The 3 questions managers should ask in every one-on-one meeting

Takeaway: If you’re a manager, ask: what do you need?; what’s getting in your way?; and what can I do as your manager to help?

Estimated Reading Time: 1 minutes, 8s.

I recently got chatting with an executive who leads around 150 employees at a large company. Somewhere in our conversation, he offhandedly mentioned a management tactic I thought was too good to not share: the three questions he asks every employee during one-on-one meetings.

These are questions this manager has homed in on during his decades-long career at a high-tech company. Here they are:

  1. What do you need?
  2. What’s getting in your way?
  3. What can I do as your manager to help?

These questions become kind of obvious once you give someone a vision and a goal and set them loose. Smart employees need to be managed, not micromanaged. The best managers run interference for their employees, removing obstacles, and helping when needed. Plus, while smart people don’t need micromanaging, they do often need guidance and help.

This manager (who asked to remain anonymous) also mentioned something else: that he meets monthly with every person on his team. Each of these meetings lasts for around 15-30 minutes—and they’re where he does his real work. These meetings let him gather information, figure out which problems need solving, and make sure everyone on the team is aligned in the same direction.

The questions are simple but important. If you’re a manager, make sure you hit all three during your next batch of one-on-one meetings—and if you really want to up your game, conduct those meetings more often.

Illustration by Sinisa Sumina.

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