How to run a one-on-one meeting like a pro

Written by: Deanna deBara | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on: September 20, 2021 |  Reading time: 8m

Managing a team is about driving people to succeed as a unit. And one of the keys to collective team success is coaching individual performance. This is why, as a manager, you need to understand how to run a one-on-one meeting effectively.

One-on-ones give you the opportunity to connect with your direct reports on a more personal basis. These meetings can be to set goals, deliver feedback, discuss performance, or develop a plan to help them thrive in their role. Essentially, one-on-one meetings can take shape in many different ways. If you want the meeting to be a success, you need to run it in a way that helps you and your employee achieve your end result together.

But how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s take a look at how to run effective, productive, and successful one-on-one meetings with your team members.

How to make your one on one meetings more productive

Your one on one meeting could serve many different purposes. Whether that’s forging a more personal connection with your employee, helping them navigate a work challenge, or filling them in on the details for a new project, you want both you and your employee to walk away feeling like you had a productive meeting. Here’s how you can make the one on one process more productive—before, during, and after the meeting.

How to prepare for your one on one meeting

A successful one-on-one meeting starts before you actually sit down with your employee. Here are steps you’ll want to take ahead of the meeting to ensure that you and your employee get the most out of your sit down.

1. Set an agenda ahead of time

A shared agenda will give you and your employee a roadmap of how your one on one meeting will unfold, setting you up for a successful conversation. Before your one on one meetings, send your direct report an agenda that includes all the information they’ll need for the meeting. Don’t forget to ask them to contribute any talking points that they want to cover, too.

A typical meeting agenda should include:
  • Details about the meeting (date, time, location, etc.)
  • Topics that will be discussed
  • Anything the employee needs to prepare and/or bring to the meeting

2. Prepare questions (and tell your employee to do the same)

One-on-one meetings are a conversation, and sometimes the best way to lead a conversation is to ask questions. Open-ended questions are a great way to guide the conversation and exchange important information. But you don’t want to be thinking of questions during your actual meeting; if you try to come up with relevant questions on the fly, you could miss something important.

Prepare any relevant one-on-one meeting questions you’ll need during your conversation before the meeting, and ask your employee to do the same. That way, both you and your team member have time to think about what information you want to get from the conversation, and what questions you need to ask to get that information.

3. Draft a one on one meeting template

While the content of each one on one meeting will vary, having a go-to structure helps you make sure you’re covering all your bases. Not only does having a one on one meeting template save you time (no need to start from scratch for every meeting!), it also ensures every employee gets the same experience.

A simple one on one meeting template:
  1. Informal meeting check-in (5 mins)
  2. Discussing current workload (10 mins)
  3. Looking ahead (10 mins)
  4. Setting action items (5 mins)

During your one on one meeting

Once you’re actually in your one on one meeting, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind to ensure everything goes smoothly.

1. Stick to the agenda…

You created a meeting agenda for a reason. So when you’re in the meeting, make sure to stick to it. Following your meeting agenda and one on one template ensures that you ask the right questions, cover all the topics you need to discuss, and get all the information you need before the meeting is over.

2. …but also allow for some flexibility

Sticking to the agenda is important—but you don’t want to be so rigid that you miss an opportunity to connect with your employee or answer their questions. Leave room for flexibility in your meeting.

For example: If your employee lets you know they’re struggling with a work-related challenge, don’t just stick to your template. Give them the space they need to talk through what’s going on.

3. Take notes

You don’t want to forget what you talked about during your meeting, so make sure to take notes to refer to later. Having a written record of your one on one meetings can come in handy for a variety of management-related tasks, like tracking your direct reports’ goals, planning performance reviews, and following up on any action items you and your employee set during your meeting.

💡 Use a one-on-one meeting software like Officevibe to plan agendas and keep track of meeting notes and the action items you set with employees, all in one place.

4. Give feedback

One on one meetings are the perfect opportunity to deliver feedback to your employee — so make sure you take advantage of it! Depending on the meeting topic, you might deliver feedback about their performance, their mindset, or their leadership skills. Just keep in mind that feedback can be a challenge for some people. If you have to deliver constructive feedback (or flat out negative feedback), make sure to do it with care, kindness, and an open mind.

Follow up after the meeting

The one on one meeting may be over, but your work isn’t! Here’s how to follow up after every one on one to make sure you see results.

1. Send your direct report a recap

To maximize the effectiveness of your one on one meeting, both you and your employee need to know what comes next. Having your key takeaways and a list of action items for both you and the employee helps make sure you’re on the same page.

After your one on one, put together a short recap of what you discussed and the action items you set together. This way, you and your employee both know what you need to do before your next one on one. With this shared understanding, you both know what you’re responsible for, and will be more accountable to it.

2. Schedule your next one on one

One on one meetings aren’t a “one and done” situation. To see results, you need to meet regularly. After your meeting, set a timeframe that makes sense to get everything done, and schedule another one on one to follow up and continue moving forward.

Find a cadence that works for you both and remain flexible. Bi-weekly is a great baseline, and you might be able to lighten it to monthly during slower periods or up it to weekly when things are happening fast.

3. Connect in between to touch base on progress.

It can be easy for things to fall through the cracks between meetings, so make sure to touch base regularly outside of your scheduled one on ones. Send a quick message to ask how your employee is progressing around the halfway point between meetings. Provide support and adjust goals, timelines, or plans as needed.

Don’t overdo it. Make sure you give your employee a fair amount of time to progress on what you discussed before you check in. No one wants a micromanager, and when you follow up before they’ve had the chance to act, it can feel disempowering.

7 tips for keeping one-on-one meetings effective

More strategies on how to run a one-on-one meeting that’s focused and effective.

1. Schedule regular meetings.

For one on ones to be effective, they need to happen on a regular basis, so make sure to meet with each employee at least every month. Try out different meeting cadences with each employee to find the perfect one-on-one meeting frequency.

2. Make sure every one-on-one meeting has a purpose.

Trying to cram too much into a single meeting can feel overwhelming (for you and your employee). Make sure you’ve clearly defined a purpose, whether that’s setting goals, delivering feedback, or discussing performance.

3. Share your one-on-one meeting template with other managers.

A one-on-one meeting template creates a consistent meeting experience for all your direct reports. Sharing your template with other managers helps create consistency across your organization. If your employees have more than one manager or team leader, they know what they can expect during a one on one meeting, no matter who it’s with.

4. Ask for feedback.

Feedback is a two-way street, and one on ones are also an excellent opportunity for your employees to deliver constructive feedback to you. Make sure to ask your employees for feedback about what went well, what didn’t go so well, and how you can improve your meeting process to better support them.

5. Use video conferencing for remote one on one meetings.

If you manage remote employees, and you can’t host your one on one meetings in person, make sure to do it over video. Having a face-to-face connection (even if it’s through a screen) can help you better connect with your employees.

6. Don’t drag out the meeting.

One-on-one meetings should be long enough to cover everything you need to talk about, but not so long that your employee feels overwhelmed, bored, or disengaged. Keep your meetings around 30 minutes, and only set longer times for big meetings like setting goals or a performance review.

7. Leave things on a positive note.

It doesn’t matter what you plan to cover in your one on one meeting, you want your employee to walk away having had a positive experience. You can highlight what they’re doing well, celebrate a recent win, or talk about their career goals — whatever will help them walk away with a smile.

Now you know how to run a better one-on-one meeting!

So you can set recurring calendar invites with each employee on your team, and arrive at every meeting prepared.