Performance Reviews, Work Culture

Managers, Ensure a Great One On One Meeting Every Time

By on April 19, 2019

Knowledge workers dread meetings.

With little planning going into them, meetings rarely produce the desired results. Follow Scrum or Kanban for project management & you are already a part of bunch of other meetings. Then there are town halls, team meetings & and other gatherings specific to your organisation.

But amidst all this noise, one on one meeting loses its importance. Rarely does it get the attention it deserves.

Healthy relationships are at the core of any great company. One on one meetings help nurture the relationships between managers & their direct reports.

Get these face to face discussions right to uncover hidden challenges & foster innovation. One cannot overstate their importance whether you are a direct report or a manager.

If you are a manager, understand the background & apply below tips. They will ensure a great one-on-one meeting every time, for you as well as your direct reports.

Why – Purpose of One on One Meetings

All too often, managers see the 1-on-1 as a routine meeting with little value. Downplaying the meeting’s importance results in missed opportunities.

This is your chance to show direct reports that you value them. Open the door to conversations about their current challenges, career aspirations. Be a good listener. Observe, understand & get feedback on how you can help them achieve their potential.

First, it is helpful to recognize what the these meetings are not

  • not a place to give and receive status updates, daily stand ups are there for this
  • not a discussion focused on providing them project instructions, team meetings cover this aspect
  • not a quick chat to provide non-specific feedback

It is a way to find out how things are actually going at their end.

Consider one-on-one meetings as a way to know whether the team member is happy or needs a hand. Quickly adjust your approach based on this information.


Here’s how to get the most out of your these meetings:

  • Have an agenda in place
  • Let the team member open
  • Ask about goals, challenges and frustrations
  • Provide feedback and share concerns
  • Offer suggestions, document action items

Have An Agenda

1-on-1s handle sensitive, at times awkward issues. These are discussions, at least a part of which, will always be difficult.

Add to it the number of 1-on-1s a manager does. There is a good chance that the conversation will go wayward if not checked with an agenda.

So it is always a good idea to start with an agenda. This agenda can come from your direct report or can be a collaboration between you two. Having an agenda prevents you from wasting time and prepares you for the meeting.

  • Start by planning for about 30 minutes
  • 15 minutes for the team member to talk
  • 10 for you (manager) to share your point of view/suggestions/feedback
  • 5 for the two of you to establish next steps

If you have to review your notes to remember what was last discussed, its a bad start already.

Let the Team Member Open

It’s too easy to fall into the top-down approach. Managers usually lead most of the meetings. So it may feel a bit odd at first to ask open-ended questions to your direct reports. But its fundamental to make the team member comfortable in discussing workplace issues. Anything that is a roadblock for them, even personal issues, are not off the agenda.

Few open-ended questions that might help you get started

  • tell me about your week so far
  • what roadblocks prevented you from achieving X ?
  • what are your plans for this week ?
  • Were you able to overcome the challenge X that we discussed last time ?

Some team members engage in more productive conversations when managers pinpoint the issues. But it’s important to avoid pigeon-holing the discussion to the manager’s ideas.

Treat this as an opportunity to understand what is going on with the team member’s work life. Be empathetic and respond thoughtfully. Even if you don’t have solutions yet to any of their challenges, assure them you’ll work together to find one.

Ask About Goals, Challenges and Frustrations

In the beginning team members will may away from sharing their challenges, frustrations. Don’t give up. Come prepared with a few targeted questions that can get to the heart of the matter.

1-on-1s are not status update meetings. But make smart use of project discussions to elicit better responses from direct reports. That will get them started in the right direction.

Refer to the goals, see if they are on track or need a nudge. Dive a bit deeper to inquire whether those goals were reasonable to begin with. Some star employees give their all, even when expectations are set too high. As a manager, figure out if these stars are burning out by stretching too much.

It’s also valuable to know what’s going on in your direct report’s life outside of work. Scope of this discussion will vary based on your proximity with the individual. Avoid probing too much into their private matters. Just reiterate that you are always available to assist them, if they need anything. Encourage them to share anything that can affect their performance. And then adjust your expectations.

Provide Feedback and Share Concerns

Before meeting, gather details about the team member. How are they interacting with their colleagues? Are they meeting their targets or struggling to fulfil basic expectations? Are they performing upto their potential? Are they in the right role given their skillset? Do they need any specific training?

Assuming you’ve done enough preparation, you’ll have some specific feedback. Don’t hold it back, be it praise or an opportunity to improve.

Adopt a supportive tone when discussing negative feedback. Direct report has just talked about their perspective. Use that as a starting point.

Adjust your feedback based on their perspective. This is critical while discussing feedback.

For example, team member has already expressed frustrations. And described reasons why their performance has been up to the mark. Don’t just repeat the same feedback, rather try to offer a solution based on the reasons they shared.

Be proactive. See something the team member working on is falling through? Call it out before the risk materialises. Don’t wait for the next one-on-one meeting. This will help build trust between direct report & you. After all, you are investing in making them successful.

Offer Suggestions, Document Action Items

Close the meeting, by asking them if they have noted down any next steps. If they haven’t, share yours & ask them to come up with theirs. Offer any suggestions that you think can help them get better. Better yet, work together and conclude with a mutually beneficial plan.

Document these actions items & suggestions, so that they are accessible to both of you. By the time the next 1-on-1 comes around, these will serve as handy references.

General Tips

Above we’ve looked at the why & how of great one-on-one meetings. Below is a set of generic tips to take you further.

Continuity between meetings

Managers may have several direct reports, but team members usually only have one manager. Key is to maintain the personal, informal nature of these meetings.

Continuity makes the team member feel significant. It demonstrates that each interaction matters to you as a manager. Plus, building upon what happened at the last meeting is a professional way to nurture trust. This shows that the manager invests in the direct report’s continued growth and progression.

If the manager fails to recall what transpired at the last discussion, it sends a wrong signal. Signal that any work the team member may have put in since that time has had little impact. That alone may undercut any positive results that may have come about so far.

Never cancel or reschedule

There is this temptation to put off one-on-one meetings in favor of other priorities. Especially for busy managers. But every strong manager knows that their direct reports are an essential priority. Commitment to this meeting shows your dedication to your team.

While the occasional reschedule may be acceptable, regular movement of the 1-on-1 is bad. Start off the right way. Establish a regular time. It shouldn’t interfere with anything you or the team member has on the agenda.

Do it weekly

A weekly schedule is practical. Think back to a week ago and how different your projects were. Things evolve fast. Weekly frequency offers ample opportunity to identify challenges. You’ll also be able to put in place remedies before challenges become unmanageable. Not to mention that frequent meetings lead to better continuity. It’s easier to think back to a discussion that happened one week ago than one month.

Weekly is frequent enough for both to become comfortable with the process. Team member will be less likely to shy away from raising issues if the manager has a history of assisting the team.

Non-confrontational approach

There’s an old saying, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” While that’s not a perfect analogy, it does reflect on the modern workplace.

Modern workplace functions more on support and teamwork than on stress and tension. Purpose of one-on-one meetings is to unravel hidden issues, for team members and the team as a whole. From there, you can work at improving the process and overall outcome.

Don’t turn confrontational. Compassionate dialogue is the best way to identify and remedy challenges. Comfort is essential so that the team members are candid during the discussion. That way, there’s no worry of a potential crisis simmering without resolution.

Potential problems will reveal themselves. They will come out one way or another. Healthy discussions help identify the problem in a timely manner, before they affect the entire team.

Keep it positive

Throughout, we have been talking about ‘identifying issues’, ‘discussing challenges’ & so on. As a manager don’t let the opportunity to compliment your direct report slip past.

Team members crave recognition for their efforts. It is not just a way to make them feel good; it gives them concrete direction. It is a way of telling employees, “this is good, we’d like to see more of this.”

Often, especially in large businesses, team members can feel lost in the crowd. Praise their positive attributes and activities. Help them feel supported and motivated to do their best as part of the team.

Also, positive discussion can help cushion a difficult conversation. When things go wrong, you should be prepared to handle the situation.

One way is to show team members that their participation holds great value. Even if their work has hit some rough spots in recent times, their efforts are still appreciated by the company.

Focus on the team member

Your direct reports are not the only ones who need to share their feedback and concerns. You are also accountable to share information that is relevant for them as well as the overall team. Especially if you are going through a career transition, retraining or something else. Share anything that affects the team. It helps your direct reports know the reasons for changes in your approach or priorities.

But 1-on-1 meeting ideally should be about the team member, not the manager.

In majority of the workplaces, very nature of manager-team member relationship is unbalanced. Individual in the superior role has the upper hand. These meetings are a chance for the team member to have a voice. They help ensure team member’s comfort within the larger organisation. Giving them this time benefits not just the individual, but the company as a whole. A well-functioning team is the basis of a successful workplace.

The Bottom Line: Make One-on-Ones a Priority

Offer support & guidance to your direct reports & elevate their performance. That’s where the one-on-one meeting is so important. It’s a chance for the manager to get the best out of their team, the organisational pillar. Make these meetings a priority & give your team the support they need to thrive.

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