Conducting effective one-on-one meetings is among the most valuable managerial skills. Unlike team meetings, one-on-ones allow managers and team members to understand each other’s challenges, communicate transparently, and perform better as a team.
But holding productive one-on-ones requires preparation, planning, and focus, along with strong interpersonal skills. This is why some managers may feel reluctant to have one-on-ones frequently.
If you’re one of them, this article is for you.
In this detailed guide, we’ll discuss the different ways one-on-one meetings can improve productivity and share proven tips and templates for managers to hold effective one-on-ones with their teams.
Let’s get started.
What is a One-on-One Meeting?
A one-on-one meeting is a dedicated and planned meeting between an employee and their manager to share feedback, work updates, personal challenges impacting work, career growth, or any other work-related issues. Performance reviews are one common example of one-on-one meetings.
Unlike group or team meetings, one-on-ones are highly focused and result-oriented meetings with minimum distractions and engaging discussions between managers and their team members.
Managers can use these direct interactions to increase employee engagement, improve efficiency, and provide mentorship for career growth.
Benefits of One-on-One Meetings
A quick Google search about meetings would show stats proving most meetings are a waste of time. This is why you should always question whether a meeting is necessary or if there are better alternatives. But one-on-ones are different because of their direct and engaging nature.
Let’s quickly discuss some of the most prominent benefits of one-on-one meetings.
Regular one-on-one meetings help managers and team members connect at a personal level and build a stronger working relationship that ultimately benefits their performance. Rather than a simple check-in with team members, Managers can use these interactions to better understand their direct reports and identify their unique strengths and weaknesses. Regular one-on-ones improve communication between employees and managers, which helps build trust and perform better as a team.
Constructive feedback from team members and subordinates can help managers improve their own performance and leadership skills. But most employees feel reluctant to openly share feedback with managers. This is where one-on-ones can play a crucial role. Employees are often more willing to share their honest feedback in face-to-face meetings if managers have built trust with them over their previous interactions. As a manager, you should encourage open communication and reassure your team members that their feedback is helpful for your professional development and that you won’t take it personally.
When teams gel together, they collaborate and perform better. A McKinsey research report found that teams that communicate more frequently are 25% more productive. Since one-on-one meetings streamline communication between managers and team members, they directly impact performance and improve productivity.
A study by Udemy found that more than 50% of employees leave their jobs because of bad managers. Regular one-on-one meetings can go a long way toward enhancing the employee experience and solving this problem. While some one-on-ones can lead to difficult conversations, when managers regularly meet their team members to build rapport and sincerely look to create win-win scenarios, employees also feel a sense of loyalty and think twice before leaving their jobs.
Align Employees With Company Goals
Direct one-on-one meetings help managers ensure that their team members are aligned with immediate and long-term organizational goals. This is critical because sometimes employees do not have a clear picture of their company’s direction and focus on projects and initiatives that aren’t aligned with the long-term company goals. Plus, employees who understand their organization’s long-term goals can build their skill sets to match the company’s future needs, and maximize their career development.
How to Schedule One-on-One Meetings
One-on-one meetings are most effective when you follow a well-defined system instead of randomly hosting whenever you feel the need.
Here are a few tips to help you schedule one-on-ones more effectively.
Prioritize Direct Reports
When you’re managing a large team, it can be difficult to hold regular one-on-one meetings with every team member. This is why you should prioritize your direct reports when planning your one-on-ones. For example, as a manager, you should prioritize your team leads for direct meetings instead of the junior staff. However, if your schedule allows, you can hold direct discussions with your extended reporting line over a longer period.
Decide on Meeting Frequency
There’s no perfect frequency for holding one-on-one meetings. You’d generally want to meet newer team members more frequently than your established players. Research shows that most employees and managers consider meeting weekly or bi-weekly as the way to go. So, you can create different meeting rosters for your team members based on their roles or work experience.
Block Out Time Slots
Whatever meeting frequency you decide, you must block out time slots in your calendar to ensure they actually take place. This is crucial because it's common for managers to prioritize other tasks over their department’s internal one-on-ones, considering them less important work. Don’t make that mistake. Ideally, block out at least thirty minutes for each one-on-one to give yourself and your team members enough time to discuss the most critical issues.
Great managers and team members understand that each one-on-one is an important meeting. So once you schedule it in your calendar, send out meeting invitations to the participants and set reminders to keep things on track. You can do that using Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, or any other scheduling app. Also, ask the participants to add the meetings to their to-do lists for the relevant dates.
Send Personalized Asynchronous Video Invitations
One of the best ways to make your team members realize the importance of a one-on-one meeting is by sending them a personalized video invitation using Loom. It hardly takes a few minutes with Loom’s Chrome extension but profoundly affects your team members. Plus, it shows them your efforts to build rapport, that you take them seriously, and consider their performance, growth, and development goals critical to the team’s productivity.
How to Lead Effective One-on-One Meetings
You know one-on-one meetings are important, and you’ve scheduled them with your team members. But how do you lead effective one-on-ones?
Have a Meeting Agenda
A meeting without an agenda can easily drift toward unimportant discussions and waste your valuable time. Studies even show that an agenda can reduce non-productive meeting time by up to 80%. However, one-on-one meetings don’t always need to go by the book. Instead, you can have two or three agenda items or set a meeting goal to keep things on track. But generally, one-on-ones need to be slightly open-ended to allow your team members to speak their minds and for you to collect key takeaways.
Start With Employee Strengths
When holding direct meetings for constructive feedback, project updates, or any other purpose, start with positive ice-breaking discussions. Generally, starting with the positives and discussing your employee’s strengths is a good idea. For example, if you’re doing a project review, talk about what you like. Similarly, if it’s a feedback meeting, highlight the two or three achievements of your employee you’re most proud of. This sets a positive meeting tone, relaxes your team members, and allows them to take your feedback positively.
Ask Good Questions
The effectiveness of one-on-one meetings largely depends on the questions you ask your team members. Why? Because, as the manager, you’re the one driving the discussion. So you must ensure that your team member has the space and safety to be candor, so they can provide you with the information you’re looking for. For that, asking specific and well-defined questions is the key.
Here are a few example questions to get you thinking.
What has changed with project X since our last meeting?
Are you enjoying working with [team member X]?
Are you comfortable with my communication style?
What’s the biggest roadblock in your personal career growth? Is there any way I can help?
Do you need anything from me to perform your job more effectively?
How would you rate your performance during the past couple of weeks?
What do you think are your strengths and weaknesses, and is your job role aligned with them?
What are your biggest time wasters at work?
What steps can you take to optimize your daily schedule?
Specify Desired Results
One-on-one meetings allow you to share candid feedback with your team members and set clear expectations. So, you need to be transparent about the results you seek and the standards you expect from them. This may also include having difficult conversations with them if needed. Instead of providing vague targets, write things down and define measurable KPIs that your team can use to track their performance. You can do this for any kind of one-on-one meeting. For example, if the meeting is about career development, you can set targets for your team member based on which they could get promotions or career jumps.
One-on-one meetings provide you an excellent opportunity to celebrate employee wins, appreciate their performance, and set the tone for a positive work week till the next meeting. Use these interactions to let your team members know how much you value their contribution and motivate them to keep up the great work. A supportive employee experience also contributes to increased retention on high-performing teams.
Follow Up With Asynchronous Video
Sometimes there isn’t enough time to cover everything on your meeting agenda in a one-on-one meeting. This is where Loom recordings come in handy. If you need more details on a project or want your employee to come back to you on a topic, ask them to record a quick Loom after the meeting.
Similarly, you can do a follow-up Loom recording summing up the one-on-one’s main points and shedding more light on any topics or subsequent action items.
Topics to Cover in a One-on-One Meeting
You can hold one-on-one meetings to discuss any topic in a focused, distraction-free environment. But to give you an idea, here are some of the most common topics managers discuss with their team members in one-on-ones.
One-on-one meetings are ideal for discussing employee performance. You can directly talk to your team members about their strengths and weaknesses and where you think they need to improve.
The private nature of these meetings also means you can share positive or negative feedback with employees and have candid discussions about their performance.
To make these meetings successful, identify the specific performance areas you want to discuss and measure your employee’s performance against them. Be transparent so that your employee takes your feedback positively.
Resources & Productivity
You can use one-on-one meetings to address your team’s productivity issues and provide them with resources to perform better at work. Use these sessions to determine if an employee is underutilized or overburdened.
For example, if an employee lags behind, help them identify the reasons and provide templates or proven methods based on your experience to improve performance. Recommend any books or online training resources that you think can help your team member, show empathy, and be the guide your team member needs to shine at work.
Like performance evaluation, goal setting is another common reason managers conduct one-on-ones with their team members. The key to successful goal-setting meetings is to help your team members understand the immediate and long-term organizational goals and how they can contribute to achieving them. Make sure your team members are on board and fully understand their goals or they won't feel motivated to achieve it. Help them define personal and professional goals aligned with the company’s objectives so that their performance makes an impact.
Career development is among the biggest concerns of modern knowledge workers. Research shows that a lack of proper career development is the number one reason why employees leave settled jobs.
You can play a critical role in your team’s career development as a manager. Understand their concerns in one-on-one meetings and help them find meaningful work in your company. Mentor them and help identify the skills they need to acquire for career progression and see if you can get their training funded by your company.
Be an advocate for your team’s skill development in your company. Because there’s nothing more heartening for an employee than seeing their manager fight for their well-being with the higher management.
It’s natural to have off days when nothing seems to work. But sometimes, talented employees go through extended lean patches where they struggle to find the motivation to work and become a burden on the team.
Ideally, this should never happen if you hold regular one-on-ones with your team members.
But if it does, a direct meeting is still the best way to understand and counter the problem. Ask your employee what’s bothering them and how you could help. Sometimes, employees don’t enjoy working with specific team members or lose interest in work when they feel under appreciated. And work with them to find the way out.
One-on-one meetings are extremely helpful in understanding employee issues, sharing performance feedback, and building an engaging work environment.
But they’re also an excellent way to improve your managerial skills. So every quarter, hold a one-on-one session seeking your team’s feedback on your own performance. Start with an open mind and don’t take their responses personally.
Instead, use this as an opportunity to analyze yourself and improve your leadership and management skills.
To gather helpful employee feedback, ask specific questions about your managerial skills.
How would you rate my performance as a manager?
Do you think I’ve clearly described the company’s goals, mission, and values to you?
Do you think I contribute to the team’s performance?
Is there anything you wish I’d do differently?
Is there any way I can help you with your performance?
Important Differences Between In-Person & Virtual One-on-One Meetings
With remote employment and working from home on the rise, in-person one-on-one meetings aren’t always possible. Thankfully, you can use various synchronous and asynchronous video solutions to hold virtual meetings.
However, it’s important to remember the key differences between personal and virtual meetings to ensure you communicate effectively.
Visual Cues (e.g., Body Language)
Human beings are visual learners, and a large part of our in-person communication depends on our body language. However, these visual cues are often missing in virtual meetings where you can only see the other person’s face on the screen, and that too in an abnormal size. This somewhat limits our ability to understand each other’s messages and makes it slightly harder to communicate.
Remember this when holding virtual one-on-one meetings with your team. If you don’t clearly understand something, ask again. So, try being as clear and straightforward in your communication as possible and make sure the other person understands what you say before moving on to the next point.
Setting (Workstation vs. Coffee Shop)
In-person meetings mostly happen in cubicles, meeting rooms, or a professional work setting with minimal distractions and noise. Virtual meetings, on the other hand, can happen on a bus, in a coffee shop, or any other public place.
Naturally, this makes communication harder, and the participants need to be extra-focused to get their message across. To avoid distractions, plan your virtual meetings and ask the participants to connect from a quiet place where they can easily communicate.
Connection & Conversational Flow
Internet connectivity isn’t an issue in many countries. But it can be tough to conduct virtual meetings if your team logs in from somewhere with limited connectivity. Poor connectivity results in communication lags and hurts the conversational flow. Naturally, it impacts the flow of ideas and makes your meetings less effective.
Again, the only solution is planning for your virtual one-on-ones and ensuring you’re in a quiet place with good internet connectivity.
However, if you know what to talk about and do not immediately require a response, consider sending a Loom instead of holding a virtual meeting.