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How to hold inclusive one-on-ones

If we’re honest, how many of us are guilty of squeezing one-on-ones into calendar gaps and shuffling them around to facilitate other commitments? And perhaps most importantly, how many of us are pre-occupied when we’re there, and show up without any forward planning including how we can support our team members to share openly?

One-on-ones are a key opportunity for leaders to build trust, foster inclusion and build engagement.  And they are critical to encourage people to share their diverse perspectives – the golden nugget in any successful organisation.

So, if you’re keen to build a more inclusive culture, it’s critical to focus on one-on-ones.

From my vast experience leading cultural change in organisations, below are my top tips and questions to ask in one-on-ones to facilitate inclusion and seed a sense of belonging for your people.

Top tips for holding inclusive one-on-ones

1. Consider the environment

Think about the physical space, timing and length of one-on-ones to ensure you are creating an environment that facilitates the best possible conversations. Be sure to ask your team member in advance what works best for them, considering things like noise level, time of day and ease of access.

2. Have conscious conversations

Give your team member your full attention. This may mean putting screens away or turning phones to silent mode. When you’re there, listen deeply, using open-ended questions to facilitate honest dialogue and being aware of non-verbal cues like body language and facial expressions.

3. Demonstrate empathy

Try to put yourself in your team member’s shoes to understand situations from their perspective.

4. Focus on strengths

Spend time talking about what your team member is great at and how they can leverage their strengths more, as well as their development opportunities.

5. Be vulnerable

Share your personal stories, speak about what’s bothering you, your struggles, your mistakes and your learning journey. When we demonstrate vulnerability, people are more likely to open up themselves.

6. Ask for feedback

Request and be open to honest feedback. In the initial stages it’s often a good idea to remind your team about this in advance so they have time to think about it. When asking for their views, don’t simply focus on their role, but on things like your leadership, how the team is working and even what they’d like to get from their one-on-ones with you.

Questions to ask during one-on-ones

About them and their experiences:

  • How do you feel about working here?
  • Do you feel that you can bring your whole self to work?
  • What helps you feel like you are included?
  • What do you need to be successful here?
  • Are you given sufficient opportunities to share your views?
  • Do you feel that your perspectives are listened to and considered?
  • What else would you like to share about yourself?

About how you can support them:

  • As your leader, how can I support you to be at your best?
  • What more can our team do to support you?
  • What more can the organisation do to support you?
  • What can we do to provide you with a greater sense of belonging?
  • What can I do differently to ensure you feel included in discussions or decisions?
  • Can we make any accommodations to your working environment to better support you?
  • What feedback do you have for me as your leader?
  • Is there anything else that you need?

For those wanting to go deeper and integrate inclusion across all facets of their business, then please reach out. My Inclusive Culture program might be just what you need – with a framework, capability materials and clear recommendations for moving forward. You can contact me at to find out more.

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