Like other forms of communication, one-on-one meetings require careful planning, diligent execution, and continuous output from both parties in the meeting.
The effort is, however, worth the reward. One-on-one meetings are crucial for driving productivity, strengthening work relationships, and improving the overall employee experience.
However, despite their undeniable value, they might sometimes be perceived as time-wasting and a form of micromanagement by employees if done ineffectively.
This one-on-one meeting guide will walk you through how to make your 1:1s effective and all you need to know on the subject, including the different one-on-one meeting types, ideal meeting frequency, and tips for managers and employees to have productive conversations, and meeting agenda templates.
If you are ready to revolutionize your one-on-one meetings for the better, keep reading!
Before we delve fully into the hows of one-on-one meetings, we will take an extensive look at
What one-on-one meetings are
What the manager and employee's roles are in one-on-one meetings
Why are one-on-one meetings important
One-on-one meetings (also known as one-on-ones, one-to-ones, 1:1s) are regular check-ins between two members of an organization - usually a manager and their direct report.
They come in different forms, including onboarding conversations, periodic check-ins, and mentoring sessions. The main purpose of 1:1s is to offer parties in the meeting an opportunity to freely communicate on matters relating to their work and personal lives without the constraints of general meetings.
One-on-one meetings can also occur between peers and between employees and their manager’s manager - both of which we will briefly look at in this guide. Our focus will, however, be on the typical manager-employee one-on-ones.
Communication is a two-way street, and this is even more true for one-on-one meetings. Both managers and employees must articulate their feelings and thoughts and pay attention when the other party is doing the same. The distribution of their speaking and listening roles, however, differ.
Understanding this, as well as each party’s dedicated roles in one-on-one meetings, is crucial to having successful and productive meetings.
The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting.
- Ben Horowitz
It is tempting to think that one-on-one meetings are the preserve of managers because most 1:1s are initiated by them. In reality, the role of the manager is primarily to facilitate the conversation and listen.
Most one-on-one meeting experts support Ben Horowitz’s 90:10 rule: managers should do 10% of the talking and 90% of the listening.
But to avoid getting caught in the technicalities of this conversation distribution formula, the key thing to note is that, as a manager, you should spend most of your time in a one-on-one meeting listening to your direct report. As Andy Stanley, Leadership Author and Speaker, stated, “Leaders who don't listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”
As far as facilitating the conversation goes, managers are responsible for the following:
Enabling free communication
Establishing direction: A manager is expected to chart the course of the conversation by defining the goals for the meeting, creating a meeting agenda, and keeping the conversation on track.
To succeed in this role, managers must collaborate with their direct reports in planning the meeting and determining the key talking points. Therefore, while the manager is expected to create some form of structure for the direction of the conversation, it must be flexible enough to accommodate what the employee wants to talk about.
Enabling free communication: Employees sometimes have a hard time communicating honestly and freely with their managers and at work in general. Different studies have shown that employees are hesitant to speak up, with up to 72% of employees saying they can’t speak their heart out at work. The major reasons cited are the risks of punishment and humiliation.
As a manager, you must enable free communication during your meetings by creating a psychologically safe environment where employees can speak up without the fear of punishment or humiliation within and outside meetings.
Providing support: According to Gallup, employee disengagement is causing global businesses to lose approximately $7 trillion each year, and the main culprit is poor management. To keep yourself and direct reports from being a part of this statistic, you must provide them with the support that they need.
The surest way to figure out how they need your support is by listening to them and identifying their pain points. You can also ask them direct questions about what you can help them with.
As an employee, your perspective is at the heart of 1:1s. If you find this an overwhelming position to be, you are not alone. Many employees are terrified of 1:1s, especially when they are newly introduced. But the good news is that you can turn this around by adopting the right mindset and attitude.
You can change your mindset by first viewing 1:1s as a chat with your manager and an opportunity to connect better with them on an individual level.
Your primary roles as an employee in a one-on-one meeting are to
Communicate: There would be no point in a one-on-one meeting if your manager is ready to listen but you are unwilling to speak. Communicating your experience, goals, thoughts, and challenges clearly will provide your manager with the information they need to support you.
Collaborate: A common mistake many employees make in 1-on-1s is leaving their managers to figure out everything about the meeting, including the agenda, talking points, and the direction of the conversation.
You should collaborate with your manager by being proactive while preparing for the interview and active during the interview. Here’s what you can do:
Take the initiative to propose items you want to be included in the meeting agenda
Prepare talking points and questions ahead of the meeting
Share your opinions when asked
Tell your manager where and how you need their support or input
Ask for feedback and provide feedback when asked
Finally, be willing to listen and receive feedback because, as Bill Gates noted, “We all need people to give us feedback. That’s how we improve”. We sometimes view feedback as criticism when it is unfavorable, but it could be invaluable in exposing your blind spots and helping you improve.
A study by Havard Business Review, which analyzed trends in companies where the average manager spent 30 minutes every three weeks with each of their employees, discovered that employees who get little to no one-on-one time with their manager are more likely to be disengaged.
Employees who get twice more one-on-one with their manager are 67% less likely to be disengaged.
Employees who do not meet with their managers one-on-one at all are four times as likely to be disengaged.
These findings underscore how crucial one-on-one meetings are. In this section, we will take a closer look into why one-on-ones are essential to organizations, managers, and employees.
About six months ago . . . I began scheduling one-on-one meetings with every employee. Every two weeks, I’d block off eight hours to check in with everyone on the team. . .
Eight hours is not a small investment, but it’s proven to be one of the most valuable uses of my time.
- Founder and CEO of Groove
The time and resources organizations invest in 1:1s yield tremendous benefits, and we have listed the major ones here.
One-on-one meetings have been proven to increase employee overall productivity and quality of work. And this, according to Gallup’s State of the American Manager report, puts organizations on the path to maximizing their human capital and achieving 59% more growth in revenue per employee.
Another benefit of 1:1s to organizations is that it creates an ongoing feedback structure that ensures that challenges or obstacles are discussed and cleared as soon as they arise. This has also been found to improve employee motivation and engagement. It also explains why companies like Adobe, Microsoft, IBM, Deloitte, and PwC are replacing annual reviews with one-on-ones between managers and their direct reports.
One-on-ones also make employees become more devoted to the success of their organization because it helps them understand the organization’s goals better, view leadership more favorably, and feel valued. This ultimately translates into loyalty and improves employee output and retention.
Ninety minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your subordinate’s work for two weeks, or some eighty-plus hours, and can also upgrade your understanding of what he’s doing.
- Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel
In a survey conducted by Hypercontext of 200 managers across 30 industries with 985 direct reports, an impressive 94% of managers reported having one-on-ones. This alone indicates that a huge majority of managers recognize the value of such conversations.
For one, 1:1s helps managers build a rapport with their direct reports: Having frequent, honest, and transparent 1:1s with your direct reports is a proven way to build your relationship with them and gain trust. It sends a message that you consider them worth your time and care about them. This works wonders for employee retention.
According to Gallup’s State of the Workplace: 2021 Report, it takes more than a 20% pay raise to lure most employees away from a manager who engages them and next to nothing to persuade most disengaged workers to switch companies.
Secondly, the ongoing feedback system of 1:1s allows you receive frequent feedback on your management style. Collaborating with them also allows you and your direct reports to experiment with different approaches until you settle on the best one.
Besides opening your eyes to the weaknesses in your management approach and refining it, this helps you learn what management approach works best for individual team members.
Your relationship with your manager greatly affects your performance, career prospects, mood, and overall job satisfaction. A study by the American Psychological Association found that 75% of Americans consider their boss the most stressful part of their workday.
While regular one-on-ones can help improve your overall experience by connecting better with your manager.
It affords you the opportunity to give and receive feedback. You can probe your manager further until you receive the clarity you need. And because 1:1s are often held weekly or bi-weekly, you can receive the feedback you need to minimize errors on ongoing projects. Meanwhile, you can provide feedback to your manager so that they know your opinion on their way of work and make adjustments where necessary.
Another reason 1:1s are important to employees is that it presents the perfect opportunity to discuss career prospects. If you are too timid to raise discussions on your career with your manager, 1:1s give you the perfect opportunity to do so. You can discuss promotions, pay raises, study, or other career development topics.
Finally, 1:1s help to advance your relationship with your manager and ensure it is not limited to just assigning tasks and giving reports. They can evolve into a more beneficial relationship where you can get guidance and support from them concerning your work and career.
There are different types of one-on-one meetings - all with their unique set of rules, relevance, and contexts, as we will see in this part. The most common forms are
The manager/employee one-on-one
Skip-level meeting (employee and boss’s boss)
Manager/employee 1:1s are recurring meetings to discuss the employee’s experience in the workplace. They help managers understand, connect with and support direct reports a little better.
Manager/employee 1:1s are mutually beneficial. While the employee gets face time with their direct superior to freely express their concern, ask for feedback, and receive support and guidance, managers get the opportunity to align with employees on the team or organization’s goals, improve affinity, receive feedback, and learn.
Examples of manager/employee 1:1s are
Employee onboarding and offboarding meetings
Project reviews and updates
It is good practice to have each of these meetings from time to time so that managers and their direct reports can give enough attention to every part of the employee’s work and experience within the organization.
Peer-to-peer meetings are meetings between employees on the same level of their organizational hierarchy.
Though most employees are used to vertical 1:1s with superiors or juniors, horizontal 1:1s with peers in the workplace are also crucial and helpful.
The aim of one-on-one peer meetings is to create channels for peers to share and learn from each other’s experiences, as well as provide support and counsel where necessary. The topics of such meetings could range from professional challenges and goals to personal interests, fears, and struggles.
Peer-to-peer meetings also increase workplace empathy, networking, and collaboration. All of which are important for creating and sustaining a healthy workplace.
Some examples of peer-to-peer meetings are:
Organizations can encourage and create opportunities for peer-to-peer meetings within and across teams as a way to improve employee engagement and collaboration.
Skip-level one-on-one meetings occur between employees and their boss’s boss (senior manager), skipping the employee’s direct manager.
As leaders are often out of touch with rank-and-file staff, skip-level meetings present a great opportunity for them to connect personally.
For leaders, they can get unfiltered information about what’s really going on in the department or the company and make positive changes. Meanwhile, employees have a chance to raise important issues, gain better insight into the company, and get valuable feedback on their own careers. Both parties should prepare for the skip-level one-on-one to make the most of the meeting.
Skip-level meetings do not have to happen bi-weekly. But organizations should prioritize them and create opportunities for such conversations. Employees should also be free to request one when necessary.
Now we know the definition and benefits of one-on-ones, in this part, we’ll take a look at
How often should you have one-on-one meetings
Where are one-on-one meetings held
Several studies and opinion pieces have attempted to answer this question. Though the outcomes are often different, most business leaders and studies recommend weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly frequency as the ideal.
Officevibe, for example, analyzed over 30,000 employee feedback messages collected between 2017 and 2020 to the question, “What would be your ideal frequency of communication with your manager?”
The results show a preference for monthly and bi-weekly frequencies:
The majority (25%) of the respondents cited a monthly or bi-weekly frequency as ideal.
22% of the respondents cited weekly communication or several times a week as ideal.
Only 8% of the respondent cited daily 1:1s as ideal.
We, however, believe that such preferences have their reasons:
Most teams already have daily and weekly team meetings, virtual workspaces, emails, instant messages, project management software, and telephone calls to stay in the loop on work-related matters or emergencies. Scheduling meetings daily or weekly on top of that could become overbearing and time-wasting. Not to mention that some meetings could have been an email.
Secondly, the average busy manager already spends 32.9 hours each week in meetings and cancels 42.4% of their one-on-one meetings every year. This indicates that managers already have too many meetings, which leaves them with less time to attend to other aspects of their work.
A bi-weekly or monthly meeting frequency creates the right balance between staying caught up and putting time to good use.
Less frequent meetings like bi-monthly, quarterly, and yearly 1:1s, on the other hand, are too infrequent to keep employees truly engaged.
A lot could happen to the employee within the period, and not getting any individual facetime with their manager could cause them to lose touch. A bi-weekly meeting frequency solves this problem by ensuring that managers and their direct reports are not apart for an extended period.
The length and frequency of 1:1s differ for each manager-employee relationship. When it comes to deciding on how long and how frequently you should have them, here are some things you should consider:
Purpose of 1:1s: A good place to start is to ask yourself what you hope to achieve with the 1:1s, what you need to discuss, and the volume of issues you need to cover over time. You should also have a conversation with your direct report to get their input on this.
Figuring these out not only helps you to create your scale of priorities as far as conversations in your 1:1s go but help you determine if frequent 1:1s would be necessary.
The pace of your work environment: If you are working in a slow-paced environment and do not have pressing issues to discuss, you might not need to have frequent one-on-one meetings. Working in a fast-paced environment with a lot going on, on the other hand, might require more frequent check-ins.
Existing communication practices: Your existing communication practices matter in determining if more or less frequent meetings are necessary. If your team communicates often and has high-quality collaboration tools, you might not require frequent 1:1s.
Direct report’s level of experience: It is generally agreed that new hires or inexperienced employees need more facetime with their manager. As these groups of employees need more of their manager’s guidance, coaching, and support than employees who are more experienced or familiar with the workings of the organization.
The number of meetings and direct reports: One of the easiest ways to overwhelm yourself as a manager is to pack your calendar full of meetings. To avoid this, you need a fair assessment of your current meeting commitments and the number of direct reports you have to meet. Once you have this, you can determine what frequency works best for you and your team.
Current employee engagement level: Spotting and re-engaging disengaged employees requires time and frequent contact. Having 1:1s with them monthly, for example, is not ideal. If your team has a mix of engaged and disengaged employees, prioritizing meeting the disengaged workers would be the smart thing to do.
If you are still unsure of how often your 1:1s should be, you have nothing to be worried about. You can try out different meeting cadences and decide which works best for you and your team. But be sure to align with your direct reports on their preference.
Most companies do not have fixed places for one-on-one meetings. Where meetings are held is defined by loose rules of manager and employee’s convenience, prevailing working arrangement, or what structures the organization has for one-on-one meetings.
For example, while most traditional offices hold one-on-ones in managers’ offices or conference rooms, Microsoft built a treehouse with meeting spaces for its employees to communicate in an open and relaxed setting.
This notwithstanding, there are three major places where one-on-one meetings are held:
Meeting in person at the office is common with on-site teams. And while virtual communication has become more popular in recent years, eight in ten executives prefer in-person to virtual meetings.
The physical interaction that comes with meeting at the office has a slew of benefits.
It allows you to observe non-verbal cues and body language that could help fill communication gaps
It makes focusing on the conversation easier because the distraction from technology and the environment is minimal. The temptation to also carry on with other tasks in the middle of the conversation is also avoided
It makes building connections and trust easier.
Nevertheless, in-person one-on-ones typically take up more time on average and could make direct reports feel more hesitant to open up because they are not in what they might consider a relaxed environment
These notwithstanding, the office is a great place to discuss more business-related topics. So, if your 1:1s are related to performance reviews or projects, the office would be the ideal location.
Due to the increase in remote and hybrid work, more organizations are embracing online meetings. This has made video conferencing a major means of communication in the workplace.
Video conferencing software like Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams are used by teams all over the world for one-on-one meetings. And like other meeting locations, they have their pros and cons.
An important upside is that all attendees can attend meetings without the restraint of locations. Video conferencing allows parties to tune in at their convenience from wherever they are in the world and create their ideal meeting atmosphere. Small talk is also often minimal in virtual 1:1s, making sticking to meeting schedules easier.
On the flip side, communication might feel incomplete because of the absence of the physical element of in-person meetings. It might also be strained by poor internet connection and other technical problems.
These notwithstanding, video conferencing can offer the full experience of 1:1 meetings if done right. The key is ensuring attendees stay engaged and collaborate effectively.
Some one-on-one virtual meeting best practices to make the other party engaged include
Keeping your video on. Video calls can simulate some of the benefits of in-person conversations, such as observing non-verbal cues.
Listening actively. This helps the other party know you are listening and feel like they are worth your time.
Using meeting management tools. Meeting management tools like Airgram facilitate every part of your meeting, including planning, recording, note-taking, sharing, and storage. The best part of this program is that it automatically generates meeting notes that are accessible immediately after the meeting is over, so you won’t miss anything important.
Airgram helps you centralize your meeting management and make the entire process more efficient.
The world is moving further away from the idea that formal structures are a requirement for productivity, and more organizations are integrating comfort and relaxation into their daily work experience.
Having 1:1s outside the office in cafes, restaurants, or parks is a great way to retain the complete communication of in-person meetings without the intimidation of offices. This might explain why 2 in 3 of the respondents in a Hilton Worldwide survey about holding meetings outside the office stated that they preferred off-site meetings.
In addition to breaking the monotony of consistently meeting in the office and offering the fresh perspective of a new environment, the informal and relaxed environment of 1:1s held outside the office makes conversations flow more naturally. And because these 1:1s often feel more like a social event than a work occasion, parties look forward to them.
A major pitfall of having 1:1s outside the office, however, is that it is not suitable for all kinds of one-on-one meetings. The environment might not offer the privacy and quiet of offices, which might distract the meeting participants.
Also, even though meeting outside the office breaks the monotony of meeting in the office, it could create a monotonous cycle if you meet at the same place every time. A way to avoid this is to change your meeting place from time to time and try out a variety of food and drink options.
Managers are the single most important determinant of employee engagement - not an organization’s leadership or predominant work culture. According to a Gallup study, at least 70% of the difference in employee engagement scores is driven by who the manager is.
As a manager looking to improve employee engagement, this is great news because, firstly, it means you are primarily responsible for your employee engagement level. Secondly and more importantly, you are very likely to succeed by managing your 1:1s effectively, and we will show you how.
You can set the tone of your meeting with the amount of thought and effort you put into your preparation before the meeting.
1) Decide on your expectations and goals
Each meeting should have a clear purpose and goal that will guide your approach. The goals could be one of the overarching goals you set for your 1:1s before your first meeting or based on something that happened after the previous meeting.
Your meeting goals could look something like this:
To understand how they’ve been feeling in recent weeks
To explore their career interest in other departments in the company
To gain insight into how they think about the team restructuring
You also need to be honest enough to recognize that you might not be able to achieve every goal you have for the meeting. So, prioritize two or three goals you can not negotiate on at a time to narrow your focus.
2) Configure your mindset
Some managers see their direct reports as just a means to the end of meeting KPIs. This is unhealthy. A better mindset is one that recognizes both employees’ progress and mistakes.
This does not mean you shouldn’t expect excellence from them. You should. However, you should acknowledge that they are humans in and outside of work and would require varying amounts of your input to do their best work.
3) Map out your plan
Create a plan based on your goals and what you know about your employees. Think about what approach is best for each of them and what talking points you should prioritize.
Remember to make room for your direct report’s input in your plan. Their thoughts on cadence, location, and topics to discuss are important.
4) Create your meeting agenda
An effective way to make your meetings productive and keep your conversations on the things that matter is by using an agenda. Having an agenda has been shown to reduce non-productive meeting time by up to 80%.
Remember, however, that 1:1 aren’t supposed to be about what only you want to discuss. Collaborate with your direct report when creating the agenda (we recommend the Airgram meeting agenda tool to do this).
Share your agenda draft with them and let them include items they want on the agenda so as to ensure the agenda reflects the interest of both parties.
5) Send an invitation
Since you are the one initiating the meeting, you should also send the meeting invitation.
Sending an invitation to a direct report for the first time out of the blue might raise questions. So, your invitation should clarify your intention and the reason for the meeting. Here is an email sample you can use:
Hi [Recipient’s Name],
I’d like to introduce recurring one-on-one meetings to our existing communication. I know this might be unexpected, but you have nothing to worry about. I will be having the same meetings with everyone else on the team.
The meetings will be my chance to learn more about you and your experience within your role and the organization. Our talking points will revolve around your career development, priorities, motivations, challenges and blockers, and anything else you would like to talk about.
We will decide on the cadence and additional topics to discuss during our first meeting.
I will share the meeting invite and a draft of the agenda I’d like us to collaborate on shortly. You can review it and include items and talking points you’d like on the agenda.
Please, feel free to let me know if you have any questions.
Pro tip: If you have held 1:1s with your direct reports and decided on the frequency and length of your meetings, you can schedule recurring meetings on a shared calendar. This blocks out that time in their calendar so that they’d know not to schedule other events at that time and would receive reminders before meetings.
Immediately the meeting commences, tune yourself off all distractions and pay attention to your direct report. As mentioned earlier, your core responsibilities in a meeting are listening and facilitating the conversation.
In more specific terms, the following are what you should do during the meeting.
1) Start by checking in
Checking in with your direct report at the start of the meeting immediately gives them the impression that you care and that they can speak comfortably.
If your direct report has a history of not expressing themselves freely or is a new hire, share how you are feeling first and then ask for their thoughts.
2) Briefly look back at the previous meeting
If the one-on-one meeting is recurrent, you should look review the resolutions and action items from your previous meeting. Get an update on how far they’ve progressed, what challenges they have encountered, and what wins they have recorded.
3) Stick to the meeting agenda
The meeting agenda usually sets out the different activities and talking points for the meeting in line with the meeting goals. So, holding a successful meeting requires following the agenda.
Sticking to the agenda also prevents exceeding the scope of the meeting, missing out on important conversations, and wasting time on unproductive activities.
4) Provide guidance and support
Don’t just listen, help. Give your direct reports the guidance they need to overcome their challenges. Also, encourage them to be honest about things they could have done better and make changes where necessary.
Note-taking should not be left only to your direct report. You should also take personal notes of your thoughts and observations. This helps you keep track of the changes in your direct report’s outlook, behavior, or performance over time.
You should also take notes for posterity's sake. This helps you keep track of things you have discussed and can be a reference point for you and your direct report.
6) Define and assign action items
Conclude each round of conversation on each topic by defining and assigning action items. Each action item should have a timeline for completion and updates.
This helps to tidily wrap up the conversation and spell out the expectations for both parties.
7) Take and ask questions
In addition to asking questions, encourage your direct report to ask questions during the meeting. Be sure to make the time to take questions before ending the meeting.
8) Give and ask for feedback
1:1s offer a great opportunity to give feedback if you have any. What is important here is that feedback should be constructive and that you communicate your opinions without hostility or judgment.
Also, never end the meeting without asking for feedback. It lets your direct report know that you value their opinion and that you are committed to continuous improvement. It could also help you gain insight into aspects of your leadership you can improve on.
9) Do a quick recap
Conclude your discussion with a quick recap of what has been discussed and list your action items. This helps both you and your direct report reflect on the conversation of the day and leave with clarity on what needs to be done next.
Your overall attitude during the meeting should be encouraging and reassuring. Let your direct report know that you support them and that you are willing to help them through their challenges.
The post-meeting phase is for assessing the effectiveness of your 1:1s and following up.
1) Assess direct reports’ sentiments on this meeting
After the meeting, share a feedback form with your direct report with questions to assess their sentiments on the meeting.
Questions with numerical scales are generally easier to manage and gauge over a period. Your feedback form could look something like this:
Rate your satisfaction level for each category on a scale of 1 (negative) - 10 (positive):
The length of the meeting was appropriate: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
My manager allowed me to express myself freely: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
The goals of the meeting were achieved: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
You can also add an “Any additional comments” field for them to share their thoughts in writing.
2) Send out meeting notes
Share the meeting notes containing a summary of the key issues discussed, highlights, resolutions, and action items with the other party. This will serve as a reminder of the important details of the meeting, as well as what they are expected to do.
3) Follow up
Follow up on the action items and resolutions from the meeting to ensure timely completion.
Holding consistently effective 1:1s does not happen in one day. You need to take the time to reflect on what was done well and what could be done better to improve your meetings.
1:1s must also not be treated as one-off events or relegated to events that are only done when convenient. Ensure that you meet consistently with your direct report and invest the effort necessary to achieve the goals you seek to achieve with the process.
Productive conversations in 1:1s are measured against the goals of the meetings - rather than just what parties can tick off the agenda. And because the most important goals of 1:1s revolve around improving employee engagement and building and maintaining relationships, mutual respect and psychological safety are necessary drivers of the conversation.
Managers and employees must have and display regard for each other. They must also create and maintain a psychologically safe space to drive meaningful conversations.
As a manager or employee looking to achieve this, here are a few things you can do.
One of the clearest ways to show regard for someone is by respecting their time.
Do your best not to be late to your 1:1s and if for any reason you are unable to meet up at the agreed time, send a message or email to the other person to inform them beforehand or even ask for rescheduling the meeting.
Pay attention to your body language to be sure that you are not unintentionally sending the wrong signal.
Your posture and body language say a lot and can be read by the other party. For example, if you fold your arms, look away, or tap your feet, the other party might interpret this as a lack of interest in the conversation. Making small changes like sitting up straight or looking at them directly when they speak could show interest in the conversation.
Openness in conversation should be expressed in your mindset and communication.
Being open-minded will allow you to consider the other person’s thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, even when they are different from yours. If you come to 1:1s with a closed mind and are eagerly nitpicking or debating everything they say, they might become unwilling to open up.
Secondly, be open in your communication by sharing your experiences, fears, and challenges freely and honestly. Managers, especially, need to practice open communication to command it in their direct reports.
Being transparent means being able to have difficult but necessary conversations - that’s what a one-on-one meeting is for. Both parties shouldn’t hold things back. So, even if being transparent is tough, you can practice it to perfection.
Like open communication, transparent communication should also be championed by managers to give their direct reports the courage they need. Telling funny stories or personal anecdotes that make you more relatable is very effective.
Do not let the relaxed nature of 1:1s trick you into treating them lightly. Prepare adequately before the meetings using the guide above.
Spend some time ruminating on the meeting agenda and talking points and what you hope to achieve with them, learn about the other party and their communication preferences, prepare questions to ask, and put all you need for the meeting within reach.
1:1s might cause you to dive into deep and uncomfortable topics or receive feedback that you are not too excited about. But you must maintain a positive attitude. One way you can approach such situations is to think of them as an opportunity to grow professionally and as a person.
It is also helpful to avoid interpreting every unfavorable piece of feedback as an affront.
A bonus tip is to avoid making the entire conversation about work and projects. This is your chance to connect with the other person on an individual level - not to discuss project updates.
The following are general talking points in one-on-one meetings:
Personal growth and development
Priorities and motivation
Challenges and obstacles
Icebreaker questions or social check-ins are usually the set of questions you ask at the beginning of the meeting to get the conversation started on a light and comfortable basis.
The point of icebreaker questions is to get the other person talking about themselves while giving you a better view of who they are or what they enjoy.
You should err on the side of caution with ice-breaker questions because asking awkward and too private questions can lead to the opposite of what you intended.
How are you feeling today?
Did you do anything fun last weekend?
What’s something outside of work that you’re looking forward to this week?
Beyond being the ideal state that people look forward to in their professional lives, career goals are pointers to what people consider their purpose.
This is an important topic to discuss because while many people know what they want their professional future to look like, they are sometimes unsure how to get there. Providing mentorship and support for direct reports who have such problems will do wonders for your relationship.
But beyond this, discussing career goals could give you a look into their ambition and interests in and outside of their current role.
What career goals would you like to accomplish in the next one to two years, and would you say you are on that path yet?
What projects would you like to work on or be more involved in within the organization?
Why did you choose this career path, and does it make you happy?
Do you think you would ever consider pivoting to another career?
Are there other roles in this organization that you find interesting, and why?
Talking about professional and personal accomplishments is a great way to reflect on how far your direct report has come.
Many people are hesitant about talking about their accomplishments and tend to talk more about what they want to achieve or what they have failed at. But encouraging them to talk about what they have accomplished allows them to stop for a moment to give themselves credit. It also works wonders for their confidence, motivation, and overall outlook.
What did you do that made you the proudest of yourself recently?
What would you say your biggest personal victory has been recently? How did you achieve it?
What do you think is most rewarding about your recent accomplishment?
Personal growth and development
1:1s should not only feature career development; they should also include present growth and personal development.
Here, the focus should be on what their goals and journeys are toward building better habits and mindsets. You can also use the opportunity to share your experience with them if you are on a similar journey.
What habits have you found to improve your productivity, and what habits have you found to reduce it?
Do you have a mentor? Who is it, and why?
What good habits are you looking to build in the next month?
What will you consider the ideal version of yourself?
Priorities and motivation
It is not enough to discuss interests. Finding the priorities and motivation of an employee is one way to provide the correct guidance.
Here, the focus is on what the most important things to your direct report are and why they do what they do. The substance of the conversation does not have to be work or profession-centered.
These conversations help you learn what makes them tick, what excites them, and what frustrates them. It might also give you an insight into their preferred reward system.
What would you say is the most prioritized task for you right now?
What makes you motivated to work on a project?
What would you do if you do not have to worry about the cost?
Would you say you have a good work/life balance?
Do you have any projects you are working on outside of work? Could you tell me about them?
Nothing gives you a better feel of your direct report’s engagement level than their job satisfaction.
Understanding whether or not your direct reports are satisfied in their roles or team is a great way to assess the success of your leadership style and teamwork.
Having a clear picture of where they stand will help you map out your engagement approach and what you can do differently to improve their feelings towards their role and the organization.
Are you happy in your role? What could make it better for you?
If you were the CEO of this company, what is the first thing you’d change?
Would you say you have a good relationship with your co-workers?
Do you think your work here is valued?
What do you like the most about your role? What do you like least about it?
Are you proud of the work you do here?
Challenges and obstacles
Sometimes, employees endure great inconveniences and blockers in their personal and professional lives in silence. This often affects the quality of their work and output.
Instead of reprimanding them or expressing disappointment, 1:1s presents the perfect opportunity to build a deeper understanding of what they are experiencing.
Have a conversation and lead them to talk about inconveniences, roadblocks, and problems they are experiencing in and out of work.
Be sure to empathize and assure them of your support and willingness to help. If the challenges are related to problems within the organization, escalate them for resolution immediately.
Your speedy response to the issues they have will strengthen their loyalty to you and the organization.
Do you have any challenges in your role?
Have you encountered any challenges or roadblocks in your tasks/projects recently?
Are there any problems in your personal or professional life that are making your work difficult? Is there anything I can do to help?
What do you need to make your day-to-day life easier?
Is there anything stressing you out right now?
Where do you need help?
We have established that feedback goes both ways and that it is good practice to ask your direct report for feedback before ending your meetings. This establishes a continuous feedback and iteration model that helps you address problems as soon as they arise.
The feedback you ask for should be on work culture and management style, and the best people to comment on these are your direct reports who are directly affected by them.
What is something you wish I did more of, and what is something you wish I did less off?
What do you think we can do to improve our team performance?
Are you comfortable with my leadership style? What can I do differently?
What do you think of this 1:1? How can we make them better?
Are you happy with our level of communication? How would you change it?
What is on your mind right now that we haven’t talked about yet?
A meeting template is an adaptable outline that provides guidance on how to structure the items and conversations in a meeting. They often consist of talking points, next steps, action points, and activities that would run throughout the meeting.
The easiest way to map out your meeting is by using meeting templates. It is, however, important that you see them as a guide - not a rule so that you can tweak them as you see fit.
A good one-on-one meeting template should have a clear list of what will happen in the meeting, the duration for each item, which participant is responsible for leading the conversation, and what the resolution and next steps are.
Creating an agenda template is a pretty easy task, but it is crucial to remember that a good one-on-one meeting template should be both simple and adaptable.
Its simplicity will guarantee ease of use for people with varying one-on-one meeting experiences. Its adaptability, on the other hand, will mean that it is versatile and flexible enough to be altered to suit different related meetings.
You can create your own agenda template in the following steps:
Step 1: Set the meeting objective
Start by writing your generic meeting objective that should be related to the type of one-on-one meeting that you are planning.
Step 2: Write down your talking points
Make an outline of relevant topics, activities, and questions that will serve as conversation prompts. Be careful to keep it clear and easy to follow.
To keep your conversations from dragging on endlessly, add estimated timeframes for each activity and talking point.
Step 3: Assign responsibilities based on roles
After creating your meeting outline, assign responsibilities for activities based on team roles or roles in the meeting rather than participants’ names. This way, it is easier to adapt your template whenever a team member leaves or switches their role.
Step 4: Ask for feedback
Share the meeting template with your direct report and colleagues and ask for their feedback and input.
Step 5: Test and iterate
Once you have a final draft of your meeting template, test it out in your next one-on-one meeting and iterate when necessary.
Pro Tip: You can also draw inspiration from other good meeting agenda templates. These can help you develop a vision of what your one-on-one meeting agenda template should look like.
As a manager or employee, chances are that you will experience one or more of the listed meeting types, so it is useful to get familiar with them.
First one-on-one meeting with the employee
Weekly one-on-one meeting
Skip level one-on-one
As the term implies, the first one-on-one meetings with new employees are meetings set up by managers to familiarize their direct reports with the role.
The first one-on-one meeting with the employee should focus on:
Explaining why 1:1s were introduced and what you hope to achieve with them
Setting expectations and ground rules
Aligning on meeting cadence, duration, and location
One-on-one meetings are not complete without your employee’s feedback and input on the arrangement. Remember that you are to collaborate and reach decisions together.
Weekly one-on-ones are generally bonding and informal check-in sessions. The talking points are usually fewer because of the frequency of the meetings and because most weekly 1:1s are kept at 30 minutes.
The general talking points of weekly one-on-one meetings are
Personal growth and development
Interests and motivation
Personal and professional challenges
It is important to note that weekly one-on-ones are to serve as mental and professional check-in sessions. So, making conversations about what interests your direct report is one of the most effective ways to achieve the aim of the meeting.
Skip-level meetings are held to bring senior managers closer to employees that they do not directly manage in the organization.
Some talking points in skip-level one-on-one meetings are
Employee’s experience in the workplace
Professional challenges and obstacles
Growth prospects within the organization
Employee’s perspective or impression of the organization, its culture, and policies.
Most of the rules in manager-employee 1:1s apply in skip-level meetings because of the asymmetric power dynamic of their relationships, and the meeting agenda template should reflect this. For example, like manager-employee 1:1s, skip-level meetings should also begin with icebreakers and check-ins to make employees more comfortable and relaxed.
There should also always be room to take the employee’s questions and encourage them to provide feedback.
The list above is not exhaustive. The Airgram team has created detailed one-on-one meeting templates for other types of 1:1s, including bi-weekly meetings, remote one-on-one meetings, and performance reviews that you can easily adopt for your next meeting.
Cultures aren’t built through mission statements, internal policies, or abstract leadership ideas but by the everyday actions of people in your organization.
- Gareth Davies, Growth Marketer at Parabol
Becoming better at one-on-ones is a continuous learning process that requires trial and iteration. The key is to stay flexible, collaborate with the other party before, during, and after the meeting, and communicate.
You can also check out these additional one-on-one resources for more inspiration:
Tobi is a writer and communications consultant with five years of experience in creating content for corporate and non-profit organizations. She enjoys writing on best practices for business processes, technology, ESG, and climate change.