One Question to Revolutionize Your One-on-One Meetings

“Success is really about being ready for the good opportunities that come before you. It’s not to have a detailed plan of everything that you’re going to do. You can’t plan innovation or inspiration, but you can be ready for it, and when you see it, you can jump on it.”

~ Eric Schmidt

One Question to Revolutionize Your One-on-One Meetings

By Jim Canterucci

Let’s just say that the one-on-one meeting is not always the item on the schedule either the leader or the staff member looks forward to most.

Beth: “I have a one-on-one meeting every Monday with my boss.”

Tom: “That stinks.”

Beth: “No, I look forward to it every week.”

Tom: “Are you serious? Why?”

Beth’s boss, Mary, focuses on keeping the people she is responsible for engaged and moving toward their joint goal – success. In every one-on-one meeting, Mary asks a specific question which prompts a discussion reinforcing the staff behavior that makes success attainable for the company; that makes employee satisfaction possible for her direct reports; and most importantly, helps knock down barriers that stand in the way to both.

The question Mary asks: “Beth, what innovation did you come up with in the last week?”

Initially most employees are sweating a bit when they first hear this question. Their thoughts go something like this, “Innovation? You mean like what did I invent? You know I’m not a rocket scientist and I never would have come up with the whole light bulb thing, right?”

Because Beth has experience working with a boss who values the 1:1 meeting, Beth automatically responds with something like this:

“We found when creating the landing page for each client’s project website, we had to go through the typical 20 steps with approvals all along the way from multiple departments before we could even start the landing page. It was really slowing us down. But essentially, our client landing pages are just templates we adjust for each new client. We developed a system where we can create the landing page ourselves and avoid all those steps.

We found the departmental reviewers don’t really know what a landing page should look like; that’s why we’re here. If we ask for their review and approval every step of the way (all 20 of them), they feel the responsibility to review the work and tweak it here or there. As I mentioned, this was really slowing us down. Now we design the landing page, with their input as the subject matter experts, and when they’re presented with the final product and see their words incorporated into our design, we basically get a rubber stamp approval. We’re much more efficient now.”

We define Personal Brilliance this way: “When you’re faced with a situation where you have to come up with, and implement, a great idea…and you can — that’s personal brilliance.”

A little improvement; a huge benefit; implemented by a single individual or a small team — that’s personal brilliance! In other words, innovation is the practical application of creativity into something that makes a difference.

With this definition of innovation, the size of the impact of the innovation doesn’t matter. The power of this type of innovation is that it happens habitually — it’s the habit of innovation that matters most.

What is the dynamic to the innovative one-on-one meeting?

  • By default, there is a positive tone to the one-on-one meeting
  • The focus is always on innovation; this habit breeds an innovative organization
  • Innovation adds context to the normal day-to-day work grind
  • Innovation isn’t a separate, one-off event; rather, innovation is discussed weekly in conjunction with all the organization’s daily tasks and goals
  • The one-on-one meeting is led by the team member rather than the leader
  • The focus of the one-on-one meeting is elevated to the larger organizational viewpoint: What value do you provide to the organization on a weekly basis? (A performance review shouldn’t be limited to an annual occurrence only. Where’s the value in that approach for your employees?)
  • The leader is not stuck in the rut of reacting to transactional tasks only — everyone’s ‘job’ becomes more interesting

Ask this question in all of next week’s one-on-one meetings:

“What innovation did you come up with in the last week?”

See what happens. But explain it to your direct reports so they don’t break out in a cold sweat. This is no more intuitive to the team member than it is to the leader. You’ll be amazed at how much more rewarding your role as leader becomes; and how much more your team members contribute.

Jim Canterucci’s firm, Transition Management Advisors, focuses on developing leadership capabilities to create a championship culture, generate innovation, and successfully lead the resulting changes. You can read more on The New Leadership Normal blog here.


Ready for a breakthrough in your one-on-one meetings? Ask this one question and see what happens. Please share how it goes with us below.