The most devastating moment I had as a leader was in my first year as a teacher at the University. I had a class of 30 students, and one of them wasn’t paying attention and kept distracting the others for several days in a row now. After one of the seminars, I took him to the side and told him that I found his behavior disrespectful. It was the first incident of this kind for me, and before I noticed, I held a tirade about motivation and respect for five minutes. When I finished, his only response was: “My mother is in the hospital for two days, and the doctors are not sure what the next days are going to look like. I came to the class to get some distraction. I am sorry that I wasn’t able to focus for the last days and that I distracted the other students.“
I felt devastated and ashamed. A simple question such as “You seemed to be distracted in the past days, what’s going on?” would have solved the whole situation immediately. I couldn’t believe that I was so fast with my judgment. I said that I was sorry for at least five times — then I stopped counting. The worst was that I had been in the same situation a couple of years ago, and my teacher was experienced enough to ask first and then react. Life is a painful teacher. I promised myself that I would never make this mistake again, and from now on, I would assume the best in the people, ask and wait before making conclusions too fast. It took me a while to figure out that it is not a switch that you can flip; it is a process.
The skill of guiding your employee during a One-on-One, especially when it comes to discussing and trying to solve a problem, is like a muscle. You need to train to improve, and it will become weaker if you don’t do it for a while. I didn’t know this when I started teaching at the University. I thought that having the position grants me the necessary skills. Events like the above showed me that I was wrong.
The goal of this article is to provide a framework that will help you to train your One-on-One muscle for problem-solving.
A One-on-One involves two persons that communicate with each other while one person coaches, teaches, or informs the other person. A well structured One-on-One has a goal, an agenda, and is usually implemented in a series of several meetings. One of its many purposes is to phrase and discuss problems or other critical situations with your employee. Your task as a leader is to help and guide your employee through this dialogue.
The framework consists of five consecutive stages that you will undergo during your One-on-One:
In the Explore stage, you try to get a good overview of the topic. What happened? When does the problem occur? Who is involved? The Specify stage improves your understanding of the situation by getting more and more detailed information. What is the underlying motivation? Are there any example situations? Did you understand all the information correctly? The goal of the Connect stage is to check if you got enough insights to connect all details with each other. What is unclear to you? What didn’t you understand? Are you talking about one or several problems? The Solve stage explores one or several scenarios that may solve the problem while the Act stage sets everything in stone by defining goals, actions, owners, and due dates.
The process of getting through these stages is circular rather than linear. You will need to move from a later stage back to a previous one because you are stuck in a certain stage or realized that you are missing relevant pieces of information. This process of moving back and forth between the stages is absolutely normal, so don’t worry when that happens.