Employees from businesses of different sizes and industries tend to share the same frustration: there isn’t enough communication in the workplace. 

When managers receive this feedback, it’s often a source of indignation. They point to a litany of in-house communications, usually followed by the question of “What else can we possibly do?!”

What I find employees are actually saying is that they are not LISTENED to enough. 

So how does a manager bridge the gap in communication? 

By having consistent, scheduled, 1-on-1s with your team.

This is even more important in a COVID-19 world, where many of us are spending most of our time working from our homes, away from our usual team interactions. Let’s break down the qualities of these meetings and how they increase opportunities to listen, enable better communication, and drive staff engagement. 

Intentionality

Have a purpose in mind for the meetings and share it with your team. For example, if you haven’t had meetings before, you can brief each team member and let them know. 

Check this out:

Hey Rob, I’d like to start setting up 1–to-1s with all my team members. I can see your calendar is free on Friday at 10am, so I’ll send through an invite. We can talk about what frequency may be best for us (weekly/fortnightly/monthly). It would also be great if you could think in advance about any current challenges you have, potential growth opportunities, or ways I can support you.

You want to encourage your team member to lead most of the conversation, as this is their time to share and for you to listen. Help your employee get to the core of their thoughts and ideas by preparing some coaching questions beforehand.

Opening up the meeting with questions like “How’s your day?”  and then “Should we chat about what’s happening for you at the moment?” leads the conversation into their current workload. 

While important, we also want to take it a step further and see the bigger picture of your team member’s experience and environment, rather than focusing purely on the day-to-day operations. 

Coaching questions

We have a list of over 70 questions across different categories which we share with our newsletter subscribers.  Below is a sample of these questions for you to use.

Try a few of these questions for each 1-to-1 meeting, and after you ask the question, make sure you’re actively LISTENING to your team member’s responses. 

You may get some fantastic insights into problem areas, discover new opportunities, and/or learn more about your team member’s motivations.

  • Remote working

1) Is your workload manageable?

2) Are you able to take breaks and work reasonable hours?

3) Do you have access to the equipment you need?

  • Short term goals

1) How is your objective/goal/project going? Is there anything I can do to help?

2) Are there any projects you’d really like the opportunity to work on?

3) Is any part of your role /project/objective/goal unclear?

  • Long-term goals

1) Have you thought about what you want to be doing in 3 years? 5 years? 10 years? 

2) Do you feel like you’re making progress on your big goals here? Why or why not?

3) What’s one thing we could do today to help you with your long-term goals?

  • Team improvement

1) How could we make our team meetings more effective?

2) If you were CEO, what’s the first thing you’d change?

3) Do you feel overworked, under-worked, or have just the right workload?

  • Self improvement

1) Do you feel challenged at work? Are you learning new things?

2) What area of the company would you like to learn more about?

3) What skills would you like to develop right now?

  • Manager improvement

1) What could I do as a manager to make your work easier?

2) Would you like more or less direction from me on your work?

3) What could I do to make you enjoy your work more?

  • Well-being

1) Are you happy working here?

2) When was the time you enjoyed working here the most?

3) Is there anything that worries you?

  • Team work

1) Is there anyone you have difficulty working with? Why?

2) How would you describe the work environment on the team?

3) How could we improve the ways our team works together?

  • Work habits

1) What is an ideal, productive day at work for you? Walk me through the day…

2) What’s an inexpensive thing we could do to improve our office environment?

3) What are the biggest time wasters for you each week?

 

Besides the immense value you receive from asking these types of questions, your team member will feel listened to and respected ( which builds trust, engagement and performance).

Active listening

The term “active listening” was coined by psychologists Carl Rogers and Richard Farson to describe the way a listener can fully concentrate, understand, respond and retain what is being said.

Often what we consider listening, is actually the physical process of hearing. Sound enters our eardrums and messages are passed to the brain. Although we are hearing what is being said, we may be subconsciously choosing how we will respond and what we will say next, rather than actually processing and listening to the speaker.

When we make a decision to actively listen, we’re not just hearing what is being said, but the feelings and attitudes behind the words. This gives you the ability to connect with your employees, build trust, and increase idea sharing and feedback.

Tips for active listening:

  • Make eye contact, nod your head and be aware of your facial expression
  • Do not multitask (checking emails or looking for something) while your employee is speaking
  • Give verbal cues to encourage your employee. “Uh-huh”, “Sure”, “And then what?”
  • Never interrupt – make it a habit to let people finish their sentences. (You may be surprised at how often you are tempted to jump in!)
  • Notice the employee’s facial expressions and hand gestures. What is that telling you about their feelings right now?
  • Notice the tone of the employee’s words. Is their voice loud or shaky?Are they placing weight on particular words? Is the employee mumbling or struggling to explain themself?
  • Ask questions by summarising some of what you have heard. Examples to consider:
    • “So after you spoke with Rob, he sent you the A45 model but couldn’t find the B35?” 
    • “Do you mean that Rob couldn’t find the B35 model or that he thought the A45 was better suited to the client?”
  • Be aware of your mind moving into solution mode while your employee is speaking. You should be listening and noticing the non-verbal cues, not considering what you’re going to say next.

 

Scheduled

Meetings need to be scheduled at a frequency that suits you both. Don’t have weekly meetings with everyone in your team just because. Ask your team members what works for them and also have your own thoughts on frequency.

Often, those in roles which are more “fire fighting”, project-based, or are new to the role/company, will need weekly 1-to–1s. For others who have a more consistent workload or are experienced in the role/organisation, might just need fortnightly or monthly meetings. The key is doing what works for both of you and checking from time to time that the frequency is still appropriate.

The most important part of scheduling these meetings is ATTENDING them! If you schedule meetings and then continually reschedule, cancel, or just don’t turn up, what message is that sending to your team members?

Your 1–to-1 meetings should receive the same level of importance as a meeting with the CEO or a customer. Only reschedule if you absolutely have to and make sure you stick to the rescheduled time.

Ultimately, your team members just want to be heard and feel valued. (Especially in today’s circumstances). Making time for your team through consistent 1-on-1s and actively listening to their thoughts only stands to benefit your company.

 

Did you like the sample questions we included today? We have plenty more resources to share! Subscribe to our newsletter and continue learning new ways to stay engaged with your team.

 

 

*this article was originally posted in January 2020 and updated in May 2020 to acknowledge the new ‘pandemic’ world we are living in*