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How to Conduct Effective One-on-One Meetings

Published February 15, 2021 (last updated on May 15, 2024) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator


One-on-one meetings are known to strengthen relationships between managers and their direct reports. They encourage conversations and frequent check-ins, helping to develop trust between individual team members and the manager. As trust in the workplace solidifies, it creates a safe environment for people to find new and collaborative ways to work.

However, most managers often struggle with organising one-on-one meetings that don’t feel like torture to their direct reports, lacking focus, and forethought. Here are a few tips for having meaningful and motivating one-on-ones.

Set an Agenda

Setting an agenda is key for one-on-one meetings. Determine the meeting’s objective and think through what you want to discuss with your direct report. Are there any specific issues you need to address?

Since the one-on-one meeting is supposed to be a collaborative effort, share the agenda with your team members at least a day before the meeting. This gives them time to prepare and put in effort on their part. It also reduces anxiety and increases employee engagement and buy-in in the process.

What Are Your Main Discussion Points?

There’s always a lot to talk about, so narrowing down on specific topics you’d like to discuss is key. You should write down topics of discussion and prepare the questions you want to ask beforehand. Be sure to keep your questions to a maximum of five, so your one-on-ones don’t drag on for too long. You can use several data sources to inform your discussion points, including:

  • Goal progress

  • Employee performance, skills, and competencies

  • Customer or peer feedback

  • Recent recognition

  • Past one-on-one meetings

Take note of questions from past meetings, recent wins, and challenges to ensure your discussion topic is objective, productive, and relevant.

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Conduct Regular One-on-one Meetings

One-on-one meetings are most effective when they run on a regular cadence. If you have five or fewer team members, you can aim for one-hour weekly one-on-ones. But even if you have a bigger team, there’s no excuse not to conduct one-on-one meetings.

Depending on your company’s structure and needs, you can conduct bi-weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings. Just adjust the meeting duration and frequency to make it work for you. It’s crucial to develop a routine, and you can do this by blocking out time in your calendar and only reschedule if necessary.

 While it can be hard to hold regular one-on-ones, once the manager and the team members see its immense value, one-on-one meetings become a natural part of ongoing development conversation and feedback.

One-on-one Questions for Employees

General Check-in Questions

  • What did you feel good about today?

  • What was the highlight of this week?

  • What can we improve on?

Alignment Questions

  • What keeps you inspired and engaged at work?

  • What obstacles prevent your team from performing their best?

  • Do you have any concerns about your career opportunities here?

Progress Questions

  • What’re the highlights of your past month or quarter?

  • How are you progressing on your goals? Do you need help?

  • Where could you improve?

Relationship-based Questions

  • What can I do to support you in your current tasks and projects?

  • What are your hobbies and likes?

  • What roadblocks are in the way of you achieving your goals?

Career Aspiration Questions

  • Which part of your job do you feel is most relevant to your long-term goals?

  • How can we help to further develop your career?

  • What are your career goals?

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Dos and Don’ts for a One-on-one Meeting

Do the Following: 

  • Effective listening. As a manager, listening to your direct report helps you to understand them better. You can pick up on issues they hint at and ask more pointed follow-up questions that bring the challenge to the surface.

  • Plan for the future. Growth can come quickly when you start managing your team well. So as a manager, you need to think about the future of your team and plan for the next steps. Talk about their careers and identify a few team members you can nurture into leaders.

  • Take notes. What your team says during your one-on-ones is important, but if you don’t take notes, you’ll likely forget most of it. This can cause your team to stop being open. Effective note-taking shows your team that you value what they have to say. You can also review your notes later and keep track of your promises and build momentum.

  • Be specific and clear about the next steps. At the end of every meeting, talk about the steps you’ll take to make progress on what was discussed and who’s accountable for what.

Don’t Do the Following

  • Don’t come unprepared: This shows that the meeting doesn’t matter to you, which builds frustration and resentment in your team.

  • Don’t forget what you discussed in the last meeting: This kills your team motivation and momentum and wastes time.

  • Don’t rush the meeting: Schedule enough time for your meeting for it to be productive.

  • Don’t be late: Showing up late shows that you don’t respect your team’s time.

  • Don’t cancel the meeting: Instead, reschedule it in case of an emergency.

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