Ask the right questions in one-on-one meetings

Written by: Nora St-Aubin & Jasmine Papillon-Smith | Illustrated by: Mathieu Labrecque
Published on November 13, 2020 | Reading time: 5m

One-on-one meetings with employees are a time to touch base on their workload and deliverables. They’re also the perfect moment to address any questions that they have for you, or that you have for them. It can be challenging to know what’s most important to discuss during one-on-ones, but by focusing on asking the right questions, you can guide the conversation and support your employee’s growth.

These important conversations between a manager and their direct report are more than just a time to catch up: they’re an opportunity for coaching and mentorship. Use the questions outlined in this article to make sure you cover all the right bases in your next one-on-one meeting, so your 1-on-1s drive employee engagement.

Using the GROW coaching model in one-on-one meetings

The GROW coaching model helps make one-on-one conversations effective and impactful. By asking the right question at the right time, you can guide your team members through uncovering their own solutions, and driving their own development.

The GROW coaching model

  • Goals: What are the goals of the conversation?
  • Reality: What is the reality or context of the situation?
  • Options: What are the options for moving forward?
  • What’s next: How do you want to proceed?

Keep this framework in mind when structuring your meeting agenda. Use the one-on-one meeting questions outlined below to coach employees through these four steps and in setting action items.

manager standing in front of an 1:1 dashboard

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Conversation starter questions for one-on-one meetings

Sometimes, it takes a bit of discussion to uncover the most important subject for a one-on-one meeting, especially when you’re having one-on-ones with remote employees. Opening up your regular conversations with a question from the list below will help you create a personal connection before you put on your coaching hat.

  1. Can you share a recent example of a work situation in which you thrived? What were the key components that led to your success?
  2. If there was one thing you could see our team or company accomplish, what would it be? What would help you or your team to achieve it? What do you think might get in the way?
  3. Do you need to have a clearer picture of how your individual goals allow us to attain our goals as a team or a company?
  4. In your judgement, is your workload reasonable? If it isn’t, can you suggest solutions that we could implement together to address the problem?
  5. Can you give me concrete examples of stressful situations you experience at work?

Did you know? Asking the right questions in one-on-ones is a challenge for many managers, but you don’t have to face it alone. Officevibe’s one-on-one software helps you plan, track, and follow-up on every conversation in one place. Plus, dozens of recommended talking points like the questions above live in our Conversation Engine so you get to the topics that matter most, every time. Try it free.

Plan, track, follow-up on your one-on-ones

Questions to align with your employee

Start by making sure you and your team member want the same thing out of the meeting. This can vary depending on a number of factors, so always check in at the start of the conversation. Employees might need guidance, a sounding board, clarification, or something else. Use these questions to establish a common objective.

  1. What do we want to get out of this meeting?
  2. I’ve noticed [issue to address]…would you be open to working through this together today?
  3. Why is it important to resolve this situation?
  4. What’s at stake if we don’t resolve it?

Questions for gaining perspective and context

Once you’ve set your shared intention for the conversation, your employee can fill you in on the details you’ll need to coach them and give feedback effectively. If someone is struggling to manage their work-life balance, there might be things going on in their personal life that you’re not aware of or you might not have a clear picture of their full workload. Asking open-ended questions, and a few more specific questions when needed, will help you have the right context to work through the situation together.

  1. What is working well right now?
  2. What do you think is blocking you?
  3. Have you already taken any steps towards your goal? Describe what you did.
  4. What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this?

Questions to explore opportunities to move forward

With a solid foundation for understanding, you can begin weighing different options for how to proceed with your team member. For example, if someone is disagreeing with a colleague on how to tackle a problem, you can discuss how they might speak with their coworker directly, or bring in other team members to make it a group decision. The questions outlined below will help you explore various approaches to the situation at hand during your one-on-one meeting.

  1. What have you already tried? What else could you try? What have you not tried yet?
  2. What are the usual solutions available to you?
  3. How could you do things differently?
  4. How could you simplify the solution even further?
  5. Who can help you succeed and how?
manager standing in front of an 1:1 dashboard

Prep one-on-ones in record time!

1-on-1 software that makes planning quick and conversations meaningful.

Questions for establishing next steps

Successful meetings end with establishing next steps and setting action items that you can follow up on in your next one-on-one. These questions can help you clarify the output of your discussion, so you can both walk away feeling that you’re going in the right direction.

  1. If you could do only one thing right now, what would it be?
  2. What do you choose to do in relation to the situation?
  3. When? Why?
  4. What will be your main challenge?
  5. What else do you need to succeed?
  6. What follow-up should be done to ensure you succeed?

If agreeing to next steps is important, tracking them is even more so. Officevibe’s 1-on-1 software lets you assign every Action Item (to your team member or yourself!) at the end of each 1-on-1. Then, it sends you an email on Mondays to remind you of your commitments. Action Items automatically carry over to your next 1-on-1 agenda within the platform, so you never lose track of what you both said you’d do. Sign up free!

By following the steps of the GROW coaching model and asking the right questions at the right time, you’re sure to guide your employees through problem solving in every one-on-one meeting. Try these questions out in your next one-on-one, and share this list with another manager who you think it could help!