3 experienced managers share their best one-on-one conversation tips
Great managers know that one-on-one conversations play a key role in the success of each individual on your team—including yourself. These dedicated …
One-on-one meetings are an important tool for any great manager. As a team lead, part of your role is maintaining ongoing communication with each of your employees to both support them individually and build alignment across your team. These meetings help you do just that, so you want to be sure to have them regularly, and develop your technique.
Whether you have one-on-ones on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis will depend on your industry, management style, and the preferences of your employees. The important thing is that you’re having them often enough that they’re serving their purpose. Speaking of which…
One-on-one meetings are meant to be flexible and can address several different purposes depending on your team’s context. We’ve listed some of the topics they encompass below.
The overarching purpose that all one-on-ones serve is keeping you connected with your employees. As a manager, having visibility on your team’s priorities, collaboration, dynamics, and engagement is absolutely essential; your one-on-ones are like puzzle pieces that come together to form this high-level view.
On the flip side, one-on-ones are a time for your employees to fill you in on what they’ve been working on, struggling with, or looking forward to. Your employees know best where they need your help, so the most important thing you can do is listen.
Preparedness is key not just for maintaining efficiency and making one-on-ones meaningful, but also to show your employees that you care. Taking the time to prepare ahead demonstrates your investment in your team members’ growth and engagement, which translates into building their trust.
Each one-on-one is unique, and will require its own preparation. For some, this will be as simple as reviewing the action items from your last meeting so you can properly follow-up. For others, it might mean working through your thoughts to get to a productive headspace for tackling a difficult conversation.
Make it collaborative: it’s important to get your direct report to contribute agenda items, and give them agency in defining what you’ll discuss. You can build collaborative one-on-one agendas with your employees through Slack, Email, or a one-on-one tool like Officevibe.
This agenda template is designed to fit any one-on-one meeting, no matter your talking points or what you need to cover. The time frames in the meeting agenda are flexible, so be open to spending more time on certain areas or cutting back on others if they don’t feel relevant. The more practice you have, the more you’ll get the hang of it.
Ask your employee what they got up to the previous weekend, or what they’re most looking forward to in the next month. This chat can be work-related or not—whatever comes up! Share something about yourself with your employee, too, to help establish that sense of equality and comfort.
This is your employee’s chance to catch you up to speed on what they’ve been working on, their progress towards their professional goals, and what they’ve accomplished since your previous meeting. It’s also a great moment for you to give them meaningful recognition for their hard work. Make it a part of your preparation to come up with 1-2 specific things your employee has done and how they impacted the greater team goals.
Discuss what’s coming up for your employee, what they’re excited about, and how you can help them. This can also be a coaching moment for you, where you can help employees plan ahead and troubleshoot. With the context of their recent work still top of mind, you can use this time to offer forward-looking feedback that connects to their next endeavours.
One of the most important parts of your one-on-one, this is when your employee has the floor to bring up whatever else they have on their mind. Simply ask: “Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to discuss?” Your job during this part is to listen.
Active listening tips
At the end of every one-on-one, it’s important to wrap up the discussion, highlight the key takeaways, and set 2-3 action items. Start by asking your employee to summarize the main things they got out of the conversation, and once they have feel free to contribute anything extra that stands out to you. Together, agree on who is responsible for each action item.
Don’t forget: add these action items to your next meeting agenda right away, to remind you to follow up and help you track progress. Officevibe’s one-on-one tool does this automatically for you, to help you maintain continuity from one meeting to the next.
As much as each one-on-one should be an organic and natural conversation, you also have important ground to cover. Here, we offer tips for specific types of one-on-ones that you’ll inevitably have in your management career.
This is your opportunity to get to know each other’s communication styles, work habits, preferences, and career goals. Remember that you’re in it together, and the outcome of this meeting should be for you both to have a better understanding of how you can collaborate effectively. It’s okay to keep this conversation casual, and get down to business at your next one-on-one.
Since a large part of one-on-ones is about connecting with employees and forming meaningful relationships, the lack of in person, face-to-face interaction of virtual meetings can be challenging. At the same time, not having the casual catch-ups around the office make one-on-ones all the more essential. Stick to your schedule, and increase frequency if you feel it could help. Take extra time in your informal catch-up and really strive to be fully present for your employees—no typing while they’re trying to talk!
The thought of getting constructive feedback can be intimidating for people—and more than that, negative feedback can actually be detrimental to employee performance, especially when it’s not properly delivered. Be empathetic to your employee, and most importantly be sure that the intention of the feedback is to help them improve. When you plan ahead of the meeting, ask yourself: “How does this feedback apply to their day-to-day or upcoming work in a way that can help them succeed?” If it doesn’t, keep working on it until it does, or let it go.
This could be about addressing decreased performance, discussing a mistake your employee made, managing conflict on the team, or clarifying roles and responsibilities. Whatever the case, these conversations don’t have to be as daunting as they feel.
The wonderful thing about one-on-ones is that because they’re ongoing, they can become more fruitful over time. Just one of the ways in which you can maintain continuous conversations with your employees, these meetings are key to their success—and yours.