One of the most powerful tools that you can use to effectively manage your team is the 121 meeting. More specifically, the weekly 121 meeting which many managers overlook, preferring to focus on monthly 121s or in some cases, quarterly ones.
The reason that many managers overlook the weekly 121 meetings is because it feels like too much time out of their week. I understand this, particularly if a manager has several reports.
However, not only is the weekly 121 very powerful and effective in managing people, it doesn’t need to take loads of time out of your schedule each week. I’ll show you a practical agenda that you can follow to make your weekly 121s not only effective, but efficient too.
Before we look at the agenda, let’s look at a few key bits of context:
- I’d recommend timing the 121 meeting on a Monday or a Friday, then using it to focus on the week ahead.
- Aim for the meetings to take 15-20 minutes. It may take a little longer at first or in some weeks, but keeping them short and high energy is a good idea.
- Try to avoid focusing on bigger picture topics such as career development or personal goals. This meeting is all about the here and now.
The nice byproduct of regular 121 meetings is that you can also spot little niggles and problems that are emerging, before they get too big. This prevents weeks or even months going by when someone is struggling or unhappy about something, allowing you to spot and fix problems before they become much harder to deal with.
A simple, effective agenda for your weekly 121
Here is an overview of an agenda that you can use:
- Calendar check
- Workload check
- Blockers check
Let’s take a look at these in more detail.
Firstly, sit down with your team members and open their calendar for the week ahead. The goal here is to review their calendar and get a good idea of:
- How much time they have this week outside of meetings.
- Whether they have too many meetings or not.
This feeds into the next two agenda points because the volume of commitments that someone has in their calendar for the week ahead will dictate how much hands-on work they can get through. For example, if someone has two days of work that needs to be completed, two days of meetings and two days of annual leave, something needs to be done because they can’t fit all of this in.
When someone plans their to-do list for the week, it can be easy to forget about things such as meetings. If this happens, they’re setting themselves up for a fail immediately because they will either:
- Overwork to get everything done.
- Get as much done as they can but end the week with outstanding to-do list items, meaning that commitments are missed and they finish the week without feeling a sense of accomplishment.
It’s your job as their manager to give them the best chance possible of not only meeting their commitments, but reducing overwork and leaving them with a sense of accomplishment each and every week.
Doing a review of their calendar is one step that really helps with this and doing so as part of a weekly 121 is very effective. As a result of this check, you can take actions including:
- Helping make their to-do list realistic and achievable, perhaps pushing back commitments and communicating those changes with stakeholders.
- Identifying meetings or calls that may not need their attendance.
- Setting their expectations as to what good looks like for this week and what a productive week will look like.
Once you have this context and understand their commitments and time for the week, you can move on and take a look at their workload.
The goal here is to review their to-do list for the week ahead and ensure that they have enough time to complete what they have planned. For some team members, particularly junior ones, there may also be times where you need to make sure that they have enough work for the week ahead.
Whichever it is, checking in on this each week allows you to make sure that their to-do list is reasonable and achievable. If it isn’t, you have the chance to change things and set them up for a productive week. If you don’t do this and they actually have far too much work for the time that they have, there is little chance of them having a good week.
An important point to mention here is that it’s not your job to define their to-do list from scratch. You may help with this to some extent with junior members of your team who are still learning and training, but in the majority of cases, the team member should have their to-do list for the week prepared when the meeting starts. It’s vital for them to have ownership over the creation and management of their to-do list and the systems around it.
Your job is to review with them, help them prioritise and as we’ll talk about in a moment, remove blockers to getting things done. This helps set them up for success in the week ahead and reduces the chances of problems popping up during the week.
Finally, you need to discuss potential blockers that may get in the way of them having a productive week. You should have already discussed blockers that revolve around their time and calendar, so here we’re talking about other factors that revolve around other people, such as:
- Waiting for a brief or more information about a task from someone else.
- Waiting for someone to complete their part of a task before they can complete or start their own.
- Waiting for a meeting or call to happen before they can complete or start on a task.
Essentially, if there are tasks where they are waiting for someone else to do something, this needs to be highlighted and discussed now. It may lead to you pushing your team member to communicate with the person in question and ensure that they are going to get what they need at the appropriate time.
For example, if your team member is waiting on someone else for a brief, but they brief doesn’t come across until Friday morning, with the deadline being Friday afternoon, that may not leave them enough time to complete the task. Therefore, they need to ensure that they get the information sooner.
If they don’t identify blockers at this point and those blockers continue to get in the way, the chances of them getting things done during the week ahead are reduced significantly.
So, during the week ahead, give the agenda above a go and you’ll be in a great position to set your team up for success in the week ahead.