Coaching insider: How to take a whole person approach to one-on-one meetings

September 2, 2019 - 11 min read

Coaching Insider: How to Take a Whole Person Approach to One-on-One Meetings

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Identifying a favorable outcome for one-on-one meetings

Self-awareness to set the agenda

Effective questioning

Communicating our intentions

Process vs. person feedback

Wrap up and reflection

In this series, we present BetterUp Coaches with realistic scenarios that we commonly encounter (and struggle with) in the workplace. They walk us through how they’d coach a client through the challenge and identify possible solutions. 

Scenario: Nick has just completed a two-day management off-site training. Although he’s been in management for some time, this was his first formal leadership development opportunity. Nick is grateful for his newfound knowledge and eager to apply what he has learned to his own team. He is excited to revamp his 1:1 meetings and shift them from project status updates to more meaningful conversations about how he can best support his team. Nick wants to define a structure for his interactions that creates an environment where his team members feel comfortable being authentic and bringing their whole self to the conversation.

One-on-one meetings often lack focus and structure. Managers can spend a large portion of their week in conversation with team members without gaining deeper insight into what they need to perform at their best. Here is how I would work with Nick to help him and his teammates get the most out of their 1:1s.

Identifying a favorable outcome for one-on-one meetings

I would start off a coaching session with Nick by acknowledging his enthusiasm for change and the importance he is placing on fostering an environment where his team has the freedom to show up as both aspiring leaders and individuals. Next, I would invite him into a discussion to help him identify what a favorable outcome looks like for his 1:1 meetings. We would work backward from the desired outcomes to define the structure.

My goal would be to help Nick:

    • Gain clarity on what information he needs from the team
    • Learn how to translate his and his team’s needs into a productive agenda
    • Enhance his ability to acquire and deliver meaningful feedback
Self-awareness to set the agenda

It is unrealistic to think we leave our personal worries, excitements, and challenges on our doorstep when we enter the office.

When setting the intention for a 1:1 discussion, it’s important to take a whole person approach and authentically address both our personal and professional drivers so that we can thrive as individuals and inspire as leaders. We don't leave our personal worries, excitements, and challenges on our doorstep when we enter the office. What happens outside of work impacts our energy levels, sense of control, and our ability to feel engaged and productive while on the job. Likewise, our work world can positively and negatively blur into our home life.

As a leader, Nick must cultivate emotional intelligence and learn to be attuned to what is going on for others. He can then create a space where his team members can freely address their work performance. Don’t be surprised if what looks like disengagement is actually distraction. For example, a team member might be caring for an aging family member, having a personal health scare, or preparing for a child’s graduation.

To guide the conversation, I would ask Nick questions to expand his self-awareness and help him verbalize what he would like to see more of in his 1:1 interactions.

Questions I might ask include:

  • What does an ideal meeting look and feel like to you?
  • What emotions would you like for your team members or yourself?
  • How would you create this ideal environment?
  • What information do you need from your team?
  • What information might they need from you?

Nick can now create an agenda and environment that best support his desired outcomes from a state of enhanced awareness.

Effective questioning

I rarely get through a day of coaching without incorporating my all-time favorite quote by David Cooperrider: “We live in a world of the questions we create.” 

It is important to cultivate the skill of asking questions that evoke information-filled responses. The questions we ask give direction to a conversation. In Nick’s case, he is seeking greater input from his team on how he can support their project and career developments. All too often, we make the mistake of asking yes/no questions. The trick here is to ask directive open-ended questions to solicit the information you need.

With a little coaching, Nick may generate questions like:

    • What aspect of your work gives you the greatest sense of purpose right now?
    • What is one thing I or another team member could do that would allow you to be more focused or immersed in your work?
    • What am I doing, as a leader, that you would like to see more of? Less of?
    • What do you feel is most influencing your ability to perform or drive results this week?
    • What area of development or skill are you most excited to learn next?

Communicating our intentions

Without communicating the intent of a one-on-one discussion, many team members arrive prepared to deliver a project status update. They are simply ill-equipped for an in-depth discussion. As much as we would like for them to, our teammates can’t read our minds.

Once Nick has created his intentions and agenda, he will want to communicate them so the team knows what to expect. Nick may also want to include his teammates in the development of the agenda, giving them the opportunity to express their needs and interests for having a one-on-one. Feedback will likely be an agenda item of interest to the team. Research has shown frequent recognition and encouragement can greatly improve productivity and engagement – in some cases, up to 40%.1

Process vs. person feedback

When it comes to feedback, there are some best practices that I might offer to Nick. One of these is differentiating between person-oriented and process-oriented feedback. Aim for the latter. Research has shown person-oriented feedback such as “you are great at this” can lead us to contingent self-worth and measuring ourselves based on performance. This can trigger helpless reactions to setbacks. Process feedback helps us connect feedback to our abilities rather than self-worth. When we experience setbacks, we can take a mastery-oriented response.

Process feedback looks like this:

  • Robin, I want to recognize you for the effort you made in developing relationships with our clients. Your ability to establish trust and rapport has greatly contributed to client receptiveness when we put forth new business products and solutions.
  • Ryan, I notice you gave Jill your full attention yesterday when she came to you for technical support. I want you to know that your time and patience in mentoring junior employees is noticed and is a big help in developing the capabilities of our team.

You may notice that process feedback speaks to specific behaviors in a detailed way. Although it can take slightly more effort to prepare and deliver, many of my clients report immediate impact to their team’s engagement and performance when they take a process approach to feedback.

Wrap up and reflection

It may take several coaching sessions to support Nick in gaining clarity and developing a 1:1 meeting that is mutually supportive and helps him learn how he can best guide and develop his team.

Learning new ways of thinking and skills, such as delivering process feedback, can be tricky and take practice to override our habitual thought and behavioral patterns. Nick may also find it difficult to support and challenge his team until he better understands what motivates them.

Going forward, Nick and I might use our sessions to integrate powerful questioning within his leadership style. Empowerment will flow more fluidly when Nick learns to uncover the individual motivational differences of his team members and understand and play to their strengths.

1Source: Arakawa, D., & Greenberg, M. (2007). Optimistic managers and their influence on productivity and employee engagement in a technology organization: Implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2, 78-89.

Original art by Vaclav Bicha.


Published September 2, 2019

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