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One-on-Ones and the Importance of Personal Reflection

12. Aug 2021

In VSHN we have adopted various mechanisms for helping people and the organization to grow at the same time, for one follows the other in a virtuous circle. For organizational change, we use Sociocracy 3.0. For personal growth, one of the tools we use are one-on-ones, but not the usual one-on-ones you see in the corporate world. This article explains how we do them, and why.

About Reflection

Reflection is the process of thinking about what has happened in the past so we can have a better future. It is most important in the case of negative outcomes; can help you understand why bad things happened. This is particularly relevant when past events caused unhappiness.

To continuously improve and learn, smart people figured out a simple workflow: starting from concrete experiences, one performs observations. From those observations, one can conceptualize, reflect, and learn; from those lessons, we can experiment. Those experiments lead to new concrete experiences, from which this cycle can start all over again.

A simple workflow for reflection

This simple mechanism helps change events, actions, attitudes, so that in the next iteration, we can have different outcomes, and eventually remove unhappiness. A simple method to learn iteratively.

Reflection is thinking about what worked and what didn’t, in order to learn and improve, through introspection: „Why do I feel unhappy?“ „Do I feel threatened?“

To borrow an expression from the Agile world, reflection is like a personal retrospective. It is tantamount to be open and true with oneself, and most importantly, to allow yourself to slow down because these processes take time.

The reasons for reflections are always the same: asking oneself „why?“, and figuring out reasons.

Benefits of Reflection

There are quite a few benefits to reflection, actually, but we’re going to focus on the following four.

First of all, reflection brings us to a better prioritization of things in our life. Very often, in the turmoil of daily events, we don’t have much time for taking decisions. A reflection process helps us bring to light our priorities, which in turn, helps us make better decisions, even in situations of stress.

Second, and directly related to the previous benefit, reflection helps with setting goals. These are long-term objectives for our lives, and thanks to the clarity brought by reflection, we can set short-term objectives that are fully aligned with those long-term goals.

Third, and simultaneously with the other two, it allows to fight procrastination and anxiety. We have all faced the temptation of leaving change for tomorrow, but reflection makes our goals clearer so that we can finally realize that today is the perfect day to start our process of change.

Last but not least, self-reflection helps to recognize and overcome obstacles. In life, obstacles are everywhere, and take different shapes; a reflection process allows us to recognize those that we already know, and prepares us to face the new ones that will come.

Formats of Reflection

Reflection can take lots of different shapes. The usual team retrospectives we have in agile teams are a group form of reflection. Coffee breaks, chit-chats next to the water fountain, and beers after work are also simple, yet extremely effective forms of group reflection.

In a more personal way, thinking about work while showering or biking, or keeping a diary, are things that can greatly help your reflection processes. You can keep a physical diary, or a digital one. In the latter case, applications such as Day One or jrnl, or even the plain text editor bundled with your operating system can help you get your thoughts in order.

In a professional setting, one-on-ones are one of the most common types of reflection sessions.

Each of these reflection options can have regular schedules; some are confidential, some aren’t. Some have a clear agenda, some are prepared, while some are more spontaneous.

Regularly scheduledConfidentialClear agendaActive reflectionPreparedWork time
Retrospective
Coffee
Beers
Shower
Writing diary
One-on-one

One-on-ones, as shown in the table above, have many desirable characteristics.

About One-on-Ones at VSHN

In VSHN we have a specific format for one-on-ones, and we have documented it in our Handbook. They require personal preparation, in a dedicated time slot, as well as a second time slot to discuss those thoughts with somebody else, usually somebody from your team, who might help you by asking the right questions.

One-on-ones in VSHN do not work exactly the same way as in other companies. Our format is admittedly less obvious at first, but the whole point of one-on-one meetings is for everyone to get help to solve their problems.

In the corporate world, one-on-ones are akin to „two-people retrospectives“ between a manager and an employee. In VSHN, we do not have those ranks, so it’s a discussion between peers to solve problems for each party.

There is, however, a very important point to understand: the role of the second person is not to solve the problems of the first. It is rather to listen, listen, and listen more, and if possible to ask questions that might trigger a self-reflection process in the first person.

Another responsibility of the second person is to create accountability, keeping up on the progress of the first, so that change actually happens.

One-on-ones work in a peer-to-peer way; both parties are equal. The first person is the reflecting person, and the second person invests 10 minutes to coach the first. After that, the roles reverse.

Outcomes

This is an important point to understand: one-on-ones in VSHN are not a place to talk about other people behind their backs. We can, however, discuss how what another person said makes somebody feel. In those cases, the follow-up of such discussion might involve going through the conflict resolution process.

Another possible outcome from a one-on-one might be a new VSHN Improvement Proposal, triggering a whole new change in the structure (or behavior) of some part of the company.

For more complex problems, not solvable with a series of one-on-ones, every VSHNeer can get specific help through a personal coach. By their external nature, coaches are not biased by the engineering point of view (that is, „trying to solve your problems“) or VSHN-specific ideas („that’s how we designed this“), so that you find answers „outside of the box“, whichever this box might be.

How to do One-on-Ones?

VSHNeers are free to choose who to do one-on-ones with. Some VSHNeers have a bit more experience in this matter, and they can gladly help others to get started.

As stated previously, we suggest doing them with people from outside your own team; this brings a different, more global perspective; a view from the outside.

Conclusion

It is extremely important for us at VSHN to make it clear that it is OK to stop and think. Particularly in technical environments where things change at a frantic pace, feeling able to slow down allows everyone to take the time to reflect, evolve, and hopefully, to feel better overall. One-on-ones are one of the mechanisms that we have set up for this to happen.

Aarno Aukia

Aarno ist Mitgründer der VSHN AG und als CTO für die technische Begeisterung zuständig.

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