Getting the Most Out of One-on-Ones

One on one meetings are big part of the corporate world, but best practices also apply to meetings you will have outside of work, such as with peers, mentors, or classmates. I even recommend most of the below for my undergraduate students, to help them get the most out of meetings and office hours with myself, their other professors, or networking coffee chats they have.

Some of the most important things to keep in mind for one on one meetings are true for all meetings. Things like:

  1. Have an agenda and goal for the meeting
  2. Make sure everyone understands the agenda and goal before the meeting begins
  3. Take notes, identify next steps or action items, and make sure each action item has both an owner and a date attached to it (either for completion or an expected update)

These are basics that everyone agrees with, but are often skipped. Just because a one on one meeting might be more casual, doesn’t mean the basics of good meeting hygiene don’t apply.

However, specifically for one on ones there are a few other important things to keep in mind. The below have all served me well, and I do my best to keep them in mind when planning for, and during, every one on one I have.

First, come prepared for the meeting. Even more important than a standard meeting, it is important to come knowing what you are trying to get out of the meeting. You should always have a goal, even if it is just a 15 minute coffee chat, you might have a goal of introducing yourself and getting to know the other person.

You’ll also want to have a very flexible agenda. You want to take advantage of your time with this person, whether they are junior or senior to you, and the best way to do this is have enough slack in your planned conversation to have meandering conversations. You want to balance being specific vs. broad, having a purpose while also asking open ended questions. Some of my most important learnings, for my own growth or to better lead my team, were from hearing about items I didn’t even know to ask about.

To continue focusing on growth, you should use your one on ones to solicit feedback. Getting actionable feedback is more difficult than it might seem, but if you create a habit of always asking for feedback in your one on ones, you’ll be creating space for important information you might not get otherwise. Your requests for feedback will often result in general platitudes that aren’t useful, but it is worth it to continue asking – some of the nuggets of insight you will eventually get are invaluable.

Finally, be sure to end the meeting, as always, by identifying action items. If this meeting is with a mentor it could be deciding on a cadence for scheduling future meetings, or if it is something less formal it could just be aligning on when you might be reaching out again. Don’t overpromise or commit to anything you aren’t serious about, but if the meeting went well, you’ll want to make sure you have an opportunity to continue the conversation.

You’ll have many different types of one on one meetings. On a regular basis I’m meeting with colleagues to check in and share information, meeting with mentors to help work through problems I’m facing, strategizing with my manager on how we want to tackle specific problems, and meeting with new people to expand my network. In my role, I’m also meeting with students to help with academic or career related questions, and checking in with talented individuals who I may be trying to recruit in the future. No matter what setting or goal of your upcoming one on ones, these guidelines will help you get the most out of them.

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