One-on-one meetings: a manager’s complete guide

Methods for saving time, creating continuity, and driving action in every 1-on-1 conversation.

Written by: Nora St-Aubin & Jasmine Papillon-Smith | Illustrated by: Aless Mc
Published on October 30, 2020 | Reading time: 8m

Meeting with your team members in 1-on-1s is a key way to maintain your high-level view of your team’s work and dynamics and drive employees’ individual professional development. These conversations are a moment for you to connect with employees on a human level and build foundations of trust and understanding. Ongoing communication between managers and employees helps boost team engagement and keep everyone aligned and motivated towards common goals. Here, we cover everything you need to know about making 1-on-1s as impactful and efficient as you can.

Why are one-on-one meetings important?

It’s essential that managers maintain visibility on the overall functioning of their team and how each member leverages their unique skill set towards collective outcomes. one-on-one meetings help you get the information you need directly from each employee on your team so you can put the puzzle pieces together to form that bigger picture.

On the flip side, one-on-ones are a time for employees to raise any questions or issues they have and seek out your support when they need it. This is your time to touch base on how they’re progressing towards their individual goals, offer honest feedback (and ask for it), and open up conversations around the team’s workload, functions, and priorities.

Having regular, recurring moments for direct communication with employees benefits you as much as it benefits them, and ultimately plays an essential role in the healthy functioning of your team. Let’s take a look…

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

Benefits of one-on-ones done right:

  • Maintain team alignment
  • Boost employee engagement
  • Create clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • Make space for constructive feedback exchanges
  • Coach for professional development
  • Both participants leave feeling that they’re going in the right direction

Tips to make one-on-ones more effective

As a team leader you know that one-on-ones are an important part of any happy, high-performing team’s functions. The tricky part can be making the time to check in, picking up where you left off last time, engaging your people, and ensuring your one-on-ones lead to actions once they’re over. You want your team members to leave the meeting feeling motivated, and having clarity on what they need to accomplish. These pro tips will help you make the most of your one-on-one meetings.

Schedule a recurring meeting

The best way to ensure you communicate regularly with your team members is to schedule one-on-one meetings on a recurring basis in your calendar. Depending on your industry, team objectives, and the professional goals of each direct report, the right frequency may vary, but you want to be sure to have a one-on-one with each person on your team at least once a month. Start with an hour every two weeks, and adjust as needed as you speak with each of your team members and get to know their preferences. 

Make the meeting agenda collaborative

When you set one-on-one agendas collaboratively with your team members, it gives them a sense of agency in driving their own development. This is crucial because according to our employee survey data, 1 in 3 employees don’t feel appropriately involved in decisions that affect their work. Plus, a shared agenda helps take the burden off of you to have all the right things to say. Have employees set agenda items ahead of time so you can prepare as needed and add in anything additional you’d like to cover.

Use a one-on-one meeting software

Using a software is a great way to prepare one-on-one meetings faster, make sure your conversation starters are relevant, and track follow-through on next steps from your previous meeting. Officevibe’s one-on-one tool helps you create shared meeting agendas with each employee and prompts you with suggested questions and talking points to add. Your stored notes are displayed so you can easily pick up where you left off and see the progress on the action items you set after your last conversation. And, it makes your people feel supported: 82% of employees using Officevibe believe their direct manager cares about their opinion—give it a try.

One-on-one meeting tools

Different topics of one-on-ones: key conversations

Like any conversation, there are a lot of different topics you can cover in one-on-ones with employees. The important thing is to show people you’re listening. To do that, you need to keep notes of what was said and agreed to at each conversation, so you can more easily pick up where you left off and ensure each one-on-one moves your team member in the right direction. These meetings can serve many purposes, so we’ve broken down four main types of conversations you’re bound to have in your one-on-one meetings.

Touch base and check in

The most classic type of one-on-one, these are your regular coaching touchpoints with employees to check in and help with whatever they might currently need support on. These conversations play a big part in building authentic relationships with your team members and showing that you care about their wellbeing as well as their performance and growth. Especially on remote or dispersed teams, these virtual moments for connection are pure gold for maintaining visibility and nurturing trust.

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

Set goals to drive engagement

Clear and attainable goals that align with both team objectives and employees’ professional aspirations are a key driver of employee performance. At least every 3 months, take the time to dedicate a one-on-one meeting to setting meaningful goals with each of your team members. This also ensures that their individual goals stay relevant and timely in relation to the business context.

Did you know? Employees involved in setting goals are 4x more likely to be engaged. That’s why Officevibe’s 1-on-1 tool gives you three ways to tackle goal-setting together with team members. Build Team Goals & Individual Goals that tie into each one-on-one agenda, then set and track one-off Action Items towards achieving them. Try it free!

Clarify roles and responsibilities

It’s much easier for employees to perform at their best when they share an understanding with their manager of what they’re responsible for and what is expected of them. Role clarity drives employee accountability, making your team more efficient and autonomous—not to mention motivated. Sit down with your employees every 6 months (or more frequently) to review their roles and responsibilities, and clarify or update where needed.

Employee and manager working together

Have a difficult conversation

Facing a difficult conversation with an employee can be stressful and uncomfortable, but much of the time they are necessary to move forward in a productive way. When you take the time to get clear on the intended outcome of the discussion, it helps you figure out what to say, and what questions to ask. Whatever the situation is that you need to address, one-on-ones are a great moment for these conversations because you can set action items and follow up on them in your next meeting, bringing a sense of forward movement to the issue at hand.

Struggling to find the right words? Maybe technology can bring in the human touch. Officevibe’s one-on-one tool comes with pre-written questions and conversation topics, built with a team of neuroscientists who studied the science of tough talks. Next time you’re struggling with how to word sensitive feedback or simply bring up an awkward issue, head to Officevibe’s Conversation Engine for inspiration.

Useful one-on-one meeting questions

Whether you add them to your agenda or keep them in your notes to bring up in the conversation, having questions prepared ahead of time can help your one-on-ones flow. But it can be time-consuming to come up with questions yourself, so we’ve put together some from Officevibe’s Conversation Engine to share with you:

  • Is your workload reasonable? If it isn’t, can you suggest solutions that we could implement together to address the problem?
  • Are you able to ask colleagues with more experience than yourself for help, support or input when it comes to achieving your goals?
  • 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?
  • In your judgment, is the method for evaluating and awarding one’s job performance justified and fair?
  • As things stand, do you think the team will be able to achieve [name a collective team goal]? Why?

Free bonus: download our complete before, during, and after guide for the perfect 1-on-1!

Addressing team affairs in one-on-ones

Your one-on-one meetings with employees are a time for you to focus on their individual work, growth, concerns, and ideas—but they’re also a moment to check in on team working dynamics and collaboration among peers. Feelings of trust and support among colleagues are so important to employee engagement and the health of your team. When people feel they can speak honestly and openly and count on one another for support, they’re more likely to raise flags and ask for help when they need it.

However, when there’s conflict on your team or a lack of role clarity among collaborators, tensions can rise and productivity can be halted. one-on-ones offer a private moment between you and your team members to discuss these dynamics openly and brainstorm solutions together. You can keep a pulse on your team’s engagement with employee surveys and feedback, so you can spot issues and address them before they turn into problems.

Turn team engagement into talking points.
Officevibe tracks team dynamics and feedback for you through Pulse Surveys, so you always know what to bring up at one-on-ones. Open up space for communication with your team members in a safe and private setting: discover Officevibe’s complete team engagement solution—from clear reports on where your team is shining and where they need support, to an all-in-one 1-on-1 software.

Making time for meaningful one-on-one conversations with employees impacts everything from team productivity to individual development. With a little bit of preparation and the tips and tools outlined here, you should be perfectly primed for making every one-on-one meeting count.