All effective management is one-on-one

Manager and employee

In a frenetic business environment, managers are easily pulled every which way. Couple this time pressure with a lack of management maturity and too often managers fall into the fatal trap of attempting to manage their people as a group. In other words, if and when they observe a team member performing poorly, they try to address an individual’s lack of performance at the group level.

This issue of managing people in groups can be hugely ineffective, potentially even destructive, as it often leads to a mismatch between a manager’s perception of ‘development’ needs and reality. What you get is a consequence imbalance. This may sound a little academic however its impact is real and often costly!

The reality is we as managers can’t do much with our people as a group; we can review operational performance, we can train and if you’re good enough as a speaker, maybe you can inspire the group, but not much more than this. More often than not, performance problems lie at the individual level. Which is why all effective management is conducted one on one – whether face to face or across a virtual environment.

When managers try to address an individual’s performance problem at the group level they inadvertently attack the group and simply turn off most of the team. This happens because those not responsible for the issue rightly question why they’re being confronted about it while the individual with the problem doesn’t even hear that it’s them being confronted… whoosh, straight over their head. Consequently the person who really needs to be confronted isn’t.

On another extreme, some managers ignore the performance problems of individuals altogether, hoping that the consequences of their non-performance will be washed out by the rest of the team. However this can be even more insidious and destructive. When a manager ignores a problem, no matter how small, they’re in essence condoning it, in effect saying “it’s okay”. With this implicit acceptance, they lay the foundation for that problem to fester and infect the entire team. As a result, accountability within and across the team is progressively diluted.

It sounds so simple, and it is: deal with individual problems at the individual level. But in practice we find managers falling into this trap of dealing with problems at the group level… or not at all! Managing one on one may appear to take more your time, but don’t be seduced into solving individuals’ problems with your team as a group.