.

So, if canceling meetings and 1-1 is not the answer, how can you meet and still find balance?

    1. REOCCURING AGENDA. 1-1’s are critical to give your direct reports time to hear what is going on for them, train them, work through things, etc. It is important to make that time as valuable as possible so have an agenda for your time so both people come prepared, and the time can move swiftly
    2. FOCUS. Have a tool so you can clearly have actions and agreements in front of you to quickly run their projects and tasks.
    3. MARGIN. Allow margin to connect with people. We are humans. This is a stressful time. Allow time to see how they are doing and care about them as a human. It makes a difference and people work harder when they know they are cared about and supported rather than feeling pressed and it never being enough. It allows space to think through and talk through important decisions and sends a message that there is time to talk and plan. This will reduce mistakes and miscommunication.
    4. COMPASSION. Remember part of this time is to connect with them and ensure that you are making space and time to check in with your team member. How are they? How is their stress? Are they enjoying what they are doing? Are they challenged in a good way? Do they need anything? Etc.
    5. INVEST. Invest in noticing what they are doing well and give that feedback. Most leaders feel like they ARE, but truth is, more is needed. Help them see their path forward and their potential. Help them know why it matters for them to grow and upskill and what that will do for them. Enroll them in the WHY of the business and the CAUSE that they are working so hard for. People want to be part of making a difference. They need to be reminded regularly of the vision, mission, values, and purpose of the stress, the work, the pain, the press. It is worth it, but when they are running through the forest of work, the 1-1 is an opportunity to bring them up in the helicopter to see the bigger picture for themselves, their career, and the mission they are on (why it matters).

These are just a few reasons for 1-1 and how to make them more effective. Give it a try and if it isn’t working, assess how to make it better (time, agenda, purpose, etc.) rather than just skipping it. Co-design with your team member so it is a win-win of what they need and what you need. Hold the time as sacred as meeting with a big client. This communicates they are valuable, and the time is valuable.