One-on-ones: Giving, not getting, is the key to your team’s success

I read a LOT of blogs and professional articles directed to managers, and many have a consistent theme – “How to get the most from your team members”. I understand the sentiment, but I don’t like the way the words sound. To “get” something from your team members implies you have to extract it. Or take it. Or to push them to hand it over.

Back in the day, perhaps that sentiment worked. (Or maybe we just thought it worked!) The boss was king. You showed up to work, did exactly as you were told, kept your head down, worked hard and hopefully got rewarded in the end. You sacrificed, in some ways, the present for the future. I would say were asked to sacrifice a known present for an unknown future – which is a little scary.

Today, with a wide open job market and a largely millennial workforce, we can’t do that.

Millennials (and the modern workforce) think differently

Research tells us that the bulk of the future workforce will be millennials (people currently between the ages 25 and 40), and their values are reshaping the way all generations think anout their work. Here are a few characteristics millennials bring to work:

In a recent survey, the Gallup organization reported that the top 5 things millennials look for when applying for jobs are:

  • Opportunities to learn and grow (87% value this!)
  • Quality of the manager
  • Quality of the management
  • Interest in the type of work
  • Opportunities for advancement

That’s right. NOT vacation, compensation or fancy coffee bars. And they’re not loyal to your company simply because you hired them. You have to earn your authority. In addition, the market is wide open for them, so they are generally unwilling to gut it out” if there is no clear path to “better”. They have no problem leaving (and they may not even tell you why!).

So to retain the workforce and give people the the environment they both desire and deserve, we need to think differently.

It’s not about getting, but giving.

I hear you saying “Chris, you’re building a straw man. This is NOT what people mean when they say this.” And I think you’re right. But words matter, and I think changing the words will help you get where you want to go more effectively, while at the same time demonstrating your respect and commitment to the others on your team.

For me, it changes my mindset, from extraction to generosity. From them giving to me to giving to them. From being an overlord to being an under-shepherd. But what can I give that will help each team member succeed, develop the team’s success, and build a healthy culture?

4 things you can give your team

1. Give your team members time

One of the most important gifts I received from my best managers was the gift of their time. When I was able to get regular time on their calendar, it communicated that I was important to them. They were intentional about meeting with me, and while we discussed everything from my professional development to my golf game, the simple fact that they guarded the time showed they valued me and my development.

On the flip side, I also had managers that constantly changed our time, canceled the meetings or never took any initiative to begin with. This made me feel invisible – expendable. And what really bugged me was the 5 minutes before the meeting “Hey, do you have anything important to talk about? You good? I’m good, too…let’s cancel for today.” This made me feel in the way, and that the only important meeting was “the building is burning down” meeting. It was incredible demotivating.

So make the one-on-one an important part of your schedule, not an afterthought.

2. Give your team members clear expectations

One of my favorite things to do with my daughter is to watch track and field. Particularly the Olympics. She runs track, so it spurs on a lot of good conversation. But one of the main things we both love is that the results are objective. It’s clear where the finish line is, and it’s relatively easy to identify the winner.

As I outlined in another blog post, there was a time in my career when I was taking my team through massive changes at an organizational level. I laid out the high level strategy, provided as much inspiration as I could and instructed my leaders to come up with plans to reach our desired outcome. For almost 2 years we struggled to see positive results. Why?

Because people didn’t actually know what to do.

As leaders, we sometimes make assumptions that our team members know what they’re doing. But without regular one-on-ones to revisit the action plan, team members can get lost and off target. By giving your team clear expectations they know exactly what you expect and how to “win”. They know where the finish line is, and that makes for a much more energetic, effective and positive workplace

3. Give your team the chance to get to know you, and for you to get to know them

Sometimes I forget that I work with people. Seriously. When things get really busy, I tend to look at my team members as “work doers”, not individuals with dreams and aspirations.

I’ve been leading a long time, and one thing I have noticed is that people want their manager to know who they are. Team members want to be “seen”. They want their manager to know their strengths and weaknesses, their triumphs and their struggles. Far from being a cog in a machine, they’d rather be acknowledged as individuals with specific gifts and abilities.

You might say that you can know those things by intuition, or by personality inventories like the MBTI. But really getting to know people requires time, and having a regular one-on-one gives you an opportunity to dig in.

They need to know you, too.

Almost as important as knowing your team is making sure they know you, too. Most want to know the person who has input into their career advancement, their compensation and the fulfillment they find in their work. They want to know if you’re trustworthy, and if you’ll support them when things are tough.

Your team members will learn through your transparency – by honestly sharing yourself with them. Your triumphs? Sure. But perhaps more important is sharing your struggles and your failures. By seeing how you overcame the obstacles in your career, (and are still overcoming them!) they learn that career progression isn’t derailed by setbacks. Sharing your failure also makes you more accessible. They know they’re not perfect, and it helps to know you’re not, either.

The one-on-one is the perfect setting to both learn about your team and share your life with them. Look for opportunities in those meetings to be transparent with your team members, and they will likely learn that you’re a safe person they can trust – building the kind of culture that makes for a happier more productive team!

4. Give your team time and attention so the smallest voice has a platform to be heard

Some years ago some friends and I rented an RV for a fishing weekend. The RV had an elaborate awning that provided us with shade, but it proved pretty unstable as the winds picked up. We decided we needed to retract the awning, but as we did a gust of wind hit us and the awning quickly snapped into an odd position – pinching my thumb in a hinge created by two long aluminum bars.

I was completely stuck and in…well…a good deal of pain.

As you can imagine, my friends came to my aid and loudly discussed how to get my thumb out of what felt like a vise. Despite the flurry of conversation and activity, nothing worked to free me. The pain was getting worse, and I honestly thought I’d lose my thumb.

It was then that I noticed one of the guys leaning up against a car, doing absolutely nothing. I felt like yelling, “C’mon man, help me get out of here!” But he sat there stroking his chin and staring at me. After five minutes or so (it felt like an hour!), he casually walked up to us and said, “This is what we need to do…”

I was freed in 15 seconds.

Having regular one-on-ones with your team gives people who aren’t loud, confident team members a voice with their manager. They’re not the type of people who will out-shout the boisterous folks on your team, but because they are quiet, they are often also thoughtful. Their insight can help you and your team succeed! As in my story, it was the quiet friend that actually allowed me to keep my thumb, because while others were frantically trying to help, he was thoughtfully figuring out a solution.

Having one-on-ones with the smallest voice on your team gives them a platform to provide you with much-needed input. And it also builds their confidence and will help them find their voice in the larger context of the team.

Wrapping it up

I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been there. “Having regular one-on-ones with my team is time consuming, and sometimes it doesn’t feel like I’m accomplishing much.” I get it. Maybe you need to punch up your questions or change the locale of your meeting to bring some new life to your meetings. But as someone who been leading for a long time, I can tell you I’ve had the greatest success with my team when we are having regular one-on-ones. The cadence of having consistent conversations is what builds the trust I want to characterize my team, and that trust builds productivity that leads to our collective success

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