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Over the course of my professional career, I’ve been a part of countless one-on-one meetings as both manager and employee. If there’s one piece of advice I’d love to see you take away from this article, it’s this: 

No matter how prepared you are, you will face some difficult conversations, surprises, and the odd uncomfortable moment along the way. 

That said, I'll share how you can better prepare for the little storms that come.

What Is A One-on-One Meeting?

One-on-one meetings, sometimes referred to as “check-ins”, are formal meetings between a manager and their team member that provide a dedicated time to come together, communicate, and help each other grow personally and professionally.

What Is The Purpose of a One-on-One?

The purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to foster a positive and productive working relationship between the manager (you) and the individual members of your team. They are a simple but powerful tool that provides the opportunity to:

  1. Share information on everything from project updates to personal feelings
  2. Set general job performance expectations to ensure consistency & alignment
  3. Assess engagement and motivation, and understand elements impacting this
  4. Reinforce workplace vision and values to ensure broader culture alignment
  5. Develop a personal relationship which helps support the professional one

It’s important to emphasize that a one-on-one conversation involves only two people—you and your team member. These meetings are a precious opportunity for you to get feedback on your performance and employee sentiment in general, so communication must go both ways. An effective 1:1 is a bi-directional exchange.

A graphic of two communication bubbles, to signify a conversation between two people.
A one-on-one conversation involves two people—you and your team member.

Benefits Of One-On-One Meetings

There are ample benefits of one-on-one meetings, not just for employees but for HR and the larger organization as a whole. Here's why it's worth making the time:

Benefits for the employees

Personalized feedback and support

One-on-ones provide a platform for employees to receive tailored feedback on their performance, which is essential for personal development and growth. Understanding how to articulate feedback during these sessions can significantly impact an employee's growth. Exploring effective employee evaluation phrases can enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your feedback.

Enhanced communication

Regular one-on-one meetings foster open communication between the employee and their manager, removing any confusion and leading to a clearer understanding of job roles, responsibilities, and the organization's expectations.

Career development

These meetings offer a dedicated space to discuss career aspirations and development opportunities, facilitating personal and professional growth within the organization. This can help a lot with employee morale and retaining staff.

Problem-solving and guidance

In a one-on-one, employees have the opportunity to address specific challenges they face in their roles, and seek guidance and support from their managers. This proactive approach helps in resolving issues promptly, improving efficiency.

Increased engagement and morale

As I hinted at above, the personalized attention and recognition during these meetings can significantly boost employee morale and engagement, contributing to job satisfaction and loyalty. A happy employee makes for a happy manager!

Benefits for HR

Enhanced employee insight

HR professionals gain deeper insights into employees' experiences, challenges, and aspirations, which is invaluable for shaping HR policies and practices.

Improved employee relations

Regular 1:1 interactions help HR in building stronger relationships with employees, fostering a culture of trust and openness.

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Feedback for management

These meetings provide HR with feedback about management practices and leadership effectiveness, crucial for organizational development and improvement.

Identification of training needs

Through direct conversations, HR can identify specific training and development needs, allowing for more targeted and effective skill development initiatives.

Retention strategy enhancement

Understanding the needs and concerns of employees aids HR in developing more effective retention strategies, reducing turnover and its associated costs.

Benefits for the organization

Improved performance and productivity

Regular one-on-ones lead to enhanced employee performance and productivity, as issues are addressed promptly and employees feel supported in their roles.

Better alignment with organizational goals

These meetings ensure employee efforts are aligned with the overall goals and objectives of the organization, meaning more cohesive and efficient operations.

Enhanced organizational culture

Regular, open communication contributes to a positive organizational culture, where employees feel valued and part of a team, boosting overall morale.

Informed decision-making

Insights gathered from these meetings provide valuable data for strategic decision-making, helping leaders make informed choices about the workforce and direction.

Risk mitigation

By understanding employee concerns and challenges, the organization can proactively address potential risks, such as compliance issues or employee dissatisfaction, before they escalate.

How To Have A Productive One On One Meeting

Step 1: Prepare in advance

  • Schedule the meeting in advance at a convenient time for the employee.
  • Set a clear agenda to give structure to the meeting. Share this agenda with the employee beforehand so they can prepare as well.
  • Review the employee's recent work, feedback, and any previous meeting notes to have a contextual background.

Step 2: Create a comfortable environment

  • Choose a private and quiet place to ensure confidentiality and limit distractions.
  • Start the meeting with casual conversation to help the employee feel relaxed.
  • Maintain a positive and open demeanor to encourage a two-way dialogue.

Step 3: Focus on listening

  • Encourage the employee to share their thoughts, challenges, and achievements.
  • Actively listen without interrupting, showing empathy and understanding.
  • Ask open-ended questions for context around their perspectives & experiences.

Step 4: Provide constructive feedback and support

  • Offer balanced feedback, highlighting strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Discuss potential solutions to challenges and offer your support and resources.
  • Talk about their career aspirations and how you can assist in their development.

Step 5: Set goals and follow up

  • Collaborate to set achievable goals and action plans for the next meeting.
  • Summarize the key points of the meeting and send a follow-up email with them.
  • Schedule the next meeting, ensuring regular check-ins and continuity.

One On One Meeting Best Practices

While the steps I outlined above should help you in planning your next (or first!) one-on-one, there are also a few best practices that you should keep in mind:

Schedule weekly or bi-weekly

Schedule the frequency based on how many team members you’re responsible for and the individual needs of each person. If you have several people, bi-weekly allows time for the rest of your job. A new employee may need to meet weekly.

Limit to 30-60 minutes

Again, take into consideration how many team members you have and the needs of each. If you have ten people and want to do weekly meetings with each, ten hours a week spent in 1:1’s may not be the best use of your time.

Intentionally schedule gaps

If you decide to schedule several 1:1’s in a row, leave 10-15 minutes between each one. This allows you the flexibility to go longer if necessary (not rushing your team member) and, more importantly, gives you time to prepare for the next one.

Ensure privacy

Avoid public places if possible. Use your office, cubicle, or a conference room if necessary to ensure privacy and avoid interruptions. Also, make sure to turn your phone and monitor off to minimize distractions. 

Make them a habit

Avoid canceling a 1:1 unless absolutely necessary. Pick a day and time and schedule a recurring meeting and it will become part of both your regular work rhythms. Set yourself a goal to not miss more than one out of every ten meetings.

Be prepared

Before each one-on-one discussion, consider the team member’s work and projects, review the notes and actions from the last 1:1 meeting, and determine any general performance feedback you want to give.

Be flexible

Sometimes it’s necessary to go deep into a particular topic. If your team member is facing a crisis in their personal life, for example, be prepared to abandon the regular agenda to support them.

Take handwritten notes

Typing may be easier but is often more distracting. Take notes of only the most important points, actions, and decisions. Know when (e.g. important decision made) and when not (e.g. during an emotional subject) to take notes.

Coach more, dictate less

Coaching isn’t always the answer—sometimes you need to be direct and tell your team member what to do. But, asking the right questions to help them work through their problems puts more power and responsibility into their hands.  

Use video for remote meetings

If you have team members who work remotely, connect with them over the video versus the phone. Observing body language and facial cues is key to having an honest and open one-on-one conversation.

What Should 1:1’s NOT Be Used For?

In general, you should not rely on a 1:1 as the primary mechanism for performance management, learning and development, or project and task management.

Trying to cram these into your short, recurring meetings is simply not practical. It's more about employee engagement, so here are some examples of things that should NOT be covered in a 1:1, and should be addressed in their own meetings:

  • Urgent performance feedback: If a team member has made a serious error, it’s important to provide feedback in a timely manner and set expectations quickly to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Waiting until your next 1:1 is too late.
  • Job skills training. A one-on-one meeting should not be used as a training session to teach someone specific skills necessary to do their job. Schedule a separate session where you aren’t rushed for time and pushing other topics.
  • Detailed project status updates. A 1:1 is an appropriate place to get general updates (e.g. are things generally on track/delayed/ahead), but detailed status updates and discussions should be handled in a status report/project meeting.

A Typical One-On-One Meeting Agenda

While the specific topics discussed in a 1:1 will vary from meeting to meeting and by management style, it’s important to create a general structure that applies to every discussion. Here is an example of a 30-minute meeting agenda you can use:

  1. Team member check-in (5 minutes). This is your opportunity to connect on a personal level. Ask open-ended questions that create an open listening environment. It’s important to have a(n):
    • Energy and emotional check-in: check with the employee how they're doing and feeling, what their energy level is like, and what's top of mind. If energy is low and they’re stressed, this will affect the rest of the 1:1 conversation.
    • Personal connection: follow up on their personal life. Ask how their spouse or children are doing, or express interest in their hobby. This is critical to build rapport and earn trust, and sets the stage for the rest of the meeting.
  2. Team member work update (10 minutes). This is where the 1:1 conversation switches from personal to work. Remember, if you feel like something warrants a bigger, longer conversation, schedule a separate meeting to discuss.
    • Previous action items: ask the team member to update you on the status of any action items from the last one-on-one meeting. Check if there are any roadblocks preventing them from completing a particular action.
    • Project and goal updates: focus on updates on any important long-term goals, objectives, projects, or tasks that they’ve been assigned. How satisfied are they with work, and what is affecting their job satisfaction?

3. Manager update and future (10 minutes). Now it’s your turn. Use this part of the conversation to:

  • Share important information and updates: this could be new company policies or processes, but only those that have a direct impact on the team member.
  • Non-urgent performance management: this is an opportunity to set general performance expectations or offer general feedback. Also, offer support!
  • New goals, objectives, or responsibilities: a one-on-one is a good time to discuss the future. This includes any changes to the team member’s goals and career aspirations, role, or responsibilities. Be sure to get their thoughts!

4. Flex time (5 minutes): As with any meeting, always allocate a small chunk of time to allow for deeper discussion on a particularly important topic, summarize any key action items, or simply end the meeting early!

Example One-on-One Meeting Questions by Type

Performance review meeting

A performance review meeting is a formal evaluation of the employee's work performance over a specific period. Some questions to ask include:

  • How do you feel about your recent work and achievements?
  • Are there any challenges you've faced in achieving your goals?
  • What support do you need to enhance your performance?
  • How do you see your role evolving or improving?
  • Can you identify any specific training or development needs?
  • What are your career aspirations for the next year?

Career development meeting

A career development meeting focuses on the employee's career aspirations and planning for their professional growth. Some questions to ask include:

  • What are your long-term career goals and how do you plan to achieve them?
  • Are there specific skills or experiences you're looking to gain?
  • How can I support you in your professional development?
  • What challenges do you foresee in reaching your career goals?
  • Are there any roles or projects here that interest you?

Project debrief meeting

A project debrief meeting is a discussion following the completion of a project to review outcomes and lessons learned. Some questions to ask include:

  • What went well in this project from your perspective?
  • Were there any obstacles or challenges you faced?
  • What lessons have you learned from this project?
  • How could we improve similar projects in the future?
  • Is there any feedback you have for the team or management?

Problem-solving meeting

A problem-solving meeting is time set for addressing specific issues or challenges the employee is facing. In this context, some helpful questions to ask include:

  • Can you describe the challenge you're facing in more detail?
  • How is this issue affecting your work?
  • Have you thought of any potential solutions?
  • What resources or support do you need to overcome this?
  • How can we prevent similar issues in the future?

Feedback and check-in meeting

Feedback or check-in meetings are regular, informal meetings to check in on the employee’s well-being and gather feedback. Some questions to ask include:

  • How are you feeling about your current workload?
  • Is there anything that’s been particularly challenging recently?
  • How can I better support you in your role?
  • Do you have any feedback or suggestions for the team or company?
  • Are there any areas where you feel you could use more training or resources?

Goal setting meeting

A goal setting meeting is a strategic meeting to set or review goals and objectives for the upcoming period. Some questions to help guide this meeting may include:

  • What goals do you want to set for the next quarter/year?
  • How do these goals align with your career aspirations?
  • What challenges do you anticipate in achieving these goals?
  • What resources or support will you need?
  • How can we measure the success of these goals?

Your One-on-One Meeting Template 

I've created a simple template to help you lead an effective 1:1 conversation. This handy one-on-one template can be printed out for ease of use, and includes:

  • Quick start guide with essential one one one best practices
  • A simple framework for your one on one meeting agenda
  • Example one on one meeting questions you can ask
  • Spaces to take notes

Simply enter your email address below and click 'submit' to get the template.

Get our One-on-One Meeting template!

  • By submitting this form you agree to receive the requested content, our newsletter, and occasional emails related to People Managing People. You can unsubscribe at any time. For further details, review our Privacy Policy. We're protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The Power of The One-On-One

One-on-ones are one of the most effective tools you have in your toolkit to help you build rapport with your team member and share constructive feedback that will help you both succeed. As discussed in this article, key takeaways include:

  • The purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to foster a positive and productive working relationship between the manager and the members of the team
  • There are ample benefits of one-on-one meetings, not just for employees but for Human Resources professionals and the larger organization as a whole
  • A productive and successful one-on-one meeting requires adequate preparation, consistency, thoughtful questions, and active listening

For further support, you can join the People Managing People Community, a supportive place for people managers passionate about sharing knowledge and building organizations of the future. Also, check out more of our templates here!

By Mike Gibbons

Mike has extensive experience in sales, marketing, and product strategy; organizational and team development; and business growth and operations. He's held various senior leadership positions in the technology industry, and in 2016 participated as a lead member of the deal team responsible for the sale of Point Grey Research to FLIR Systems for USD$256M. Mike is guided by his deeply-held beliefs in connection, curiosity, humour, empathy, and honesty. Since leaving the corporate world in 2018, he's provide fractional executive and growth and strategic planning advisory services that have helped several early stage companies mature, grow responsibly, and live true to their values.