A Guide to Better 1-on-1 Meetings

Regularly scheduled check-ins between managers and employees are more important thank you think.

Written by Sunny Betz
A Guide to Better 1-on-1 Meetings
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
UPDATED BY
Hal Koss | Mar 20, 2024

Making sure that your direct reports feel supported can be the hardest part of any manager’s job, but putting employees front and center is essential to running a high-performing team. Communication is everything if you want to get it right, and scheduling a one-on-one meeting is a good place to start.

What Is a 1-on-1 Meeting?

A 1:1 meeting (also called a one-on-one) is a regularly scheduled check-in meeting between a manager and an employee. It is used as a time to keep each other informed, exchange feedback, address unresolved issues and tackle challenges.

 

What Is a 1-on-1 Meeting?

A one-on-one (or 1:1) is a regularly scheduled meeting between a manager and an individual employee who reports directly to them. Typically, a one-on-one meeting is a time to check in, exchange feedback and discuss any areas in which the employee may need additional support. It is also a place where employees can share their short- and long-term goals with their manager and receive guidance on the trajectory of their careers. These meetings may occur weekly or every other week.

 

What Is the Purpose of a 1-on-1 Meeting?

The central purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to strengthen the relationship between employee and manager, helping both parties feel more comfortable with each other and able to work better together. What makes a one-on-one different from other meetings is that, in a one-on-one, the employee should steer the conversation, rather than the manager.

Employees can use one-on-ones as an opportunity to bring up workplace issues, ask for help with tasks or discuss their professional development goals. Managers can then take action on that feedback and help their employees move closer to their aspirations, or make improvements to help them be more productive and fulfilled. Ultimately, effective one-on-one meetings lay the foundation for managers to become mentors for their employees.

Related ReadingHow to Be a Good Manager

 

Why Are 1-on-1 Meetings Important?

One-on-one meetings are opportunities for employees and their managers to get on the same page, allowing employees to feel adequately supported and set up for success. That way, they have the tools they need to accomplish their work and advance in their careers.

“I personally have used one-on-ones during my career to ensure that all my team members have a clear direction and a sense of purpose, and that I was able to support them through the challenges,” Drew Kutcharian, co-founder and chief technology officer of marketing analytics company DISQO, told Built In.

Work concerns do usually take center stage, but Kutcharian said one-on-ones have been successful because they give him a chance to connect with people on a more personal level. In his experience, if managers let that personal connection slip to the wayside too often, the work itself will suffer.

“The stronger that trust, the safer the participants feel, the better they can address even the most sensitive topics and challenges,” Kutcharian said.

These meetings are beneficial for managers in other ways too: “One-on-ones are also a great opportunity for managers to build and refine their own coaching skills, practice active listening and enhance their overall leadership ability and impact,” Kutcharian added.

Related ReadingHow to Avoid Micromanagement

 

How to Run Effective 1-on-1 Meetings

Once a manager and an employee put a regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting on the calendar, there are a few strategies to make sure the time is used effectively:
 

1. Ask Questions and Set Expectations Upfront

Every employee prefers to be managed differently, so you should never assume that you’ll be able to manage someone effectively without asking for their input. Whenever you onboard a new employee, take the time to learn about who they are, how they like to be managed, their communication style and what their career goals are. The time investment will go a long way toward establishing a lasting bond with your employees.

“Everyone is looking for different things,” said Mike Jahn, engineering manager at Sittercity. “[Knowing that], you can tailor your relationship to make sure they have a successful career.”

When you ask detailed clarifying questions about your employees’ preferences, you’ll get a clearer picture of how to serve them — but you will also push them to do some self reflection. 

Some good questions to ask: How do you prefer to communicate with your manager? What projects do you least enjoy? How often do you like to meet with your managers?

 

2. Make Goals Together

You should be using your time in one-on-ones to proactively set goals with your employee. When it comes to goal setting, help your report get as detailed as possible, and find out what you can do to help them get there. 

“I usually will try to figure out where they are trying to get in the short term, and what they want in the long term,” Jahn said. “We can differentiate what they can do in six months and what will help them a couple years from now.”

Instead of setting vague objectives without a plan to achieve them, create a definite roadmap with action items that both of you can work toward. Use your one-on-one time to hold each other accountable to those action items and to each other. Don’t shoulder all the responsibility for supporting your direct report’s growth, but make sure that you’re doing your part to help them get to where they want to go.

 

3. Take Notes

Taking a lot of notes helps you avoid repetitive conversations and will help you maximize your meeting time by addressing the most pressing matters first. It also helps you to maintain a sense of accountability.

“I take real-time notes throughout the week on each of my reports so that I am ready to come to our meetings with actionable insights,” Lisa Kalscheur, chief marketing officer at Kibo Commerce, told Built In. “This allows me to share specific feedback during our one-on-ones to help improve their team management, communication and other skills.”

 

4. Stay Flexible and Adapt Over Time

Having a reliable structure for your one-on-one meetings helps, but don’t set anything in stone. As your employees grow and change over time, so will their needs — don’t be surprised if they begin asking you to switch things up down the line. In fact, anticipate that by asking for feedback regularly and often. If you’re the one to initiate the conversation, your employees will be more likely to voice their ideas.

“An employee might be thinking about what they want to change, but may not want to bring it up during a one-on-one,” Jahn said. “Every few months or so I ask my employees ‘Hey, is this working for us? Is there anything we should do differently?’”

 

1-on-1 Meeting Questions

If you’re wondering what to ask team members in your one-on-ones, the sample questions below should get you started. Remember, you’ll want to personalize them to the individuals you meet with and the circumstances you’re in.
 

Questions for Regular Check-Ins

  • What is something you’re proud of accomplishing since we last met?
  • What is a challenge or setback you’ve experienced since we last met?
  • How can I support you to help you achieve your goals?
  • Is there anything as a team or company you think we can do differently or improve upon?
  • Is there anything you think we should change about our one-on-ones to make them more useful for you?

 

Questions for First 1-on-1 With a New Employee

  • How do you prefer to communicate with your manager? 
  • What projects do you most enjoy?
  • How often would you like to meet?
  • Where would you like to see yourself in six months?
  • What do you find most challenging about your role?

 

Frequently Asked Questions

In one-on-one meetings, managers and employees typically keep each other in the loop about what they’re working on, talk about recent ‘wins’ and challenges, resolve any work issues and discuss the employee’s goals and career aspirations.

Typically, one-on-one meetings occur weekly or every other week and last between 30 and 45 minutes, but the exact length of time depends on each one-on-one’s agenda.

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