🤝 Enhance a culture of inclusion with winning conversations
When done well, one-to-one (1:1) meetings and conversations are an incredible opportunity to build inclusiveness in your team.

They can help boost psychological safety, make your teammates feel heard, and give every one of them the support they need to grow and thrive.

5 Key Dos & Don’ts for Inclusive 1:1s

It’s important to talk through and co-create the process for your 1:1s with each teammate. Put them in the driver’s seat, and agree together on the ground rules:

💡 Will you have an agenda?

💡 How far in advance will this be created and shared?

💡 What items go into it?

💡 How will you track key discussions and actions?

A few recommendations here:

  • Always have an agenda or rough discussion points set in advance
  • …Ideally in a shared doc so you can both contribute to it
  • The responsibility of creating an agenda should be on your teammate – this is an important symbolic responsibility to give them a sense of autonomy (a key motivator, by the way)
  • Receive the agenda far enough in advance that you have time to meaningfully review it beforehand – this will make time spent in the meeting most productive
  • In the meeting, be realistic about what you can accomplish in the time you’ve got and ruthlessly prioritize to make sure you make it to the most important items on the list
  • Capture actions in the shared doc, in a rolling actions log where your teammate can provide a status update for outstanding items

Ideally, you should meet for an hour, either every week or fortnightly, depending on the size of your team and the needs of your teammate.

An hour?!? Yep, that’s right. You need an hour to really dig into issues. Intel co-founder Andy Grove wrote in his classic High Output Management,

“I feel that a one-on-one should last an hour at minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.”

Andy goes on to say that from his experience, it takes at least 20-30 mins to “warm up” to tougher conversations, so when you only have a 30-min slot there’s no way you’ll make it into trickier stuff like feedback or career ambitions.

We’d recommend booking these into the diary in a regular recurring slot, to make sure they don’t slip and to protect your time (i.e., if you’ve got a 1:1 scheduled, your colleague likely won’t come to you with issues unless urgent).

🚩 RED FLAG: Never, ever cancel or no-show to a 1:1, unless absolutely necessary to reschedule.
When you’re busy, a 1:1 is the first thing you’ll want to cull – but be mindful that this signals to your teammate that they’re not a priority (especially if it happens more than once in a blue moon). And that’s highly demotivating!

👂 Active listening is listening with the intent to understand, rather than listening to respond. When the other person is speaking, process what they’re saying and thinking rather than setting up your next point or your next question.

It couldn’t be more basic, but it is really difficult to do. It will take time and practice to change your natural tendency to think up a response when you should be closely listening.

Ban distractions so you can focus completely on listening. Leave your phone at the door. Don’t multi-task.

The word active means that you’re SO engaged in listening that you really can’t send an email, check your phone, plan your best response to an objection – or anything else. It means that you’re all ears.

Finally, ask more questions to draw out their greatest thinking. Being a great listener isn’t just about listening with your full focus. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review’s Zenger & Folkman, the best listeners are like trampolines, who

“You can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energise, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting.”

Key to this is asking thought-provoking questions that spur discovery and insight, and asking strong follow-on questions to really dig into the issue at hand or get clarification to make sure you really understand what they’re saying.

Regular, real-time feedback (both critique and praise) is important for all of us to learn and grow – it gives us the crucial guidance we need to do our best work. 1:1s are the perfect format for all feedback conversations.

So how to actually do it? Here’s your 3-step guide to giving critique:

1️⃣ Start by literally saying, “Let me provide you with some feedback.” This phrase is the best way to kick off a feedback conversation as it lets the other person prepare emotionally for what you’re about to say.

2️⃣ Then give your feedback in EEC format = Example, Effect, Change/Commend

  • Example: give a specific example of behavior or actions (NOT personality)
  • Effect: explain the effect caused in non-emotional terms
  • Change: discuss how to change the behavior (this will involve questions and a two-way discussion) OR Commend: thank them for their brilliant work

3️⃣ Follow up (for critique only). Even a brief email or “How are you getting on with that?” is enough to show that you’re committed to helping them improve. Reiterate your support then.

It may sound obvious, but you need to invest in really getting to know your teammates via 1:1s. The psychological safety (covered in its own model!) of your team starts at a personal level.

Take interest in their outside-of-work life, and share what’s going on in yours. It’s as simple as that – but don’t underestimate the power this trust & rapport has in making everyone feel they belong.

🚩 RED FLAG: Beware of the natural tendency to connect with people who are most like you.

There’s a great saying about inclusion: If you don’t intentionally include, you’ll unintentionally exclude. Make an extra effort to connect with those on your team who are least like you.

Struggling to connect with someone of a different generation, culture or life stage? The trick is to get curious and have richer conversations to really understand the other person and what makes them tick.

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The bottom line?

The central tenets of sound leadership through great 1:1 meetings include asking for feedback instead of just telling people what to do; giving praise and using the right ratio of praise to critique; and caring personally about your colleagues.

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