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The Un-Terrifying, Effective One-On-One Check-In Meeting

The Un-Terrifying, Effective One-On-One Check-In Meeting

What are the characteristics of an effective 1-1 meeting?

The other day, I led a management training meeting for members of our team who aren’t yet managers on the topic of 1-1 meetings. I started by asking the students what they thought an effective one-on-one meeting between a manager and a team member should look and feel like.

Now, if I ask this question of people who are already managers, I’ll get answers like:

1. “They’ll be connected to the mission.”

2. “I’ll have confidence that they understand their job.”

3. “The team will get better results. The scorecard numbers will be better.”

But I immediately realized that these terrific, non-manager team members had a different perspective. In fact, the first answer from our newest team member was:

1. An effective one-on-one meeting isn’t terrifying.

Isn’t terrifying!? Wow! Clearly a lot of one on one meetings are being run really badly if the incredibly low bar of not inducing panic in the employee is a potential improvement!

Here are some other reactions from the non-manager students to the question “What are the characteristics of an effective 1-1 meeting?”

1. You know you’ve been HEARD and UNDERSTOOD and issues are ACKNOWLEDGED.

2. Communication is DIRECT, CLEAR and OPEN.

3. You have a sense of RESOLUTION knowing that issues preventing you from doing your job effectively will be SOLVED

4.The meeting is RESPECTFUL–it is not RUSHED; it is SCHEDULED in advance and there is some degree of PRIVACY.

5. Accomplishments are RECOGNIZED, and you leave with CLEAR STEPS for what to do next, resulting in a feeling of ENCOURAGEMENT and READINESS to work.

Each one of these comments is like a line in a contract–it wouldn’t be there if it someone hadn’t had the experience of having these expectations violated. (In fact, a couple of managers who report to me took part in the meeting, and one of them laughingly told me “Dan, sometimes you’re so fast in our meetings that I don’t know if you understood what I told you!” Noted!)

At NYC Guitar School, our 1-1 meetings are an essential element of staying aligned. Here is how they work:

1. REGULAR RHYTHM: We ask our directors to have a 1-1 check in meeting with their team members at least every 60 days. Some 1-1s happen more frequently; our student coordinators have a 1-1 at least every 2 weeks with their Director–and our five location directors have a meeting each 1 or 2 weeks with me. Marketing and bookkeeping 1-1 meetings happen even more frequently.

2. IN CONTEXT: These 1-1 meetings take place in the context of weekly leadership team meetings and other program team meetings and all staff meetings and huddles–so there are other opportunities for learning and for finding and solving issues. (These meetings are based on the EOS model, which we’ve used with great success for the past 3 years.)

3. EFFICIENT AND WITH NOTES: Because we have a lot of meetings, they can happen quickly. Many meetings can take place in 20 minutes. We keep a record of meetings, goals and issues to help meetings go more quickly.

4. NOT FOR CORRECTIONS: The 1-1 meeting should NOT be used for corrections–those should typically happen IMMEDIATELY, in the moment. For example, if someone is late two days in a row, they shouldn’t have to wait 60 days to get back on track! (And by the way, encouragement and recognition should happen in the moment as well.)

Recently we’ve revised our format, to maximize the experience and results of the meeting. Here’s the format…I encourage you to try this out.

0. PREP. Very important. Before you begin a meeting, take a few minutes to review any past notes on what the team member is working on, and write down notes on what you want to make sure to cover. Even a few minutes of review will make a big difference.

1. “How Are You?” Take a moment for a human check in.

2. “What Is Your Role and Mission?” I ask the Directors to articulate what their role is in the company and to say what they are trying to accomplish in that role. And yes, it is OK to ask this question meeting after meeting and hear almost the same answer. That’s called “getting on the same page!”

3. “What Are Your Goals?” This is a fast way to not only get a handle on what the team member is working on in the business, but where they are at in their life. This is a great time to see if any of their life priorities can align with the business–or to see ahead of time if they might not! I ask these four questions:

– What are your short-term priorities in the business in the next week to month?

– What are your long-term goals in the business, over the next 1-3 years?

– What are your personal short-term priorities?

– What are your personal long-term goals?

4. “What have you done, what will you do, and what is getting in the way?” Next I use my notes to bring up individual topics, for example “school partnership”, “air-conditioning”, “training the new person”, “equipment replacement”, etc–these are typically very specific to what is going on. For each topic I ask:

– “What Have You Done?”

– “What Will You Do?”

– “What Is Getting In Your Way?”

This is where the real work of the meeting gets done! I can hear what is going on, give well-deserved positive feedback, release resources, make suggestions, talk over options, etc., to help get rid of constraints so that any given team member can be more effective. It is very important to ask “anything else” to make sure you aren’t missing any important topics.

1. “What did we decide and who will do it?” Finally, I recap the meeting, including any to-dos either of us have taken and the deadlines.

2. BONUS NOTES. Just like the best time to prep for a guitar lesson is right after finishing the previous guitar lesson, lately I’ve taken to writing notes on the meeting, which I can refer back to before the next meeting.

And there you have it–a business like, efficient meeting which is oriented towards solutions and progress, and which gets issues and problems into the open so they can be acknowledged and solved!

And yes, it is “non-terrifying.”


Have An Awesome Day!


Dan Emery

Founder, NYC Guitar School


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Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.


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