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A Manager’s Ultimate Guide for Better One-on-One Meetings With Employees

One-on-one meetings provide a chance for managers and employees to connect. Done right, one-on-one meetings provide benefits to everyone. Ineffective one-on-one meetings can be a waste of time or a formality you simply check off your list. Find out how one-on-ones help and how you can improve your methods.

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What are one-on-one meetings with employees?

One-on-ones (also known as 1:1s or one-to-ones) are meetings between one staff member and one level of leadership — usually between team members and direct supervisors. For example, team members might have one-on-one meetings with their team supervisor or department manager.

One-to-ones provide dedicated time to meet with each employee individually. They’re not status updates or tactical work sessions. They’re all about the employee to give them mentoring time. It’s also an opportunity to gain feedback and build a culture of open communication.

Some organizations also arrange occasional one-on-ones between employees and higher levels of leadership, sometimes called skip-level meetings. A VP or another executive might meet with employees at different levels to get a better idea of overall morale or how processes run in the trenches.

Benefits of conducting one-on-ones with employees

Effective one-to-one meetings offer a variety of benefits to employees, managers and the organization, including:

  • Improved relationships. Making time for a one-on-one employee meeting lets you get to know your team better and sets the tone for improved culture in the workplace. It ensures you have meaningful conversations regularly and builds comfort and trust with your team.
  • Effective problem solving. Opening the door for staff to present concerns can facilitate problem solving before issues interfere with the workflow. These meetings can uncover issues leadership doesn’t know about or present solutions they haven’t considered. You might learn what’s keeping your team from reaching their full potential.
  • Increased employee morale. When staff feel their opinions are heard, employee morale and engagement are usually higher. That’s especially true when leaders address issues discovered in 1:1s.
  • Improved performance. Holding regular one-on-ones can help motivate your employees by making them feel valued. They also get individualized feedback to help them improve their performance.
  • Discovering employees with high potential. Your conversations might reveal skills, passions or career goals that your employees have. This can also help you utilize your team members’ talents effectively now and help them plan for the future.
  • Improved success with goals. Regular meetings let you check in on employees’ goals, create plans, set milestones and offer coaching.
  • Feedback for better leadership. One-on-ones also provide feedback for leadership so they can improve how they manage their teams.

What makes a good one-on-one?

While you may want to allow some time for personal chit chat, remember that a one-on-one is still a business-facing meeting. Yes, you want to allow time to get to know each other and humanize the interaction. But you should also have an agenda or plan to keep the meeting on track.

Some topics to cover can include:

  • A personal check in with the employee. They might want to share about an important life milestone or might be pleased if you ask about their children, spouse or pets.Tailor these questions to individual employees based on their preferences and what you know about them. You might ask for updates on previous topics you’ve covered, for instance.
  • A business-facing check in. You also want to find out how the employee is doing with their work and position. Questions related to their job satisfaction, challenges and help they need to improve productivity are all useful.
  • Comments and suggestions. Offer time for the employee to share comments and suggestions related to the business, even if they aren’t directly related to the person’s position and goals. This encourages employees at all levels to propose ideas and solutions that could improve the company.
  • The employee’s future goals. Talk about employee goals and how they can achieve those goals.
  • How you can best support the employee and the team. Ask about the support and resources the individual and their team could use to improve their work.

Looking at specific one-on-one questions can help you come up with your list. Some ideas include:

  • What is something you enjoyed doing in your job this past week/month, and what’s something you didn’t enjoy?
  • What are some high/low points of the job?
  • What’s one thingI can do to help you?
  • What one thing would you change about team management or processes?
  • What’s a challenge you’re facing that leadership might not know about?
  • What’s causing stress for you?

8 ways to break the ice in a one-on-one meeting

For one-on-one meetings with employees to be effective, you need your team to open up to you. Starting with icebreaker one-on-one questions can help you ease into the conversation and get more out of your employees. Here are some questions to ask to help break the ice:

  1. What’s something you’re looking forward to this week outside of work? Asking this question invites the employee to talk about themselves and share personal interests, hobbies or life events they may be excited about, giving you better insight into who they are outside the office.
  2. How was your weekend? Start meetings that occur on a Monday or Tuesday with this simple question that demonstrates an interest in the employee’s well-being outside of work. You may also have a chance to share with them about your weekend and can bond as a result, creating better communication between you in the future.
  3. What’s something you’re proud of from the past week? Meetings that are career- or goal-oriented might be too formal to start with a casual question about an employee’s life outside of work. In these instances, consider asking this question, which prompts them to reflect on their recent workplace accomplishments. Their answer also gives you a chance to see what aspects of their contribution to the company they value the most and how comfortable they are talking about their performance.
  4. Is there anyone on our team that you feel deserves special recognition for their efforts this week? Sometimes, starting a conversation by taking the focus off the employee is the best way to help them relax. Use this question to help draw employees out of their shells and let them highlight good work done by their colleagues.
  5. How do you feel about your work-life balance? Asking employees about their work-life balance signals that you understand the necessity of having a personal life and interests outside the workplace. When an employer advocates for a healthy work-life balance, they encourage employees to prioritize their well-being and avoid burnout.
  6. What is something managers have done in the past that you found frustrating? This question helps you understand how your employees like to be managed, so you know how to support them.
  7. What’s a problem our team is experiencing that I might not be aware of? Opening the floor to potential problems might seem like a unique choice for starting a meeting, but this question breaks the ice quickly and gets right down to business. Asking this question shows your employee you trust their input and want them to feel comfortable confiding in you.
  8. How happy are you at work on a scale of 1 to 10? Checking on an employee’s job satisfaction is a thoughtful and productive way to kick off a one-on-one meeting. This question requires the employee to think about their happiness in the workplace. Regardless of their answer, you can gauge their satisfaction with the company, whether they see themselves there long term and if changes are needed to improve their happiness.

8 steps to effective and productive 1:1s with employees

Strong leaders eventually find their own cadence and style for conducting one-on-ones with employees. You may even find different styles that work for various employees.These steps give you a basic framework to get started:

  1. Set aside regular time. One-to-ones work best when they’re not one-offs. Make time to meet weekly or monthly. Schedule them well in advance to ensure they make it on the calendar. Reschedule the one-on-one employee meeting right away if you have to cancel. One-on-one meeting frequency depends on the size of your company and your purpose for the meetings.
  2. Create an agenda. Let people know what you’re going to discuss ahead of time to reduce anxiety and help them prepare. It also keeps the meeting on topic and increases productivity. Ask them if there’s a specific topic they want to discuss and include it on the agenda.
  3. Prep the employee. Give them a copy of the agenda. If you want them to do any tasks before the meeting, such as thinking about their career growth, include specific action points in the invitation
  4. 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 know exactly what you want them to talk about.
  5. Start with a general check-in or conversation. Asking general or personal questions before diving in helps put the employee at ease.
  6. Address goals and objectives. Include a check-in on goals and objectives, including where the employee is with them and what challenges they’re experiencing.
  7. Recognize achievements. Take time to praise the team member for their accomplishments and contributions since your last meeting.
  8. Provide time for feedback. This encourages them to open up and gives you important information that can help you improve your organization.

Tips to make one-on-one meetings with employees effective

The following tips can help you improve the results you get from your one-to-one meetings with your team.

Listen

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 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. 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 can help you collaborate with employees to solve problems. Frequent 1:1 meetings 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.

Keep it flexible

The agenda should guide the one-on-one so you don’t forget critical elements, but it shouldn’t restrict you and the employee from discussing other things that may also be important. Allow plenty of time for the meeting and allow a departure from the agenda if it makes sense.

FAQS about one-on-one meetings

How often should you have 1:1s?

The frequency of one-on-ones depends on how much time is available, the experience of your team members and how big your teams are. But you may want to schedule them at least once a week or once every other week for the most effective one-on-one meetings.

What are the disadvantages of one-to-ones?

While generally positive, a one-on-one employee meeting can also have some drawbacks. They take time to plan and carry out, especially if you manage a large team. The meetings are only effective if you and the employee put time and effort into them. An employee who doesn’t feel comfortable talking won’t get you much usable feedback.

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