Posted on September 6, 2015
by Doug Klugh

As a manager, you are faced with a variety of responsibilities and expectations, from above your position and below, that need to be fulfilled every day.  Through all the challenges and roadblocks, you need to drive your team(s) to deliver results while retaining and growing your team members.  But if you don't have good relationships with your people, you will struggle to achieve these goals.

To effectively manage your team(s), you must have strong relationships with all of your team members.  You have to know their individual strengths and weaknesses and have a good understand of what makes them tick and what truly motivates them.  And you'll never build much of a relationship by casually asking them about their weekend.

One-on-ones are absolutely the best way to build and improve your relationships with your direct reports.  Spending time and communicating with your people individually, on a regular basis, is the most effective way to build trust.  If trust is lacking on either side of the relationship, you will be ineffective in influencing your team's behavior.  You must be able to guide their routines and decisions to have any significant impact on their performance.

To utilize the full potential of your people, you need to close the gap of where they are and where they're capable of being.  And to achieve this, you have to know each team member individually.  You must actively build a relationship to understand each person to help guide them through their daily challenges.  You need to interact with your team members individually, talking about things that are important to them, both personally and professionally.  The better your relationships are with your people, the more effective you will be as a manager.


The goal is not to add numerous meetings to your already busy schedule.  The goal is to have great relationships with your direct reports.  If you can achieve that through some other means, then have at it.  But management experts will tell you the best and most effective way to build great relationships with your people is through regular, frequent one-on-ones.


One-on-ones should be 30-minute, weekly meetings with every one of your direct reports.  They should be scheduled on your calendar and rarely missed.  That's not to say that they can't be moved around if needed, but you should never go a week without meeting with every one of your directs one-on-one.  If something comes up and you need to reschedule one-on-ones, feel free to reschedule them.  But never cancel them. Push them back until later in the week, or move them forward to an earlier day or time, but never cancel them or push them out beyond the end of the week.  Lowering the priority on one-on-ones sends a strong message to your directs that you do not value them.  You need to value your people and they need to know that.


One-on-ones provide a platform for the direct to make it easy to communicate with you.  This meeting is about the direct.  So don't begin the meeting by asking for an update on a particular project.  Don't hijack the meeting for your own purpose or agenda.  Doing this would most likely set the tone for the entire meeting.  If you start the one-on-one by asking for a status, your direct will probably feel compelled to continue talking about work and use the time to give you updates on his/her work.  For one-on-ones to be effective in building and strengthening relationships, your direct must feel free to talk about whatever they want; whether it's work related or not.  If they want to talk about their family, their hobby, or last night's football game, then let talk about it.  If that is what is important to them, then you need to engage in that discussion.  That is how relationships are built.  Even if the topic is not work related or something in which you're not particularly interested, it will go a long way in strengthening your ability to lead and work well with that individual.

That's not to say that the whole meeting should be dominated by your direct talking about how he played Dungeons and Dragons all last night.  A good agenda for a one-on-one would be to first give your direct about ten minutes to talk about whatever they want to talk about, then give yourself ten minutes to talk about whatever you want, then the last ten minutes could be used to talk about expectations for the next week.

Keep in mind that this is not a waterfall meeting.  Any items that need to be passed down from above should be done in a team/staff meeting.  There are two meetings that managers should have with their directs on a weekly basis: one-on-ones and team meetings.  Team meetings should be used to inform the team, facilitate collaboration, coordinate efforts, and provide a voice of the company.  This is very different from the purpose of a one-on-one.

It is important to recognize that you cannot manage your direct reports the same.  Different people require different things from their boss.  If you insist on treating your top performer the same as your bottom performer, he/she is going to feel mistreated.  The same applies to your bottom performer.  You have to manage according to each person's strengths, weaknesses, maturity, and motivations.


Conducting frequent one-on-ones may not seem like the most important thing you do as a manager, but it is.  Your effectiveness as a manager hinges on how well you relate to your people and how much influence you have over their decisions and behavior.  Building and sustaining these relationships is the most critical factor in leading your team(s) in delivering results.
growth meeting relationships results retention team

Doug Klugh

Doug is an experienced software development leader, engineer, and craftsman having delivered consumer and enterprise firmware/software solutions servicing more than one billion users through 20+ years of leadership.

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