Often peers tell me that they enjoy having feedback sessions with their teams, but they feel that they are not getting enough value. I consider individual feedback sessions crucial for team performance. Therefore, I would like to give some advice on how to maximise 1:1 feedback sessions with your team.
For 1:1s is very important to be structured. Otherwise, there is a risk that it becomes just chitchat. For this reason, I believe meeting once a month is too frequent. Does a person behaviour and performance change dramatically in one month, so you need to give her advice and guidance? Most likely it does not.
Normally, I have 1:1s sessions during a project at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. This works specially well with interns for example. If there are no specific projects and is just on-going work I try to organise a session every 6 to 8 weeks.
Once you have defined the time frame that suits your organisation best. You should inform the person days in advance about the upcoming session. Ask her to be prepared and make some thoughts about:
- Current project
- Current personal performance
- Team dynamics Etcetera. Make clear that she should not spend hours on this. But she should have clear opinion and thoughts about what has happened since you last talked.
On the other hand, you should be prepared too. Never be spontaneous with your thoughts. In my opinion 1:1s are mentoring sessions where you should help your subordinates become better both on a personal and professional level. They can be very powerful and many people will be very thankful for this.
For this reason, I try to structure what I want to say to the person by answering 3 questions:
What went well? Always start with positive things. It will ease everybody.
What did not go well? Once people have been complimented, they are more receptive for negative critique about their behaviour and performance.
What can be improved? Here is usually a thing that was not catastrophic but not stellar either.
There is a fourth question in case this is not your first session with them: What has changed since last time. Here I review comments I made from previous sessions and briefly think if things improved or not. I also make regularly notes about each of my team members, so I go and review them to see if I am forgetting something.
Be very specific and always mention concrete examples. Try to focus on things that offset you the most or that you would like to specially highlight. Then, people cannot change everything in them at the same time (and if you feel it should be so, then maybe that person is not a good fit for your organisation). I write all these things down and usually spend 15 to 20 minutes organising my thoughts and preparing it.
On the day of the session, call the person and go to a quiet place where you can talk and where other people from the organisation cannot hear you. Establish an atmosphere of trust and intimacy. Before starting, always offer to go for some drink and make some small talk. People who are having a 1:1 for the first time often expect the worse (e.g. contract termination) so try to relax them.
Once you are all set, explain first the motives of the reunion and outline the process: How long it will take (no more than 30mins), which topics you will discuss (mention the 3 questions listed above) and that you also expect feedback from them (about your own performance, the team, etc.). If this is a follow-up session, also mention that you will address the things that have changed since last time.
I start by recapitulating briefly what happened last time and the changes I noticed in the person. Then I go through my 3 questions. If the person has something to say, I write it down, but normally I do not answer them back. Often people will try to justify themselves and their behaviour especially if you are making a negative comment. However, I do not like to start a discussion/controversy.
Once I have finished, I invite them to give me feedback. I listen and write all the things they say. I never reply or try to justify.
Before finishing the session, I always repeat the main points and highlight one thing specifically, it can be positive or negative.
After this, I thank them and tell them that I would like to have a follow-up session in the future as a next step and we leave the room together.
As mentioned above, I write regularly things that I notice about individual member or the team as a whole. Just small bullet points on a regular basis. This gives me objective material to address during the 1:1. It is brief and spontaneous; otherwise, it does not scale if you have a team of 10+ people. In any case, as next step, I monitor their performance / behaviour and keep a log of this.
As you can see, the most important thing is to have a framework. This is what works for me best. If your situation is different, then adapt it or come up with one of your own. 1:1 are an incredibly powerful tool. The best thing is when people honestly thank you for giving them valuable feedback and help them change for good. Hence, you have to be prepared, be structured and precise.
How do you do your feedback sessions?