Why your poorly planned one-to-ones are slowly killing your team culture

by Alex

Baseball team talk cropped

Are you ever guilty of rescheduling your one-to-one sales meeting? Or ever walked into a catch-up with scant recollection of what you’d spoken about in your previous one-to-one?

If you think that you aren't getting the most out of your one-to-ones, or that you require too much prep time to make them productive then you're not alone. We’ve spoken with numerous sales managers across the profession. There was a common theme: That one-to-ones often feel like an obligation.

Managers make time for their team but often only because they feel required to offer a formal channel for feedback. One-to-ones were underutilised as a method of presenting proactive feedback and setting direction. Often managers leave their reports to set the agenda in order to reduce the admin work for themselves.

Why are one-to-ones important?

One-on-one sessions are your opportunity to polish your ‘diamonds-in-the-rough’.

They are what allow you to adopt a policy of hiring sales reps with less demonstrable sales track record because you will turn them into A-players. It gains you alpha in the hiring market against larger, and likely better capitalised, competitors. Those who can afford to pay above-market salaries.

Every time you conduct anything less than a well-prepared one to one you slowly chip away at the team culture. You lose credibility with your team, and you implicitly lower the bar for acceptable standards of execution within the team.

It's difficult to dig out your team for not hitting their follow-up sales calls if, at the same time, you aren’t able to fulfill your follow up commitments from your own one-to-ones.

How can you make your one-to-ones productive when to-do lists are long, and business is hectic? Weekly ‘one-to-one admin’ isn't sexy and is easily deprioritised. If something has to slip through the cracks then I’d rather it’s a task relating to junior salespeople than a client, partner or my own manager.

Be consistent with your agenda

The first, and most basic, problem we came across was the lack of standardised meeting structures. The lack of a consistent agenda from week-to-week and from rep-to-rep was surprisingly common. I don’t think we need to labour the point of why agendas are important. A consistent approach is more likely to yield consistent results. It can be as basic as 'Last Week', 'This Week', 'Next Week', 'Projects' and 'Any Other Business'. But whatever your agenda items are, be consistent so your team knows what is expected of them. This makes for easier meeting prep, which in turn makes for better conversations.

Standardise your note-taking system

The second common problem we encountered was the lack of a systematic approach towards the collection, tracking, and sharing of meeting notes and action items. Most managers we spoke with opted for pen and notepad or laptop to track meeting notes, but very few had a consistent approach to collating their weekly notes into a centralised depository (a huge time saver for when appraisal season comes around), and even fewer had a foolproof way of ensuring that action items were followed up on.

Every manager that we spoke with admitted that within the last 12 months they had forgotten at least on one occasion let a follow-up agenda item ‘slip through the cracks’. Interestingly, none of our manager’s actively shared their meeting notes with their team.

Set the right tone

The third problem we identified was a failure to effectively communicate the gravity of feedback. We witnessed managers who had serious concerns about team member’s performance, only to come out of one-to-ones having not communicated this to their report. As you might expect, this was more of an issue for junior managers.

The best sales managers are able to move between the delivering serious feedback which their reports respond to, whilst maintaining an ability to motivate the team and build a good atmosphere. In order to get the best out of a sales team, there are going to be times when you need to apply some pressure and demand an improvement in effort or productivity.

Every one-to-one should be viewed as a chance to improve your team’s self-awareness or their strengths and weaknesses. If you come out of a one-to-one without achieving this you are neglecting your responsibilities as a manager, leader and coach.

Build rapport with your team

The fourth was a lack of effort to build rapport between the manager and sales reps. Sales managers are trained to instinctively build rapport with clients and prospects but it was surprising to see how this approach was not replicated when it came to their own team. As the adage goes “people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers”.

It’s a sales manager responsibility to ensure that all members of the team feel comfortable in reporting honest and frank feedback. Often managers place the emphasis on reps to report up feedback. In reality, if you don’t create the environment where all of the team is comfortable in raising concerns that’s a failing on the manager’s part.


Track meetings note and ongoing action items in a shared document. If you able to remember all of your outstanding action items from your last round of one-to-one meetings then you are not taking on enough tasks, or you have spare capacity to manage more reports (or you're a memrise pro). Create a shared document with each of your reports where you drop in discussion topics as you think of them throughout the week.

Have. An. Agenda. A rambling, unstructured meeting is an indicator of poor management. As mentioned above you can use your google doc for this so you can drop things in during the week as they come up. And always try to end the meeting on a positive note.

In summary. Get organised, do the basics right, and do them consistently. Get a consistent agenda, get stats out in advance, make sure you set a tone where a serious conversation can be had by both parties. Utilise guided discovery, and set reminders for open action items. This shouldn't need more than 10-20 minutes of admin time per week per person. Which means you can handle more direct reports and have better quality meetings with your team. Issues will get resolved more quickly and you should get more out of your team.

You also get the added bonus that If your one-to-ones are good, your formal appraisals should be easy. And anything that makes appraisal season easier has to be a good thing.

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