The 1:1 format that really transforms things for you and your team
When I talk to leaders at the start of Ways of Working Sponsor Sessions, I often ask about how they conduct their 1:1s and how they support their team.
I ask, “What format do you use? How often do you have them? What is the outcome of those sessions”?
The majority of responses are something like this:
- “It’s a BAU / WIP catch — my employee tells me what they are working on and I set them new tasks”.
- “I don’t really have a format, it’s more organic and conversational”.
- “We try to meet once every couple of weeks to a month — but you know, sometimes other things get in the way and we have to move them”.
What if I told you that the single biggest opportunity for you to extend your leadership, and the results of your team, was to apply a simple 4 step format to one-on-ones and change everything? It sounds incredible right?
Don’t take my word for it. We have had multiple groups of leaders working through our Ways of Working program adopting this format and they almost unanimously agreed that this was the biggest game-changer they experienced. It reduced their stress levels and made 1:1s more interesting, more rewarding, and less of a formality. Their employees reported feeling like they actually felt heard and got the support they needed.
Before you get all excited about silver bullets and snake oil potions, let me tell you that this format isn’t a magic recipe, it’s a framework. It requires practice, experiments, and refinement on your part. But if you are willing to give it a go, it really does work.
So let’s break down the format.
CPAMS — stands for Care, Purpose, Autonomy, Mastery, and then So what.
Imagine you are going to have a 10–15 minute conversation with a member of your team. Choose one of these words as your focus for your time with them. I recommend starting with Care and following a natural progression through the framework. You might cover more than one in a session but try to let the conversation be more organic and curious versus an interrogation of questions to get through the framework. If something sparks your interest, go with it and explore.
Use the CPAMS framework over a month and each week will be a different focus; keeping things fresh for you and building a connection with your team members and their work.
You can take these words and create some really rich 1:1 conversations which aren’t WIP meetings. They are employee-focused coaching conversations. We know from research papers that leaders who conduct a 10–15 minute coaching conversation with every member of their team, every week, see the greatest shift in performance and results. So this is not about an hour of catchup. It’s short and sharp. It can be done remotely or in person. It can be completed in a walking meeting or in a meeting room. The key is that the employee feels like you are interested and listening, and are asking questions that help them think about their current reality, and their next steps. You don’t need to offer answers, you help them reach them.
So let’s dig into CPAMS a bit more.
(Note — if you’d like to download the CPAMS 1:1 meeting template, click here)
The biggest mistake leaders make is overlooking what their team members need to feel cared about. This isn’t the same as you believing you care about them. You are a good person and of course you care about your team. But do you fully understand how they need to see that care from you? They need to see that you care first — before they trust, engage, and deliver at their best for you.
(Author note: we are going to share some questions you might use in the next few steps but if you have your own ideas, please comment/email us and share them).
A great question to start off these Care conversations would be — “what helps you to feel like you are part of a team that cares about you? “What’s important for you to do to show you care?” Much like love languages, the way we care often informs the way we want to be cared about so pay attention and identify ways you can mirror your employees’ needs.
Then perhaps, “What do you care about outside of work?”. Leaders can achieve great results by paying interest in what the employees personally care about and supporting that alongside their day jobs. The payoff? Employees who feel cared about are far more engaged and therefore up to 21% more productive.
This is all about the Why. But the secret is to try and avoid asking Why and instead use What and How questions. There is an old story of the Pope making a visit to one of his parishes. He is introduced to three builders and asks them all the same question — “What are you working on”? The first builder says, “I’m laying bricks”. The Pope thanks him and moves on. The second builder says “I am building a wall”. The Pope thanks him too and moves on. The third builder replies, I’m helping to build a Cathedral so our congregation can have somewhere beautiful to come and worship God”. The Pope embraces him and thanks him for seeing the purpose in his work.
Ask questions like, “What are you working on? How does this fit into our team plan? What difference do you believe that could make to our team/business/world? How did you choose that as the priority”?
Employees who can link their work to the bigger picture/purpose are more likely to deliver great results. This question also helps them to be clear on if they are focussing on the right things. Therefore as the leader, try to help them make this link by exploring it. The payoff? Having a team of employees who are all clear on the purpose of what they are doing and how it fits into the bigger picture means you spend less time dealing with distractions, and having people trying to head off on tangents. It also means that you create collective momentum.
I speak a lot about icebreaker leaders in our WoW program. Leaders have two roles — firstly to help people feel safe and cared about — breaking the metaphorical ice. The second is to break the ice so the ships can sail through the icy waters. This means moving obstacles out of your employees’ way so they can do their best work. Once people know you care, and they have a purpose, let them get on with it. People who have been given autonomy for something (note, this doesnt mean working alone on it, it means responsibility for making sure it is delivered) they will work harder if they believe they are the ones responsible. Your role is not to do things for them or take it from them. It is to support them by being an icebreaker and lend support to help them think through and overcome problems if they are struggling.
Questions like, “What’s your biggest priority at the moment? What support do you need? What concerns do you have and how can I help with that”?
Note that none of these questions are about you rushing in to take the task from them. It’s about asking them to think more. Often, the autonomy questions are designed to help them self-identify roadblocks/icebergs and steer a course around them without you needing to be involved. The payoff? Well if they are operating autonomously, you don’t have extra tasks being added to your list and you can focus on your day job.
This is where you enquire with your employees about how they are improving their skills, gaining experience, and developing. All of us like to feel like we are getting better at things so your role as a leader is to explore that with your employees. This is one of the favorite elements of most managers as they get to engage with the ambition and passion of their employees. They get to see them unleash their magic and see where their aspirations want to take them.
Initial questions should be more reflective in nature — Along the lines of, “What did you learn from that? What skills have you gained from this experience? Where were the gaps in your experiences that you filled with this experience”?
Then move to pre-flective / forward-looking questions: How could you apply what you have learned elsewhere in your role? How could these skills help your future career? What more do you need to learn? Where do you anticipate there being some challenges here? The payoff from these conversations? Your team are building their knowledge and skills, but also reflecting and integrating those skills with you — shifting their perception of your role as a leader and also how much development they are getting in their roles.
How to close things out — So What:
I recommend you finish each 10–15 minute conversation with a quick replay of what you have talked about (summarise and show you heard them) and talk about the next steps. Agree on what you are going to both do; them on their tasks, and you to support them. This might look like answers to the following questions:
- So what have I heard you say?
- So, what is the most effective way I can support you from here?
- So what do our next steps look like?
Try to use these questions as reflective questions whilst you are in the conversation and leave the meeting with more clarity and confidence your employees are engaged and supported and you are working on the things which really make a difference.
PS — if you want to read more blogs like this, click here.
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