A Simple Framework for Effective One-on-One Meetings No Matter Your Role (and a Free Meeting Template to Get You Started)
The one-on-one meeting is one of the most powerful tools in a manager’s toolbox. Read our tips and download the template for your next one-on-one meeting.
The one-on-one meeting is one of the most powerful tools in a manager’s toolbox. It helps managers gain valuable insights into what direct reports are doing, how they are doing, and where they are struggling. It provides a unique opportunity to build and nurture a more trusting and productive working relationship. And it helps boost team morale and employee engagement, both of which are crucial to a healthy company culture, employee retention, and career development.
The one-on-one meeting is also an important tool for any employee looking to proactively level up their performance and improve their sense of job satisfaction.
The catch is that one-on-one meetings only work if you do them well.
Whether you’re a sales manager for a team of AEs, a creative director leading a team of designers, or a BDR manager working with a team of reps, getting one-on-one meetings right is a critical part of ensuring individual and collective success for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, a lot of managers aren’t 100% confident about how to get the most out of this best practice. Their intentions might be good, but without the right preparation, structure, and follow-up, their one-on-one meetings don’t quite live up to expectations.
To help managers out, we’ve compiled a summary of our favorite tips for planning and executing truly effective one-on-one meetings, whether they take place in-person or over a video meetings tool like Whereby.
The many benefits one-on-one meetings deliver
A unique and consistent opportunity for private conversation about the topics that matter most
Stronger relationships with team members
Happier, more trusting employees
A more focused, cohesive, and productive team
Direct visibility into what’s happening with each employee – their wins, struggles, and aspirations
The ability to anticipate potential problems and resolve them proactively
A more efficient way to help employees grow and develop
Constructive feedback on ways to be a better, more successful manager
Improved employee retention
Reduced need to put out fires, which leads to increased personal bandwidth and focus
An opportunity to address personal challenges and opportunities in a private, dedicated setting
A greater sense of belonging, purpose, and motivation
More confidence in the fact that they have the company’s full support and are highly valued
Increased trust in senior leaders, which leads to greater sense of security
Access to the specific, personalized guidance they need to succeed
Prepare for one-on-one meeting success
It’s often said that good preparation is half the battle. And this is so true for running effective one-on-one meetings. Good preparation ensures nothing falls through the cracks, everyone is on the same page, and you can make the best use of your time.
Step 1: Establish your cadence
Consistency is key. A good benchmark is to set aside 30 minutes to an hour for each employee either once a week or bi-weekly. It may be tempting to reduce this to monthly, but a lot can happen in a month. The reason to have regular recurring meetings is to stay on top of (and even get ahead of) any issues and opportunities. If your meetings are spaced too far apart, you’ll always be playing catch up. This is especially true for remote and work from home employees who aren't available for casual run-ins.
While you’re working out your cadence, don’t forget to also consider scheduling skip-level one-on-one meetings between your direct reports and your manager. These can happen less frequently, usually once a month, and are a great opportunity to ensure clear communication and continuity across an organization.
Step 2: Get it on the calendar
To help establish the habit, schedule meetings for the same day and time each week or every other week (depending on your cadence), and then book them out for the foreseeable future so that time is spoken for. Optimally, schedule meetings on Mondays or Tuesdays to help set everyone up for a productive week. Also, even if you only plan to meet for 30 to 45 minutes, book the full hour so you leave yourself time in case a conversation gets more involved or you need time at the end for reflection or follow-up.
Step 3: Commit to it
Don’t ever cancel a one-on-one meeting. Reschedule if you must – stuff happens – but don’t cancel. You have to be consistent in order to achieve the best results over time. Also, prioritizing this time demonstrates to employees just how important these meetings are. If you come up against conflicts, consider using a tool like Clockwise to sort out schedules.
Step 4: Do your homework
Taking the time to make sure you have all the information you need and a chance to think about the agenda makes a huge difference in how productive a one-on-one meeting is. For instance, before focusing on how an individual is performing in a specific role, spend a minute getting your head around how you define excellence in general. You might also look into recent wins the employee has had so that you can acknowledge those.
Step 5: Set an agenda
You’ve heard it a million times: agendas make meetings more efficient by keeping the conversation on track. The basic structure of a one-on-one meeting will stay the same from meeting to meeting, but make the effort to fill in the details each time. Include items you want to discuss, but also solicit information from your employee 24 to 48 hours ahead of the meeting. This will help you get a sense of where you need to focus, and it will also save time in the meeting because you can jump right to addressing the issues that have already been identified. Make it known that it’s the responsibility of the employee to manage the agenda for one-on-one meetings with their manager.
Get in the right mindset
If you’re just going through the motions, your one-on-one meetings won’t live up to their potential. How you think about and approach your meetings makes a big difference in how effective they are.
Remember that one-on-one meetings are not status meetings.
You already have status update meetings. One-on-one meetings are a chance to elevate the conversation to talk about the big-picture topics and issues that live outside project update docs. Remember, these meetings provide a unique opportunity for an open dialogue. Take advantage. Focus on clarifying what greatness looks like, identifying long-term priorities, sharing constructive feedback, and articulating exactly what an employee needs to be successful.
Stay present and focused.
It should go without saying, but give your employee your full and undivided attention. Make sure you won’t have any interruptions. Clear your desk. Turn off alerts and notifications. People can tell when we aren’t fully invested in an exchange, and that leaves them feeling unsupported. Practice active listening and remain fully engaged in the conversation.
Make sure you get face time.
Conversations are more than just words. Body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues tell a lot of the story and help you read between the lines. If you’re unable to meet in person, go for the next best thing with a video conference that recreates the experience of a face-to-face meeting.
Before you even sit down, get yourself set up to take notes. You don’t want any of the good stuff to fall through the cracks. You may want to keep two sets of notes: one set of coaching notes for the employee, and another set of personal notes for you. In both cases, notes might include a summary of issues, next steps, expectations, and follow-up items.
Having notes to share after the meeting helps to eliminate any confusion by providing a helpful, shared reference. You can create a template document to save yourself some time and create a consistently structured and formatted record. You might also consider using software, like 15five or sharing a Google Doc directly in your video meeting using a tool like Whereby.
Run a great meeting
You’ve done your prep work and put yourself in the right headspace. Now it’s time to get to the heart of the conversation. There’s no one right set of questions to ask (or order to ask them in), and your focus might shift slightly from meeting to meeting depending on what’s happening with an individual; but there are a few basic areas you should always try to cover.
Check in on a personal level.
There’s no need to overthink how to get started. A simple, “How are you doing?” is always a good option. If you think it will help, you can share how you’re feeling first as an icebreaker. Don’t be afraid to ask about life outside of work. It’s okay to mix in some personal catch up as you settle into the conversation. Vulnerability is a powerful way to build trust.
Revisit objectives from your last one-on-one.
Before digging into what’s ahead, take a minute to look back. Touch base on what was discussed at the last meeting and progress on any action items that were assigned. See how things are going, and if the employee ran into any roadblocks or uncovered any new complications.
Most people respond better to positive vs. negative reinforcement. Give your employee a proverbial pat on the back for a job well done. This might be for completing a specific task, overcoming a hurdle, helping another teammate, or just showcasing their unique talents in some small way. This makes it easier to deliver constructive criticism or bad news later on if that happens to be the case.
Ask what they’ve learned.
Another way to assess progress is to ask your employee to share one thing they learned since your last conversation. Knowing this will come up in one-on-one meetings will help motivate people to seek out new knowledge.
Ask what’s going well.
Find out where the employee is feeling upbeat and confident. Maybe there are other wins you don’t know about. Maybe there’s been some resolution of a past issue. Maybe there’s some professional development or other opportunity that’s making a positive difference. Take note of what’s getting the employee excited.
Discuss current challenges and possible solutions.
On the flip side, you need to know where an employee is getting stuck. What’s frustrating them or holding them back? Is there a skills gap that needs to be addressed? Is there an issue with the team structure that’s gumming up the works? Once you’ve identified an issue, do some brainstorming around possible solutions. You don’t need to solve every problem in the moment, but do give each challenge some collaborative thought before moving on.
Assess progress on career development and goals.
Broaden the conversation from immediate wins and challenges to talk about big-picture aspirations. What’s next for this employee? Where are they ultimately headed? What do they need to get there? Do they feel like they’re making progress or spinning their wheels?
Ask if they have any questions about company strategy or direction.
Keeping the conversation zoomed out, touch on what’s happening with the company as a whole and how the employee’s role fits into that picture. This is also a good time to ask about morale in general and whether the employee feels like the company is living up to its values, mission, and culture.
Set clear expectations for next steps.
You can only hold employees accountable if they know what excellence looks like. You need to be crystal clear for your own benefit as well as theirs. one-on-one meetings are an important opportunity for managers to provide critical guidance to help direct reports learn and grow. Take full advantage by laying out an actionable roadmap for what comes next.
Ask how you can help.
Before you send your employee off to tackle their next set of objectives, ask how you can support their efforts. Find out if there’s anything specific you can do between this meeting and the next to ensure they are able to complete the tasks you have set out. (And let them know that if they can’t think of anything in the moment, they can always ask later.)
Share notes and schedule follow up.
To wrap up the meeting, share the notes that you compiled for your employee and ask if there are any items that should be added to the meeting agenda for next time. This is also the time to schedule any between-meetings follow-up or check ins.
Rinse and repeat.
You’ll probably adapt these recommendations to suit your personal style and specific needs, and that’s the way it should be. There is no one-size-fits-all way to do one-on-one meetings. The most effective meeting structure is the one that works best for you and your team.
The one non-negotiable is to be committed and consistent. Once you’ve established your cadence and found the format and agenda that work for you, the secret to success is simply showing up and seeing it through. Time after time.
To help you start off on the right foot, we’ve created a handy one-on-one meeting template that covers preparation, in-meeting questions, and the all-important follow up. Feel free to adapt it to your own needs. And then go forth and have great one-on-one meetings!