How to crack the secret of winning one-to-ones

I’ve just seen The Imitation Game. (Great film. Watch a taster here). It’s thought-provoking on so many issues and, of course, stars the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing the World War Two code-breaker.

As for being a lesson in how to motivate people to do amazing things…

Well, what can I say? Never have two people in a working relationship stuck less to best practice than Turing and his creepy military boss, the Charles Dance character.  The one-to-ones? Let’s not go there. Shouting, interrupting, crazy deadlines, accusations of spying. You name it.

Fortunately, Alan Turing was a rather extraordinary person whose motivation survived. Not everyone is so unusual.

One-to-ones are your most powerful tool

In my coaching sessions with third sector clients, I often hear complaints about one-to-ones. They’re a waste of time, too long, too tense, not helpful. They’re endlessly postponed as apparently more urgent and more important work comes up.

But here’s the thing. The one-to-one is actually the most vital piece of equipment in a manager’s tool kit. The one-to-one is the most important work they can do.

Crack the one-to-one and you crack performance.

regular one-to-ones build trust

A productive one-to-one, held on a regular basis between annual appraisals and unscheduled pep-talks:
– builds trust in the relationship
– motivates staff members
– keeps people learning, growing and performing.

What could be more important than that?

But you have to have them

The secret to winning one-to-ones is simple – you have to have them. Regularly. I encourage all my coaching clients to schedule one-to-ones into both people’s diaries – and keep them there.

Weekly, fortnightly or monthly, it doesn’t matter, but whatever you do, make it a commitment and stick to it. Do not cancel. If you absolutely must, make sure a date gets put right back in again.

When you endlessly postpone one-to-ones you’re essentially telling the other person that they’re not really that important.

Make this one small change to have regular chats, and you’ll be able keep meetings short because there won’t be masses to cover and you’ll have space for a coachly discussion rather than a monologue of stressy instructions given under pressure. Time spent reviewing progress, planning next steps, and identifying learning needs together reaps huge rewards, for both.

Without it, the two of you are only ever going to be talking when there’s a crisis, Charles Dance style.

Over to you

So, how are your one-to-ones? Productive and motivating? Infrequent and stressful? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Join in the conversation by adding your comments in the box below.

What next?

If your one-to-ones aren’t working and you’d like to talk to me about how individual coaching can help, click here to book a chat.



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2 responses to “How to crack the secret of winning one-to-ones”

  1. Leda Sammarco avatar

    Great post, Katie. Communicating one to one with people at work and in life is so important. It is an opportunity to connect with someone else in a way that is intimate, safe, confidential, and focused. We can give that other person our complete attention and make them feel heard – something of a rarity these days in a world where we are constantly bombarded. I remember when I worked in the PR industry all new employees were assigned a mentor, and I really appreciated going out for lunch with them and being able to share how I was feeling about work and ask any questions away from the rest of the office. Now, running my own business, I enjoy getting to know people through meaningful one to one conversations at networking events, I work best when I’m one to one with clients or interviewing people so I can share their expertise and connect them with my tribe. Hey, even socially, I find one to one can be the most fun. So, as you say, Katie, you need to have them and stick to them so people feel valued and trusted. Great advice for both work and play.

  2. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thanks for your great comment, Leda. I love your idea of the one-to-one being a precious safe haven in a demanding world.