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Working the Weekly One-on-Ones

This post lists the key insights from this article, from Christina Wodtke, author of Radical Focus among other things!


The job of a manager is to make yourself as unnecessary as possible.

A coach who tells you how to solve your problems is giving your a one-size-fits-all answer, creating dependency if the advice works and blowing up in your face when it’s wrong. But a coach who pushes you to closely examine your situation and develop your own solutions is a great coach.

A boss who tells you what to do is a micro-manager. As well as annoying the subordinate, a boss like that doesn’t scale.

A manager has to learn to create a workplace where all employees feel comfortable both making decisions alone and asking for advice when it’s needed. The 1:1 is where that habit is built.

Start with at least a little prep

  • Step 0. Before the 1:1, scan the person’s status report. Is there anything there that you should address? A worry, a missed goal, a drop in confidence?
  • Or you might have something you need to discus with your direct report. Make a note to yourself on what it is and any salient details. Don’t trust memory. Emotion can disrupt it.
  • Try not to have more than 1–3 things on your list. Just one is best. Remember, you meet every week. Discuss fewer things better.
  • Consider going for a walk rather than sitting in a conference room. It will be easier to talk, more relaxing and will get you out of the building.
  • Start the conversation by asking an easy personal question about an interest you and the person share, such as sports or entertainment.
  • If you don’t know what they care about, ask! The best work is done when we all know each other as human beings.

Now you’re ready to coach

  1. G is for Goals. Ask your report, “What would you like to get out of today’s meeting?” Let their topic lead the discussion.
  2. R is for Reality (or reflection.) Ask questions about the topic they are struggling with. What facts to they have? What insights? What hunches? What is their reality? Other possible questions to ask
    1. What’s your gut tell you?
    2. How’s that make you feel?
    3. What’s exciting?
    4. What’s scary?
    5. What’s making you [sad, angry, happy]?
    6. How does your culture or history affect this?
    7. What do you know? (Can be used when someone says, I don’t know”)
    8. What surprises you about this?
  3. O is for Options. Have the report come up with their own solutions to the situation. This can be tough if you are a “fixer” like me. As soon as I hear someone say they have a problem I start thinking of solutions. But this keeps you as the holder of all answers. Sit on your hands, resist the urge, and ask, “Do you have any ideas for what to do about this?” More possible questions to ask
    1. How can you make your dream happen?
    2. What’s possible?
    3. What if you had a magic wand, and what you wanted just happened?
    4. What’s a new way?
    5. What if there were no barriers?
    6. What’s the ideal?
  4. W is for Wrap up. If you have gotten through the issues you need to, you can discuss next steps. For instance:
    1. How can I help?
    2. What resources are available?
    3. What’s next?

What if you aren’t the boss?

It can be tough when your boss isn’t the best coach. But you can still coach upwards. Ask your manager what she wants to cover or suggest a topic, then ask her what she knows about the reality of the matter, share what you know, bounce options off her and so on. Help her help you.

As well, look for peer-to-peer coaching. You can read a book like Inner Game of Stresswith a small group of coworkers, and discuss it after. Then coach each other, using the GROW model. Question based coaching with GROW allows you coach anyone, even if you don’t have expertise in that area. That means a designer can coach an engineer, or a QA person can coach a marketeer. You might even get greater team cohesion along the way.

Managers, avoid the seduction of bossing

If you do have advice, ask for consent first. Try saying something like, “I have an idea I think might help. May I share?” That little gesture of respect prevents you from appearing bossy and makes space for your report hear what you have to say.

Advice is thrust upon us so often in our everyday life. It’s kinder to ask first, especially when you are the boss.

3 min​ read

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