Career Development

How To Conduct an Effective 1-on-1 Meeting

June 3, 2021

As a manager, part of your duty may be to hold one-on-one meetings with your employees to check in on them and discuss issues of importance. To get the most out of a one-on-one meeting, it's important to understand why they're important and how to conduct them. Done effectively, they can strengthen your professional relationship with your employees and increase their morale and engagement. In this article, we define what one-on-ones are, explain how to prepare and conduct a one-on-one and provide examples of topics you can discuss during a one-on-one.

What is a 1-on-1?

A one-on-one is a scheduled, face-to-face meeting between you and an employee. As the name implies, the participants in this meeting are just you and another person. Unlike other meetings, like those about status updates or employee performance, the one-on-one is less formal. It can address a wide range of issues that don't fit in other discussion or meeting types, such as concerns and frustrations relating to work or any inspiring ideas the employee may have.

Effective one-on-ones can serve four important functions :

  • Improve your professional relationship with an employee: Open conversations can allow you and your employees to know each other better and develop trust, which can facilitate more effective communication and teamwork.

  • Provide a forum for bidirectional feedback: The employee can freely discuss frustrations or concerns regarding the workplace, and you can address those issues. This can reveal issues you can work to resolve early in their employment.

  • Create a space for discussion or ideation: Maybe the employee has a partially formed concept for a project they could work out with you, or they'd like just to voice thoughts about their current tasks. Having a discussion space like this can increase employee engagement and motivation.

  • Keep you informed about sensitive personal issues: If the employee is facing obstacles stemming from personal distractions, the one-on-one can be a time for you to show understanding and provide mentorship. This, too, can build trust.

Related: 24 Reasons Why Mentorship Is Important

How to prepare for a 1-on-1

Preparing for every one-on-one can help ensure that your employees are receptive to the meeting and find it productive. Here are some actions you can take to prepare:

1. Set a regular meeting time

It's a good idea to have a one-on-one approximately every one to two weeks, with each meeting lasting between 30 and 60 minutes. Speak with your employees beforehand to coordinate with schedules and determine the best time to meet with each. Mark the meetings on your calendar or planner to remind you and to signal their importance.

2. Determine the place

The physical setting of the one-on-one can affect how comfortable and receptive the employee feels during the meeting. Consider what would be the ideal place to speak with each employee. You might feel that a conference room is too formal, so you can hold meetings in a more casual environment such as a nearby park or a coffee shop. A lunchtime or walking meeting is also a good idea. Consider asking for the employee's input, as they might have a definite preference.

Related: Meet for a Coffee: How To Build a Professional Network (With TIps)

3. Decide on an agenda

The agenda outlines the topics you'd like to discuss and can structure your meeting so it flows smoothly. Here are some points you can include on your agenda:

  • Progress on employee's tasks
  • Confirming alignment with recent workplace developments
  • Obstacles the employee might be facing
  • Personal developments

The agenda may vary according to employee and circumstances. For example, if one employee is performing excellently, you might wish to set aside part of the agenda to applaud their efforts and achievements. Again, it may also be a good idea to reach out to each employee before the meeting to ask what topics they'd like to discuss or what challenges they are experiencing.

4. Have conversation material ready

Some conversations may be hard to start or maintain, so you might benefit from having a backup of conversation material. For example, if you're interested in understanding the challenges your employees are experiencing, you could discuss your recent challenges. Similarly, if you'd like your employees to open up about upcoming events in their personal lives, you can do the same. Seeing that you're being level with them, your employees may be more willing to engage in open discussion.

Related: 55 Icebreaker Questions To Use When Meeting New People

How to hold an effective 1-on-1

How you conduct your one-on-one can also affect its efficacy. Besides the agenda you've established with your employee, you can follow these steps to help ensure your one-on-one is smooth and productive:

1. Start on time

Being present at the agreed-upon meeting time can show that you value the employee's time. It can also help ensure that you don't interfere with either your schedule or the employee's, as tardiness could force delays in starting later tasks.

2. Check in

Beginning the meeting with check-in questions can help set a relaxed, safe atmosphere between you and the employee. It may be a good idea for you to express first how you're doing or what you're thinking. This can be a thought relating to a known shared interest, a show of empathy about a challenging assignment you know they're working on or anything that encourages the employee to reciprocate. The key is to be authentic, as this can help build trust.

3. Call back to previous meetings

Recalling key discussion points from previous one-on-ones can show you're attentive to the employee's concerns. A good starting point is to ask about updates on any goals they may have mentioned in the previous meeting. For example, if they previously expressed an approaching milestone, you can ask how they did in achieving it and their thoughts on it.

If you're holding your first one-on-one with an employee, you can recall topics from casual conversations you may have had or points addressed in any group meetings. For instance, if the latest team meeting was about a new company policy, you can ask the employee's thoughts on it and whether they understand its function. Recalling moments such as these can reveal how aligned, or engaged, the employee feels with the team and organization.

Related: Q&A: What Is Employee Engagement?

4. Ask about progress and challenges

Asking the employee how they would evaluate their professional growth can give you an idea about their self-regard and attitude toward work. For example, if they express enthusiasm for recent progress made in an assignment, this can suggest they're emotionally invested in their work and actively wish to do a good job.

You can complement the above knowledge by asking about any recent challenges the employee has faced. You can guide them through the difficulty by asking follow-up questions about the factors contributing to these challenges and potential solutions for them. Asking questions rather than suggesting answers can foster a self-determined attitude and show you're interested in working with the employee.

5. Discuss morale and interpersonal relationships

These issues are more personal than goals and challenges, but they're important to discuss because of the impact they have on the work experience and employee satisfaction. These issues can be sensitive for some employees, so it may be a good idea to speak indirectly. For example, you can ask about any criticism they've received and how it made them feel, what you can do to foster a more collaborative environment or how they would improve on specific processes to establish a more enjoyable work environment.

Related: How To Improve Employee Morale and Job Satisfaction

6. Acknowledge strengths and triumphs

Toward the end of your one-on-one, take time to acknowledge instances of the positive things you've noticed about the employee or what others have related to you. For example, you could note that other members of the organization have commended the high quality of the employee's work or that you've noticed a firm commitment from the employee. A compliment, such as that you're happy to have the employee on your team, can also be effective. These acknowledgments can boost morale by making the employee feel valued.

7. Discuss new expectations

At the end of the meeting, focus on discussion expectations you have for the employee by the time of the next one-on-one. These expectations can relate to the items you discussed in the meeting or to matters you had in mind before the meeting started. This can be as simple as expressing a desire to see the employee keep up the high level of work. This can help the employee focus on growth and keep them accountable for the work they do in the interim.

Related: Improving Accountability in the Workplace

Example topics for one-on-ones

Here are some examples of topics and questions you can discuss with employees in your one-on-ones:

Check-in and recall

These questions can help break the ice and catch you up on key developments.

  • How have you been since the last time we met?
  • What have you been working on?
  • Last time you mentioned [previously mentioned topic]. What has developed since then?
  • How are you doing with those expectations we discussed last time?
  • What are your thoughts on the new policy?

Work progress and challenges

These questions regard successes and obstacles in the employee's daily tasks.

  • What are some achievements you're proud of since our last meeting?
  • What tasks have you found especially engaging or stimulating?
  • What do you think stands in the way of your progress?
  • What difficulties have you been facing recently?
  • What tasks do you find least engaging?

Morale and colleagues

These questions can help you gauge how the employee feels about their job and team.

  • How are you and [team member] getting along?
  • What's your favorite aspect of this job?
  • Who do you think is a leader in the team?
  • What obstacles in communication have you noticed with you and your colleagues?
  • How would you change the way we collaborate on projects?

Expectations and development

With these, you're looking to motivate the employee and aid in their work experience.

  • What are your short-term goals for the next two weeks?
  • What kinds of projects are you interested in working on?
  • What can I do to facilitate your development?
  • Would you be interested in receiving coaching or mentoring?
  • How can I support you in your development?

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