One-on-one meeting vs. team meeting: when to use each type

Written by: Deanna deBara & Nora St-Aubin | Illustrated by: Officevibe team
Published on: November 17, 2021 |  Reading time: 7m

Meetings are a key tool for every team. The trick is using these moments effectively and making the most of this scheduled time. Calendars can fill up fast, and there isn’t always a clear agenda or output for each touchpoint that gets scheduled. Understanding the main differences between a one-on-one meeting vs. a team meeting helps you be strategic in planning what you’ll talk about when, and to whom.

One-on-one meetings give managers and their direct reports the chance to touch base individually on things like the employee’s career goals and their personal workload. Team meetings, on the other hand, give everyone the chance to come together and align on shared objectives and collaborative initiatives.

Diving deeper into the main differences and benefits of one-on-one and team meetings helps you really understand their purpose and strengths. That way, you can find the right balance, and run every meeting type in the best way possible so everyone gets the most out of it.

One-on-one meeting vs. team meeting: the main differences

At the most basic level, the main difference between a team meeting and a one-on-one is the number of people involved. One-on-ones are between two people, while a team discussion is between a group of employees. But on a deeper level, there are some other key differences between these two types of meetings.

Purpose

The context of team meetings and one-on-ones are usually different, including the purpose, goals, and outcomes. The purpose of coming together as a team could be to align on a particular outcome that everyone’s contributing to. And for one-on-ones, it might be to connect with or support team members at the individual level.

For example: You might gather your team to talk through an upcoming group project, while you use one-on-one time to discuss professional development.

Structure and format

The structure and format of each meeting type is also typically different. A one-on-one conversation can often be more of a discussion, even if it’s based on your talking points or meeting agenda. But team connections might be less dynamic or more timed out, because they include more people.

For example: Teams might meet for a presentation by one person, or a brainstorm session between everyone, while employees and managers have more of a check-in meeting.

Frequency

Both types of meetings should happen frequently enough, but most managers will have more one-on-ones in their calendar than team meetings. And for employees, team meetings are likely to feel more frequent than their individual touch points with their manager. This is simply because managers meet individually with every member of the team, but how often you have one-on-ones will depend on your context.

For example: You might have a weekly team sprint meeting, and every employee will have a weekly or bi-weekly one-on-one with the team manager.

The importance of one-on-one meetings

One-on-ones have many benefits, are a key function of effective team leadership, and an important part of maintaining employee engagement. Keeping up a good level of communication between managers and employees helps build trust and transparency, and boost understanding.

Key benefits of one-on-ones:

  • Supporting employees’ career development. You want employees to grow professionally–and you want them to grow at your company. These sessions give managers the opportunity to talk through each employee’s career goals, and help them create a plan to achieve those goals.
  • Coaching employee performance. Offering timely, specific feedback and coaching employees through challenges helps them succeed in their role. And addressing any performance issue early helps avoid it impacting an employee’s confidence, or the team’s success.
  • The chance to connect on a personal level. Part of being an effective manager is getting to know, understanding, and connecting with your employees. One-on-ones, which typically have more conversational meeting agendas, are a great place to do that.

The importance of team meetings

Team meetings, or staff meetings, offer their own host of benefits and contribute to a team’s healthy functioning in their own way. Maintaining regular communication on the team keeps everyone aligned on common goals and priorities.

Key benefits of team meetings:

  • Getting everyone on the same page. Team meetings are a great way to develop that team alignment that leads to high performance. When people connect frequently, they’re more in sync with what they’re working toward together and each of their roles in that mission.
  • Building trust and rapport. High-performing teams are also cohesive teams that know, trust, and understand each other. Getting everyone together creates an opportunity for exchanging ideas, sharing perspectives, asking questions, and raising challenges together.
  • Driving understanding. Team meetings are also an effective way to help your team understand their objectives, goals, and responsibilities. This also helps individual team members understand how they fit into the bigger picture.

Who leads a one-on-one meeting?

When it comes to how to run a one-on-one meeting, there’s no hard and fast rule. Sometimes, it will make sense for the manager to take the lead going through agenda items and asking one-on-one questions. Other times, it’s best to let the employee lead the conversation while the manager takes meeting notes. This will depend on factors like:

  • What’s being discussed and what type of session you’re having,
  • Whether it’s your first one-on-one meeting together,
  • Who booked the meeting or set the meeting agenda, and
  • The communication style developed between the two participants.

Who leads a staff meeting?

A team meeting can be led by anyone, but managers often end up taking the lead for these types of meetings. That said, it’s good to give employees the opportunity to drive some team conversations, too. Some team meetings might be led in rotation, or certain employees might take the lead on meetings about projects that they’re spearheading.

Consider also finding opportunities for multiple people to pitch in on carrying out the meeting by taking on responsibilities like:

  • Leading a meeting check-in to set the tone for the conversation to come,
  • Being a timekeeper to make sure you’re following the meeting agenda,
  • Taking meeting notes and sending out a recap of key points afterward,
  • Acting as a mediator and making sure everyone has the chance to speak,
  • Asking for volunteers to follow through on any action items the team sets.

Different types of one-on-one meetings

There are several different ways to make use of the dedicated time managers and their direct reports have one-on-one together. Some of the main ways to use a one-on-one meeting are:

  • Sharing feedback: Managers can share feedback to support employee growth, or employees can share feedback that helps their manager better support the team.
  • Setting employee goals: Every 3 to 6 months, employees can outline some development goals with their manager to help drive their career progression.
  • Performance reviews: At least twice a year, managers should offer a more formal performance review to keep employees aware of their role, responsibilities, and expectations.
  • Difficult conversations: Sometimes, managers need to have a one-on-one with a difficult employee, or address team conflict during these individual conversations.

Different types of team meetings

Team meetings also have many purposes, and there are certain things better suited to a group setting. Some of the main ways to use a team meeting are:

  • Daily status updates: Taking 15 minutes for everyone to share what they’re working on and how they’ve progressed helps the team keep their pace and remove any blockers as they pop up.
  • Weekly team meetings: These are a great chance to align on priorities, plan for any absences or vacation time, and address any team issues or challenges. They’re also a great moment for managers to give recognition.
  • Quarterly staff meetings: These are a good time to go over strategies and plan roadmaps, and can even be a larger meeting so people can align across teams or departments.
  • One-time meetings: This is the type of meeting that managers schedule as needed as important things come up that need to be addressed in a timely fashion. For example, if there’s a major change that will impact the team like a departure, strategy shift, or restructuring.
  • Retrospective meetings: Making time for the team to reflect back on their work, their collaboration, and what they’ve accomplished together is important. Retrospective meetings help a team improve their methods and grow stronger as a group.

One-on-one meetings vs. team meetings: it’s all about balance

The bottom line is, one-on-one meetings and team meetings have different purposes, but each type of meeting is as important as the other. One-on-one meetings offer the opportunity to connect with your employees on an individual level, while team meetings are the place to address your team collectively. Both are important tools to keep up the health of any team, and it’s all about using them for the best purpose and at the right time.