How To Have One-On-One's With Your Church Staff

This post has been adapted from episode 11 of our podcast. You can listen to the full podcast here or keep reading.

Kevin Fontenot:  Hey there, I’m Kevin Fontenot and I’m here with Scott Magdalein. We’re your hosts of the Thriving Ministry Teams podcast, where we talk about all things related to church leadership, discipleship, and training. On today’s episode we’re talking about how to effective one-on-ones with your team. We recently did one-on-ones at TrainedUp. Can you give us a little background on what they are and why we do them?

Scott Magdalein:  I mean, honestly they are just a one-on-one meeting with somebody, but you call them a one-on-one because they generally have a specific purpose beyond just catching up or having coffee with someone. You don’t call it just like a meeting. You call it a one-on-one because of the idea is it’s two people kind of hashing out something specific. And so generally when I talk about one-on-ones, I talk about kind of a one-on-one with someone on my team, a meeting where it’s of course just the two of us, but we’re talking specifically about things related to job performance, to job satisfaction, engagement, struggles, areas where either party can improve. And we can talk about the either party piece of it later, but a one-on-one is a meeting where job performance is discussed outside of the context of things like a raise, or disciplinary action, or promotions, or anything like that. It’s just about job performance.

Kevin Fontenot:  Okay, yeah, I can understand that. Let’s talk through what that process looks like. Why are one-on-ones important in the first place?

Scott Magdalein:  Well, I mean, a big reason why one-on-ones are important is because it’s hard to sit down in a focused time without having a specific meeting for a specific reason. In the day-to-day of work we are just kind of getting stuff done, you know? In TrainedUp we are focused on trying to serve ministry leaders really well, and so we’re trying to produce really helpful content. We’re trying to build features that are really and helpful and useful for ministry leaders. We’re trying to figure out ways to keep our costs down, so that we can keep our prices down. Stuff like that.

Scott Magdalein:  Our day-to-day is kind of filled with the busyness of work, and serving our customers, which means that serving ourselves, and keeping ourselves healthy as a team tends to be set aside for the … We don’t tend to look at or think about it for long periods of time, and so a one-on-one is important because it gives you that kind of breath of fresh air, or time to breathe, and time to talk about ourselves, and how we can do better. Not as just a team, but also individually.

Scott Magdalein:  And so a one-on-one is important because it gives us a moment to think internally instead of always thinking about how we’re serving our customers better. And of course, I mean, there’s a continuum to it. If we’re treating ourselves better, if we’re working on our own performance, if we’re working on our own engagement and enjoyment of our job, if we are helping, if we’re talking about and working about how we work together better, of course we’re gonna serve our customers better. It’s not that these one-on-ones are not customer focused, but they are not the day to day business of getting work done.

Scott Magdalein:  In churches, so I mean, we have a lot of people who listen to this podcast who are ministry leaders, church leaders. One on-ones, of course you don’t have customers. You don’t have people who are paying you for a service, but in ministry we tend to get busy with how are we serving the people in our church, or how are we leading our teams, or how are we planning for sermons, or planning and executing the next event, or the next project, or fundraising, or all the things that are focused on running the ministry, and it’s easy to forget that we still need to develop ourselves as ministry leaders. And as ministry leaders we need to be able to work with those that we lead to help them develop themselves, and make sure that we are leading in a way that’s healthy for them, and increases engagement, and enjoyment, and all that kind of stuff.

Scott Magdalein:  They’re important because they keep us healthy as a team, and individuals as we work together.

Kevin Fontenot:  It’s so good. I think it’s so easy to get lost in the aspect of just focusing in our day-to-day task, and what has to be done today. And especially in ministry there are always things to be done. It seems like you’re always understaffed, and trying to get everything done on your plate, and someone else’s plate as well, and always having to pick up the slack, and it’s really hard to focus in on having healthy teams. The name of this podcast is Thriving Ministry Teams because we want to help facilitate that. We want to help churches create teams that are actually thriving, not just getting along, but able to go through and really be able to make sure that they’re growing themselves. Because if we’re not growing as individuals, if we’re not growing as team members inside of a staff situation, we’re never able to really pour into the people outside of the staff. If we ourselves aren’t healthy, we can’t go and pour into someone else effectively.

Scott Magdalein:  Yeah, absolutely. The idea behind a one-on-one or striving for individual health in a work environment is that it’s not just about the person working, it’s also about serving others well, and so when I’m healthy I serve our customers well, when ministry leaders are healthy they serve their parishioners well, and so everyone really benefits when leaders are healthy. Now one-on-ones are not just about … One of the things that’s kind of a misconception about a one-on-one meeting is that it’s about performance evaluation from a boss to an employee, or from a leader to someone who is being led, a team member. And if that’s how you’ve experienced one-on-ones in the past, then that’s, you’re only seeing half, or not even half, a portion, or a partial what a good healthy one-on-one should be.

Scott Magdalein:  A one-on-one in my opinion, and in my experience, really good helpful one-on-ones, sure, there’s performance aspect to it. We talk about are you getting the job done? Are you being efficient? Are there efficiencies that you can find that you can increase your efficiency? And all that kind of stuff. But performance is such a small part of leading a healthy team, and being a healthy employee, or a team member that only focusing on performance doesn’t cover the whole picture.

Scott Magdalein:  Other things that a healthy, a good one-on-one would cover are things like I said enjoyment. Enjoyment has a lot to do with am I doing the things that I enjoy doing? Am I doing things I feel like I’m good at? Are there other things that I could be doing in my job, or in my ministry role, or on my team, or in my church that could help me to enjoy my job even more? Is there a different seat that I need to be on? Maybe I match with this culture, and I love this church, but maybe I need to be in a different role? One-on-ones cover all of that kind of stuff.

Scott Magdalein:  One-on-ones also cover how am I doing as a leader? There’s two sides to a one-on-one. Of course there’s a leader talking to a team member, but also there should be an aspect of the one-on-one where the team member is giving feedback to the leader as well. It shouldn’t just be leader giving feedback to the team member. That leader needs to also have some feedback from who they’re leading, and how they’re doing. Things like, I tend to like, I like to ask questions in one-on-ones especially. And questions are great conversational prompts, but they also kind of tend to if you’re a good question asker, or if you have the right questions written down to ask, then they can not just prompt good conversation, but they can also dig out honest answers. Especially, if you have an environment of trust.

Scott Magdalein:  Some of the questions I like to ask to get feedback from myself are things like what do I do that frustrates you? What’s something that I do that makes it harder for you to get your job done? And so that can sometimes be kind of a gut wrench because my job is to help you make it easier for you to do your job, but sometimes there is things that I do that make it harder. For example in my one-on-one with Jared last month, he said when I interrupt him in the middle of the afternoon with an alert message for something that’s not really time sensitive, it interrupts him, and so he’s in a mental flow, he’s writing code … Jared, is our lead developer by the way. He’s writing code, or he’s solving some kind of complex problem, and then I’ll ping him on Slack, and it interrupts his mental flow, and it makes it harder for him to do his job. And of course me as a leader, I want to communicate and be in contact with my team, but I also need to understand that he needs long periods of times to where he can focus. That’s something that he was able to give me feedback on in a safe environment without … With me asking for that feedback, he didn’t have to bring it up to me, and now I know …

Scott Magdalein:  As a result of that conversation we talked about how I can pose questions, or look for answers to things that I’m confused about, or whatever, but still allow him to have those large blocks of time to focus. Not only did we come out of it with some trust built, but we also came out of it with some, came out of that conversation with some action steps that I can take to be a better leader for him.

Scott Magdalein:  I mean, there is two sides to one-one-ones. There is the side to where I’m talking about the team member, and how they’re doing, and are they enjoying their job? Are they efficient in their job? Do they love their job? Or is there something else that they could be doing? Could we add or take away from their plate? But there’s also this side of where I’m being evaluated as a leader, and as a leader it takes some transparency, some vulnerability to be able to call a meeting where you’re asking to be evaluated on your performance, which as leaders we don’t typically get evaluated on our performance besides just the performance of the ministry as a whole, but at like our individual performance as leaders against or with those that we lead. One-on-ones are kind of that vulnerable point of feedback for leaders.

Kevin Fontenot:  I think that’s the hardest part about one-on-ones, because I think as leaders it’s easy to go into the one-on-one trying to help the person that’s under you that you’re trying to encourage to figure out what they’re doing in their day to day lives how you can better serve them, but I think it’s really difficult as leaders to open up that way, where not only are we allowing people to evaluate us, but doing it in a way that really allows them to speak openly, to speak honestly, because I know I’ve been in a lot of situations where that hasn’t been the case. You may get those questions of what’s some feedback that you have for me? But you never feel the ability to speak freely on that. Can you talk a little bit more about how to create that sort of trust?

Scott Magdalein:  Sure. Well, trust is built through, I mean, if you in your day to day work are not open to feedback. If you are someone who squelches other people’s ideas. If you are the type of person who teases and makes fun, and that’s kind of how you keep things light hearted. If there are things that you do in your day to day, or let’s say you react poorly to inputs that are coming into your ministry, even if it’s not from that particular team member. Maybe it’s somebody that’s a volunteer. Maybe it’s just a church parishioner, and your volunteers, or your team members see you react poorly to those things. Then that team member is going to assume if they have negative feedback for you, then they’re gonna assume that you’re gonna react to the negative feedback you have, or they have for you.

Scott Magdalein:  Building trust of course starts with how you lead generally, but so there’s some ground rules when I started one-on-one. I say very bluntly, I say, of course this is always a safe space, you can always be honest with me, but in this particular meeting you can speak candidly, and bluntly as long as you’re doing it in love, then you can say whatever you need to say to me ’cause I’m going to be taking this, I’m asking for this feedback, so be candid, and be honest with me.

Scott Magdalein:  And so of course there still has to be a foundation of trust, otherwise they won’t even believe that I want them to be candid, but it starts the conversation off with this is about honesty and transparency, not about you continuing to make me happy, or to try and win my favor or suck up to me as a leader.

Kevin Fontenot:  When we were doing our one-on-ones, Scott, one of the things that I really liked is you kind of sent us some resources beforehand on how to prepare for those one-on-ones. Can you talk more kind of about the practical aspects of a one-on-one? How do you implement it? How often should have them? How do you get your team to prepare for that one-on-one?

Scott Magdalein:   Sure, sure. Now, let me preface this by saying my method is very informal. We have a team. There’s only three of us entirely on the team. We have another contractor, but she’s … A one-on-one with a contractor who’s a very part-time contractor, who has also been new with us, looks very different then a longtime team member. And so the way I do one-on-ones now, it’s a little different then I used to do it when I had a team of 15 or 20, and a lot of those were high performing technical people. And so my one-on-ones now are much more focused on collaboration, and how we work together better, but anyways that’s just the preface for this.

Scott Magdalein:  The way that I prepare is I, and number one, I have prepared a set number of questions, and usually those questions lead to other questions. It’s like four or five high level questions where I can, things like what am I doing as a leader that frustrates you? Or what are you doing that drains your energy by the end of the day? And is that something that we can take off your plate? Or is that just something that I need to be able to help you to have energy with?

Scott Magdalein:  There’s a series of questions. I give those questions to the team member ahead of time. Especially, I give both sets of questions. Not just the questions I’m going to ask them, but also the questions I would like for them, some of the questions I would like for them to ask me. That gives them, helps my team member prepare because honestly I want them throughout the day doing their job. I want them thinking about getting their job done. I don’t want them stressing out over having really clever questions for me in a one-on-one. That’s not their job. That’s not something that I think is valuable to them. If I can give them a little boost, my team members a little boost on what to expect, what questions to ask me that might get some creative juices flowing to where maybe they can ask some other questions that are peripheral to those main questions.

Scott Magdalein:  We do, I allot an hour for a one-on-one. Sometimes it goes over. Sometimes it’s far shorter. It depends on the team members. It depends on how frequently I’ve done those one-on-ones. As far as frequency, I like doing them twice a year, but that’s also because I tend to have an open environment for conversation and feedback anyway, and so I don’t need to do them on a monthly or quarterly basis just because I tend to be really in close contact with my team. Especially, because it’s a small team. When I had a larger team I did them a little more often. I did them once a quarter back then, but that’s because I had a much larger team, and it was harder to stay in direct contact with each person on a regular basis.  But so I do them twice a year now with a small team. Quarterly with a large team. They take about an hour. Usually less. Sometimes more if I have a talkative team member, or it’s just something that we haven’t talked one-on-one in a long time, and so we’re kind of catching up.

Scott Magdalein:  And then the final thing is in preparation for it, I personally pray before a meeting because to me these conversations are God conversations. Everyone I’ve worked with for the past ten years for the most part has been a Christian. I worked with an agency for a little while, so those weren’t Christians, but it has been in a church environment, and so I can pray beforehand, and I can pray with my team member. You know I want this to be a Holy Spirit led conversation. I want us to honor one another. I want God to be glorified in the conversation, and also I want just our egos to be out of the way, and so the Holy Spirit helps us with that as well, and so I pray beforehand as well.

Scott Magdalein:  But that’s generally my preparation. There’s not a ton, again this is not a performance evaluation, so I don’t come with charts and graphs about how much vacation time they’ve taken, or the number of blog posts they’ve written in a certain period of time, or how many people they’ve led to the Lord, or in a ministry context what their attendance numbers are, or what their team volunteer numbers are. This is not a performance evaluation. This is a one-on-one, and it’s very different, so I don’t come with numbers to evaluate with what they’ve been doing. This is very much just a here is a series of questions, and let’s, a series of questions, and let’s go through these questions and talk.

Kevin Fontenot:  I’m a pastor and I’m thinking about implementing one-on-ones with my team, how do I approach the subject with my team members before I even try and start the meetings themselves?

Scott Magdalein:  Well, that’s a good question. I mean, if you’ve never done one-on-ones they might feel, and might be intimidating, and so what I would do if it were me is I would have my first one-on-one be … Well, number one if you’re gonna announce, just tell them, “Hey, we’re gonna start some one-on-ones. Here’s my calendar, book a time, book an hour in the next two weeks, or whatever to let’s do this one-on-one.” But make sure you tell them what a one-on-one is, so they’re not expecting, they’re not dreading some kind of, again a performance evaluation, or reprimanding kind of conversation. It’s just an exploratory let’s talk and be honest with one another.

Scott Magdalein:  In telling them about the one-on-one, that there’s one-on-ones coming up, give them the questions you plan to ask, so that they … So that their mind doesn’t wander into what might my boss want be wanting to talk to me about, maybe I’m in trouble or not. Just tell them, and have them book it for their own time, for a time that’s good for them. A lot of times people they feel like they would rather have a meeting like that in the afternoon when they’re relaxed, or they’ve gotten a morning worth of work done. Maybe they like to have it, get it done with as soon as possible, so they’re gonna book it for tomorrow, or the earliest possible meeting slot ’cause they don’t want to wait for a meeting to come around.

Scott Magdalein:  By giving them a window to where they can book their own meetings. Allow them to book it for when they want to, when it makes sense for them, and also giving them immediately the questions, so they know what to expect from the meeting itself. And also make it very clear it’s not performance, it’s not a hard conversation about what they need to be doing better. It’s not a big thing about improvements, and challenges, and failures. It’s just about anonymous conversation, here are specifically the questions we’re gonna cover.

Kevin Fontenot:  That’s really good, and one of the things you’ve mentioned a few times is what a one-on-one should not be. And I’d like for you to kind of go in a little bit more on some of things that you shouldn’t do during a one-on-one.

Scott Magdalein:  I’ve said it several times, and the reason I keep on saying it is because team members tend to … When a boss calls a meeting with a team member outside of like a hey normal … Or let’s talk about this particular topic, or this particular event or whatever. Team members sometimes can get really nervous about it, and there’s no reason for that because it’s not, it’s not supposed to be a hard gut wrenching conversation. Or it shouldn’t be related to are they going to have a job in two weeks, or anything like that. It should be again, it should be about an honest conversation about enjoyment, and some about performance, but also about efficiencies and that sort of thing, how can we do better? As a team, both the team member, and the team leader.

Scott Magdalein:  And so what it should not be is a performance evaluation where their salaries on the line, or their annual raise is on the line, or a bonus is on the line, their vacation time is on the line, anything like that, there should be no repercussions to, associated with this meeting. They should have that expectation that the meeting is intended to improve things, but not necessarily related to any kind of, not related to their performance or boosting numbers. It should be improving their enjoyment of their work, what they’re doing working on, do they feel like they’re doing a good job of their work? And also for the team leader to be able to receive honest feedback as a team leader, and how can I lead this team, and how can I lead you as an individual better?

Scott Magdalein:  It shouldn’t be a nerve wracking meeting, or something that would cause them to have anxiety before the meeting, or heartburn after the meeting. And so that’s another thing as a leader, some leaders are very goal oriented. We’ve talked about goals, and setting goals, and managing goals in the past. We set goals at TrainedUp. I’m not typically a heavy goal oriented person, and so it’s a little bit easier for me to not make a meeting about goals, but there are heavily goal oriented leaders out there, and you may be listening to this and thinking he’s talking about me. Do your absolute best to not make it about goals. If you make it about goals, and the person is not meeting goals, then the whole conversation in the team member’s mind is about how you were talking about them not meeting their goals. And so all of the value of improving as a team member, and how they’re collaborating with the team, conversations about enjoyment, efficiencies, and all that kind of stuff, and all that conversation about them giving you feedback as a leader, all of that gets washed away with them being nervous about being held accountable to a specific goal.

Scott Magdalein:  Those conversations should be separated into other performance oriented meetings, conversations, or emails or whatever, not in this meeting. It should not be about goals. It should not be about performance metrics, or stats or anything like that.

Kevin Fontenot:  That’s really good. That’s going to be it for today’s episode of the Thriving Ministry Teams podcast. If you do have any questions about one-on-ones, please head over to We’d love to engage in conversation with you about this topic, or any other topic that you’ve  heard on this podcast.

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