How to Maximize Productivity With COO 1-on-1 Meetings

COO one-on-ones can get overloaded. Learn how to maximize productivity here, including how to lead one-on-one meetings as a COO.

By Alexandria Hewko  •   February 13, 2023  •   7 min read

A chief operating officer (COO) is one of the busiest people in the business, sometimes even more so than the chief executive officer (CEO). They’re generally the person responsible for ensuring that all the internal processes within the organization are running as smoothly as possible. To do their jobs right, they need to have a lot of meetings with other business leaders, so keeping these meetings as efficient as possible is essential to keeping the business machine well oiled and growing! 

What are COO one-on-one meetings? 

One-on-one meetings are a type of meeting—typically held between a manager and a direct report—held to clear blockers, discuss progress, and plan for future goals and growth. For COOs who have busy day-to-day schedules, one-on-ones are also a useful time to keep them in sync with team members without needing to attend distracting, tactical-level team meetings. Instead, they can focus their efforts on relationships in the business that are critical to the success of their projects. 

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Who do COOs have one-on-one meetings with?

  1. CEO. In many organizations, the COO reports directly into the CEO and acts almost as their other hand. These one-on-one meetings will involve progress updates about work in each department, discussions on how to resolve major crises, and strategic decision making. Due to the closeness of these roles, this one-on-one usually takes place weekly.
  2. Employees. The team that reports directly to the COO will have its individual one-on-ones on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, depending on the seniority and workload of each individual contributor. These meetings are used for the COO to help resolve blockers, set goals, and provide career development opportunities to direct reports.
  3. Other C-level executives. While the C-suite will usually gather in team meetings, having individual one-on-ones with other executives is helpful to clarify common goals, discuss mutual ways to support each team, and strategize on department-specific projects together. For example, the COO may meet with the chief financial officer (CFO) to discuss budget issues for the upcoming quarter.
  4. Senior leaders. Department leaders, such as engineering managers or regional sales managers, may speak with the COO on an as-needed basis. Usually, these one-on-one times are to resolve conflicts, set expectations and goals for upcoming projects, or review results in sprint retrospectives. 
  5. Peers. Like any professional, COOs have a network of friends, mentors, and other trusted business leaders outside of the organization who can help them ideate, accelerate career aspirations, and collaborate on new business activities. These conversations might be ad hoc, or they might take place on a monthly recurring basis, such as with a trusted mentor.
  6. External stakeholders. Many meetings take place with people who support the business function, but aren’t actually employed at the company. This can include investors, vendors, customers, and channel partners, for example. The purpose is to see how the external stakeholder and the internal business operations can align. Depending on the relationship, these meetings might recur monthly or on an as-needed basis.

Benefits of implementing one-on-one meetings as a COO 

  1. Improved communication. Getting direct, face-to-face contact with another team member means that you’re more likely to understand their point of view clearly and get an opportunity to express your full thoughts and ideas.
  2. Enhanced collaboration. One-on-one meetings provide a unique opportunity to work tactically together if needed. A whiteboarding or brainstorming session can get set up quickly with two people, and allows both parties to bounce suggestions back and forth while being heard on every idea.
  3. Increased transparency. A private, direct conversation with one other person can feel like a safer space to talk about concerns and challenges that an employee or leader is facing in their role. This is a great time to hear these concerns and offer support.
  4. Increased productivity. With fewer people on the call, it’s easier to hold each other accountable to the meeting’s purpose and end the meeting on time. This saves valuable time to work on more execution! 
  5. Improved team morale. Working together one-on-one improves trust and working relationships. As individual contributors earn trust in their leader, the full team will come to feel more aligned and buy-in to the team’s goals.

How to lead one-on-one meetings as a COO 

Every COO has slightly different reasons their one-on-one meetings occur, so the exact approach to leading the call might vary from leader to leader. But generally, these are a few best practices that will make any one-on-one meeting great:

1Create a shared meeting agenda 

Having a meeting agenda is a helpful practice to ensure that you are listing all relevant talking points to be covered within the call. Having it prepared at least one business day (24 hours) in advance ensures that both attendees have time to review the agenda and prepare any thoughts on the talking points ahead of the meeting. 

If you find that your meeting agenda is getting quite extensive, consider shifting some talking points to your next one-on-one meeting with this person or ensure that you’re strict with staying on topic and on schedule in the call—this will help you successfully cover all topics within one meeting. Alternatively, you can also book an additional meeting block.

Pro tip: With Fellow’s browser extensions, you can access your meeting agenda right inside of Google Meet calls and your Google Calendar to supercharge 1-on-1 meetings without leaving the tools that you are already using.

2Practice active listening

Actively listening is a great way to show the other attendee that you’re paying close attention. Nodding along, asking follow-up questions, and maintaining eye contact are some tactics to signify that you’re fully comprehending the conversation. 

As a COO, practicing active listening is extremely important. Since you have a jam-packed schedule as-is, it will be difficult to squeeze in time for another meeting if you need something repeated. Even worse, missing out on vital information can possibly lead to a critical issue in one of your projects. You’re also expected to hear out the concerns from leaders of all departments; not demonstrating active listening can suggest to the other leader that you’re not taking their concern seriously.

3Establish expectations and goals

At times, it seems like everyone in the organization has a long list of things with which they so urgently need help. So when they get a chance to speak with the COO regarding their concerns, the conversation can quickly get into too much detail, go over time, or detour into not-as-relevant topics. Establishing expectations and goals at the start of the meeting helps ensure that the conversation stays on track. For example, if the goal of the meeting is to determine a fix to an issue, less of the conversation time should be spent complaining about the problem itself, and more time spent on brainstorming on solutions.

4Have conversations around goal setting

A meeting that doesn’t set goals doesn’t serve a purpose. Not only should your meeting have a defined purpose, but it should also strive to support other goals. Making it a practice to use the last 5–10 minutes of your meeting to discuss future goals and roadmap the steps to get there can be a great way to use the meeting conversation to move projects and professional development forward. For COOs, keeping track of goals and action items is a great way to show progress and success in this busy, sometimes overwhelming role.

5Track and document progress

The COO has to report progress up to the CEO and other C-level executives, so it’s essential to have a system or tool to document and organize progress on key performance indicators (KPIs). Keeping tabs through tools, such as how Fellow tracks action items, means you can always go back to previous meeting notes and track activities over time. Not only is this useful for reporting status up to the CEO, but it also keeps you and the other attendee accountable on what needs to be done before the next meeting. 

6Identify areas of improvement

Almost all COO one-on-one meeting types should include some time for discussing areas of improvement. For example, a meeting with an external stakeholder might seek to understand how the business relationship can improve. What can the internal team do to support the external stakeholder? 

When you try to imagine the areas of improvement, you should also consider the end goal that you have in mind. What do you hope to achieve by improving in this area? How will it impact your work in a positive way?

7Make room for wins (for more transparency) 

Successes are everywhere in business. Even if it’s not as large as finally crossing the $100M revenue mark, something like finally completing market research or understanding why the customer success team missed quota is still cause for celebration—remember, learning why something doesn’t work is also a win as it brings you one step closer to finding out what actually does work. Try to incorporate discussion of at least a few wins into the meeting. To make sure you don’t forget this important section, consider making a place for it in your meeting agenda.

Parting advice

Being a COO is an incredibly busy, yet fulfilling role. There are a lot of different teams that benefit from having an organized and productive COO. So, the more efficient COO one-on-one meetings are, the more efficient the entire business will be! Remember that each type of one-on-one meeting serves a unique purpose, so a one-size-fits-all meeting agenda or leadership approach may not always work. Continue to be flexible and agile in your environment and you will reap the benefits of productive, smoothly flowing internal operations.

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