Best Practices for Productive One-on-One Meetings

Does this sound familiar? You schedule a one-on-one meeting with all of your direct reports because it’s expected. You dread it. They dread it. You go through the routine without really getting much out of the meeting.


One-on-ones don’t have to be a waste of time or a formality you simply check off your list. With the right strategy, these meetings can benefit your employees and company. Find out how they help and how you can improve your employee-meeting protocol.


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What is a one-on-one meeting?

Holding one-on-one meetings is one of the responsibilities of a manager, even if it’s not one of your favorite duties. But what exactly is the purpose of an employee meeting?


One-on-ones provide a dedicated time for you to meet with each employee individually. They’re not status updates or tactical work sessions. They’re all about the employee — giving them mentoring time. It’s also an opportunity to gain feedback from them and basically encourage open communication.


Benefits of regular one-on-one meetings

Sitting down with each employee individually has a lasting impact on the employee and your company. It’s a way to engage your employees and improve their performance. Check out these specific benefits of holding one-on-ones.


Strengthens relationships with employees

Without one-on-one meetings, you might go days or even weeks without having a meaningful conversation with some of your employees. These scheduled conversations let you learn more about your employees’ goals, which can help you mentor them. Employees feel more comfortable talking to you when you give them a safe space to share feedback and ask questions.


Creates a proactive approach to problem-solving

A one-on-one meeting with an employee lets you address issues before they interfere with productivity. It’s your chance to bring up performance issues you’ve noticed in the employee.


Let your employees also give feedback on what’s holding them back. Perhaps an employee doesn’t have the necessary resources to do the job well, or a personality conflict between staff members interrupts workflow. You might find out that processes you’ve always used aren’t the most effective.


Working with employees individually allows you to mentor them to improve performance and learn more about changes you need to make within the company.


Engages employees and improves performance

Holding regular one-on-ones can help motivate your employees by making them feel valued. They feel more engaged, which can improve their performance. They also get individualized feedback to help them improve.


According to a Gallup report, absenteeism in highly engaged business units drops by 41% while productivity increases by 17%. You’re also more likely to retain highly engaged employees. For example, the same report shows that businesses with high turnover have 24% less turnover when employees are engaged.


Tips for effective one-on-one meetings

Even though an individual employee meeting has the potential for greatness, it’s also easy to miss the opportunities that are there. When used correctly, these meetings can help you measure performance of your employees and encourage improved performance going forward.


Set a regular schedule

Decide how often you want to hold one-on-ones with each employee, and incorporate it into your calendar to stick to that schedule. One-on-one meeting frequency depends on the size of your company and your purpose for the meetings.


Only having a yearly employee meeting with each staff member doesn’t build connections or give you continuous feedback. According to a survey from SHRM, 90% of HR professionals feel ongoing performance reviews are accurate, while only 46% feel that annual performance reviews are accurate. That means holding meetings more frequently can give you a more realistic view of employees.


One-on-one meetings throughout the year can give you additional information to complement formal performance assessments. Aim for at least one employee meeting every quarter. A more effective schedule is having a weekly or biweekly one-on-one meeting with each employee.


Some situations might call for less frequent employee meetings. Senior team members who are established in their careers might not need as much one-on-one time. Decide on a frequency that makes sense for your team, and stick with it.


Stick to scheduled one-on-ones

Once you have a one-on-one meeting on your schedule, follow through with it. Canceling shows your employees that their feedback isn’t valuable or that you don’t have time for them. If you have a conflict you absolutely can’t get out of, reschedule the employee meeting as soon as possible.


Create an agenda

Know exactly what you’re covering in the meeting to make the time as productive as possible. List specific topics to go over with the employee. If you meet weekly or biweekly, changing the topics each week keeps the meetings from becoming repetitive. Share the agenda with the employees before the meeting so they’re prepared.


At the same time, don’t get stuck in a rigid outline of the meeting. The conversation naturally develops as you start asking questions. That natural flow might reveal valuable information that you wouldn’t otherwise get.


Ask employees to come prepared

Just as you need to do prep work with the agenda, your employees can also contribute to the meeting. Give them specific tasks to prepare for the one-on-one meeting. This might be a series of questions you want them to answer before the meeting, an outline of their career growth plan, a self-evaluation form or a list of questions they want to ask you.


Prepare specific, open-ended questions

Asking the right questions makes the meeting efficient and gives you more useful feedback. If you simply ask the employee how they’re doing, they might not open up much or not know exactly what you want them to talk about.


Try these questions:

  • What are you excited about in the next week?
  • Is there anything keeping you from doing your job well?
  • Do you feel like I’m giving you enough support?
  • What are your priorities for the week?
  • What are some wins you’ve had recently?
  • How do you see your career progressing over the next year?
  • What skills do you feel you need to reach your career goals?

Other questions might circle back to previous conversations from one-on-ones. If an employee expresses frustration with a situation, follow up to see if the solutions you brainstormed worked. You can also get feedback on the meetings. You might ask what would make the meetings more useful.



These meetings help build rapport with your employees and are most effective when you listen and show you’re engaged. Turn off your cell phone for the duration and remove other distractions. Use your body language to show you’re listening. Resist the urge to interrupt, lead answers or argue a point your employee makes.


Focus on the employee

Individual time spent with each employee is a chance to discuss them and not projects as a whole. Instead of using that time to get project updates or force your goals, focus on the employee’s performance, goals and concerns. These meetings give you a chance to discuss the employee’s future, including career goals and paths within the company. This can help inspire the employee and make them feel more engaged.


Problem-solve together

Using facilitating skills for leaders can help you collaborate with employees to solve problems. Frequent one-on-ones let you identify and work on issues when they happen instead of letting them grow. Encourage employees to share their work-related problems, and collaborate on possible solutions.

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