Mix up the catch-up

One of the modern rituals of life in organisations, large and small, is the one-to-one “catch-up”.  If we were to examine the diaries of executives over a period of time, I’m certain a significant proportion of their time would be expended on these types of meetings.  But are they always adding value?  Are both parties getting a good return on this investment of time?

What I hear from manager and team members alike, suggests not. Why?

  • However genuine the intentions, many ‘catch-ups’ never happen: they’re often cancelled, often at the last moment and usually by the manager.  This creates frustration for the team member especially when cancellations exceed the number of discussions which actually take place.  It almost feels like one or both parties see them as discretionary.
  • They’re manager led: team members don’t always have a chance to express what they need from the discussion.
  • They become a little too formulaic and very static- style, content, location.
  • They focus too much on today’s activities (important of course), but little time is devoted to looking ahead.

All in all, there’s a sense that neither side quite knows what the ‘deal’ is – what kind of conversation are they?

So what can be done?  Here are some practical tips to re-invigorate these potentially valuable meetings:

  • For managers, only schedule those meetings to which you can realistically commit. It’s an obvious point but too often missed:  better to schedule fewer and attend, than many rarely delivered
  • Set the ground rules for the meetings (or re-set them); timings, purpose, preparation, frequency etc
  • Ensure they are a true dialogue, a 2-way discussion
  • Be “present”: having committed the time give this the same focus and attention as you would any other critical business discussion
  • Change the format from time to time. Often they follow the same pattern, but ensure that you mix this up. Maybe a mix of short-term and long-term, or a mixture of the professional and the personal
  • Change the length of them: short 30-minute discussions are fine, but occasionally make them an hour to allow a little more time to broaden the discussion
  • Change the location/ use different media. Maybe try a ‘walking meeting’ for a change, or use a different technology system if it’s a virtual meeting
  • Engage with each other before the meeting to set the tone and agenda (“when we meet next week I’m looking forward to spending time discussing X”)

When done well these meetings are a vital management tool and a source of motivation and engagement for both parties.  But, if you have fallen into bad habits, and it’s easily done, waste no time in putting it right!

Jeremy Franks, Partner, Aretai LLP

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