One-on-one meetings are a valuable tool for your organization to gain useful feedback about the employee experience and motivate your employees. Regular one-on-one meetings can improve employee satisfaction, reduce turnover, and align your organization around your company's values. Although it may seem as though meetings already consume too much of your time, making time for regular one-on-one meetings with your team is worth the effort. With the right template and clear goals, 1-on-1 meetings can easily be worked into your schedule.
What Is a 1-on-1 Meeting?
A 1-on-1 meeting is part of a continuous and ongoing conversation between an employee and their manager. A 1-on-1 meeting can be formal or informal, but either way, it is a conversation that allows you to check in with your team members regularly and frequently. Although these meetings are often associated with performance reviews, you shouldn't limit them to that context.
You can use 1-on-1 meetings to build trust with your employees, build relationships, communicate organizational changes, and ensure everyone is aligned and focused on your company's highest goals.
Benefits of 1-on-1 Meetings
Unlike traditional yearly performance reviews, 1-on-1 meetings boost engagement and empower employees to increase their performance and productivity. Some of the other benefits of 1-on-1 meetings include:
Develop leadership skills
Managers who regularly participate in 1-on-1 meetings with their direct reports will develop their coaching and leadership skills. Effective leadership is vital to the growth and success of your company. Allowing your managers to grow as leaders benefits everyone.
Foster closer relationships between managers and employees
Managers account for up to 70% of employee engagement. Building strong relationships between employees and managers can help you increase employee engagement. Since disengaged employees can cost you 34% of their annual salary, increasing engagement can boost your bottom line.
A brief 1-on-1 meeting will give you a high-level overview of what's going on with each employee. You can use these meetings to share ideas, follow up on feedback, and talk about goals and growth. You can have targeted, effective conversations about employee performance that address issues in real time.
Receive valuable employee feedback
Regular meetings with employees let you stay on top of how they're doing. By checking in frequently and soliciting their feedback, you'll be able to get ahead of small problems before they become big problems. Instead of being surprised when a valuable employee leaves, you'll know when there's an issue that needs to be dealt with. Prioritizing your direct report's agenda will help ensure you address all of their concerns.
As regular 1-on-1 meetings become a standard part of your organizational culture, everyone's communication skills improve. Managers and their direct reports get better at listening, collaborating, and being aware of others. These skills will naturally flow over into other areas and improve cooperation and communication at all levels.
What Is the Purpose of 1-on-1 Meetings?
The value of 1-on-1 meetings is that you decide their purpose. You can use the 1-on-1 meeting to cover a variety of topics, including:
When an employee is working on a project, a 1-on-1 meeting is an ideal time to check in to find out how it's going and if there are any obstacles they need to discuss. You can get an update and make sure everything is on track. It's much better to find out about an issue when a project is a little behind schedule than when it's seriously overdue.
A private 1-on-1 meeting can be used to do a pulse check with your employee. You can find out if they're happy and engaged at work, if they have everything they need to do their job, and if their career path is headed in the direction they want.
Regular meetings offer managers the chance to communicate company goals and values and ensure performance objectives and employee goals are aligned with them.
With the rapid pace of technological development, employees today have to continually update their skills or fall behind. During 1-on-1 meetings, you can discuss talent development progress and goals with employees. This is a win for everyone. You get the skilled workforce you need, and your employees get to advance their careers.
How To Structure and Conduct an Effective 1-on-1 Meeting
The structure of your 1-on-1 meeting will depend on its purpose. Before you choose a template, consider the format and timing of your meetings.
How often should you have 1-on-1 meetings?
The ideal frequency of a 1-on-1 meeting is every week or two for 30 minutes. Consider scheduling weekly meetings if you don't interact regularly with your employees. On the other hand, if you collaborate closely with your team members every day, you may be fine scheduling 1-on-1 meetings every other week.
Another factor to consider is how many team members you need to meet with. If your team is large, you may need to schedule meetings every other week. Try to have 1-on-1 meetings more often than monthly. Once a month isn't often enough to keep up with what's going on with your employees.
Where should you meet?
Ideally, you'll meet face-to-face. However, with the rise in remote work and dispersed teams, that's not always possible. If you can't meet face-to-face, at least meet on a teleconferencing platform. Being able to see facial expressions and body language will make your meeting more effective. Nonverbal cues are an important part of communication.
If you're able to meet in person, consider meeting off-site occasionally. Going out for lunch or coffee takes you out of your normal work environment and gives you a chance to build a relationship and connect in a different way.
Set a goal ahead of time
Before you meet with an employee, set a goal for your meeting. This doesn't mean that you go in with a set agenda that you don't budge from, but it does mean you know what you want to get out of your meeting. The goal may be set by the employee and carried over from your last meeting, or it may be dictated by a current project you're working on.
Work from a template
Although you may not need to follow a template exactly, it's good to have one on hand so you're not drawing a blank when you sit down to talk. A template gives you a structure and questions to ask to get the conversation going. You may not get beyond your first question, which is fine, but you'll have a framework to use if you need it.
Templates for 1-on-1 Meetings
While your template will look different depending on the type of 1-on-1 meeting you're having and the goal you've set, there are four basic concepts that most meetings will include:
- Top priorities
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Setting standards
- Discussing progress and obstacles
A good 1-on-1 meeting should be the employee's meeting, not the manager's meeting, so don't be afraid to abandon your template if your employee has a pressing issue they want to discuss. Your role is mainly to listen and coach. The purpose of a template is to provide questions so you can listen to what your direct reports have to say.
Initial 1-on-1 meeting
If you're just starting to hold 1-on-1 meetings or this is your first meeting with a new employee, your goal should be to get to know them better, establish a relationship, and find out how you can support their growth in your company. Some good questions to get started are:
- What do you like to do when you're not at work?
- How do you prefer to communicate (email, text, etc.)?
- Where do you want to be in your career in one year? Five years?
- What are you enjoying about working here?
- What obstacles are you encountering?
- What would you change about your role or the company if you could?
- What can I do to better support you?
- What do I need to know about you that will help us work together more effectively?
Regular 1-on-1 meetings
Most of your 1-on-1 meetings will be simple progress reports and pulse checks. These are the bread and butter of 1-on-1 meetings. You want to make space to discuss how things are going and find out if you need to course correct or if there are any issues you should be aware of.
- Is there anything in particular you want to talk about?
- What's been the best part of the past week?
- What's been the worst part of the past week?
- Are you making progress on your goals?
- Is there anything I can do to help remove blocks?
- What aspect of your day-to-day work seems harder than it should and why?
- Are you happy with your work/life balance?
Remote 1-on-1 meetings
There's no doubt that remote work is here to stay. Almost half of all employees are looking to work remotely, and companies that don't offer remote work options will have difficulty attracting top talent. If your company doesn't provide at least a hybrid work environment, it's likely to come up as an issue in a lot of your 1-on-1 meetings.
However, managers with remote direct reports face additional challenges. You may be in different time zones and communicating asynchronously. Because you're not in the same building, you'll miss out on many micro check-ins that naturally happen as you cross paths during the workday. While these challenges aren't reasons to eliminate remote work, you need to keep them in mind and make an extra effort to connect during your 1-on-1 meetings with remote employees.
- How is everything going?
- What's going on outside of work?
- Tell me what you've been working on this week and how it's going.
- What was the best thing that happened last week?
- What was the worst thing that happened last week?
- What are you working on next week?
- Is there anything I can do to help you?
- Do you feel like we're communicating effectively? If not, what would work better for you?
- Are you happy with the progress you're making on your goals?
- What do you want to talk about that I haven't brought up?
As you move up in your organization, an inevitable result is that you'll be more removed from what's happening in day-to-day business operations at lower levels. Skip-level meetings are your opportunity to keep in touch and find out how team members feel about their managers and their work. Unlike regular 1-on-1 meetings with direct reports, you don't need to have skip-level meetings every week or even every month.
Skip-level meetings need to be handled carefully. You don't want to give your managers the impression you don't have faith in them. These meetings should be presented as a way for you to connect with employees and build a healthier work environment, not as an opportunity to micromanage. You don't want to interfere with the regular line of communication, and you should make that clear to everyone.
A good schedule is to meet with the employees of your managers once every three to six months. Meeting more often will strain your schedule and can interfere with your managers doing their jobs. Since these meetings aren't to keep abreast of day-to-day progress, you'll ask more big-picture questions.
- What are your professional goals for the next 6 to 12 months?
- How can we help you achieve them?
- What are you most confused about regarding our company's strategies and goals?
- Are you happy here and in your role? If not, what can we change?
- What are we doing right as a company?
- What could we improve on?
Performance review 1-on-1 meetings
You may eliminate quarterly performance reviews if you're giving and receiving regular feedback in your weekly 1-on-1 meetings, or you may set aside a 1-on-1 meeting every quarter specifically for performance reviews. Either option can be effective as long as everyone understands your format. If you're using a 1-on-1 meeting as a performance review every quarter, here are some issues you should cover:
- Performance against objectives
- Self and peer feedback
- Wins and strengths
- Areas for improvement
- Opportunities to grow and advance
- Concerns, questions, and clarifications
Objectives and Key Results 1-on-1 meetings
If your company uses the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework for goal setting, you can dedicate a 1-on-1 meeting to discussing progress once a quarter. Reviewing the past quarter and planning the next is critical in measuring success. OKR meetings empower your employees to take ownership of their metrics.
- Review OKR for the last quarter.
- Where did we succeed?
- Where did we fail?
- What goals do you want to accomplish in the next quarter (no more than three to five)?
- What needs to happen for you to achieve those goals?
- What resources do you need to achieve those goals?
- What obstacles could keep you from achieving your goals?
Career goals 1-on-1 meeting
Although you may touch base on your employees' career goals during your weekly meetings, it's a good idea to set aside a 1-on-1 meeting every four to five check-ins to discuss their career goals and path. Your best employees want to continue to grow and advance in their careers, and they'll be more engaged and satisfied at work if they have that opportunity.
Use these meetings as a chance to talk about their goals, help them devise concrete actions they can take to meet them, coach them, and introduce them to people who can help them. Encourage your employees to act on what you discuss during your meeting by setting SMART goals. SMART goals are:
- Specific: They should be narrow and clear.
- Measurable: There should be a metric that determines success.
- Achievable: They should be goals that can reasonably be accomplished.
- Relevant: They should directly align with long-term goals.
- Time-bound: There should be a deadline to measure progress.
During your career goals meeting, you can go over their goals and discuss their progress. It's important to stay flexible, since goals may evolve over time. Primarily, you want to use these meetings to discuss how your team feels about their career development and how you can help them achieve their goals.
- Have your long-term goals changed?
- How are you progressing on your SMART goals?
- What do you need to do to stay on the right path?
- Are there obstacles that are keeping you from progressing?
- What can I do to help?
Annual salary review 1-on-1 meeting
Salary conversations can be wonderful or challenging. Employees want to feel valued, and one of the primary metrics people use to gauge value is salary. Before you go into a salary review meeting, you should understand that it's an emotionally charged conversation for many employees. Fostering an environment of openness and psychological safety will help your employees feel comfortable discussing hard topics with you.
If you've been communicating effectively during your regular 1-on-1 meetings, there shouldn't be any surprises during a salary review meeting. During your meeting, cover the following points:
- Review your company's compensation policies.
- Update your employee on this year's changes, explaining the reasons behind the decision.
- Go into detail about concrete numbers and when the change takes effect.
- Give your employee a chance to discuss their feelings about what you've shared and ask any questions they have.
Peer 1-on-1 meeting
Meeting with managers of other departments can help facilitate better working relationships and improve communication across teams. When teams are siloed and don't collaborate, relationships can become strained and hinder productivity. Although these don't need to be weekly meetings, setting aside regular time to meet with your peers has several important benefits, including:
- Discover ideas for better collaboration
- Build strong relationships with peers
- Create a better work environment
- Deal with interdepartmental frustrations
- Improve communication between teams
Here are some questions you can ask in peer meetings:
- What's the biggest challenge your team is facing right now?
- How can I make your job easier?
- How can my team communicate better with your team?
- What's coming up that I should know about?
Mistakes To Avoid During 1-on-1 Meetings
When you do them right, 1-on-1 meetings benefit you, your team, and your company. However, when they're not handled correctly, frequent meetings can be a source of frustration for everyone. Make sure your meetings are productive by avoiding these mistakes:
Although your role will primarily be listening, you must have a plan to drive the meeting. Without a plan, your 1-on-1 meeting will likely turn into a meaningless conversation or awkward silence.
Not taking notes or following up
Even if you have a productive meeting, you won't be able to keep track of your employees' progress or prepare for the next meeting if you don't take notes. Notes provide accountability on both sides. Taking notes will help you follow up effectively and remember what you discussed at your last meeting. They can also help you develop an action plan based on your discussion. Asking employees for feedback is pointless if you don't follow up on it. Before you start a meeting, review your notes from the last meeting.
Talking too much
One of the main functions of a 1-on-1 meeting is to get to know your team members better. You can't do that if you're doing most of the talking. You want to ask the right questions, then listen carefully to the responses. Don't insist on sticking to your agenda. Instead, always prioritize your employee's concerns and let them lead the discussion.
Focusing only on status updates
If your team is in the middle of a big project, it can be tempting to use 1-on-1 meetings for status updates. While you can briefly touch on the status of open projects, you'll miss out on the deeper connections if you make that your focus.
Conducting regular 1-on-1 meetings with your employees and peers improves connection and communication throughout your organization. Building strong relationships with your employees can increase their job satisfaction and reduce employee turnover. One-on-one meetings work whether your team is on-site, remote, or a combination.
Ideally, your employees will take the lead in these meetings, but you'll still need to guide the discussion by asking the right questions, giving targeted feedback, and following up after the meeting. Although it can challenging to fit regular 1-on-1 meetings into your schedule, using the above templates and tips can help you get the most out of them in the least amount of time.