12 Ways to Make Your 1-on-1 Meetings More Effective

It’s not an overstatement to say that effective 1-on-1 meetings are critical to the overall success of your organization. One-on-one meetings keep communication lines between managers and employees open and increase employee engagement, both in individual roles and within the organization as a whole.

Ultimately, as a manager, conducting effective one-on-one meetings is not optional. If you want to ensure employees progress, there are certain things you should and shouldn’t do during these meetups.

We’ve put together a guide with 12 tips for effective 1-on-1 meetings, helping you and your employees to gain the most benefit from regular communication.

1. Set a Time for Your One-on-One Meeting

Communicate with individual employees to schedule a time for your one-on-one meeting that works for both of you. Once you’ve agreed a time, schedule recurring meetings that can sit in both of your calendars long-term, rather than booking new meetings every week, month or quarter.

By doing this, you can both plan ahead and ensure your one-on-one won’t be disrupting other work, and you won’t forget to book the next meeting.

2. Establish a Loose Agenda Together

Meetings are typically most effective when an agenda has been set. This lets both parties know what to expect and what sorts of topics will be discussed. However, the agenda should be fairly loose, with room for your employee to make changes if there are other things they wish to talk about.

Work with your employee to set the agenda. One of our top tips is to set up a shared document so you can both add items to the agenda before your one-to-one meeting. Remember, these meetings are for the benefit of the employee, so allow them to contribute rather than setting an agenda for them.

3. Create Effective One-on-One Questions

Effective one-on-one meetings shouldn’t be a one-way street.

While they provide an opportunity for managers to give feedback to employees, the real goal is to establish an open channel of communication in which employees and managers find alignment with their goals and expectations. Therefore, you want to make sure the questions you ask in one-on-one meetings are effective at helping the two of you achieve that outcome.

It's your job as a manager to guide the conversation and ensure they feel supported. Choose open questions which encourage conversation rather than closed-ended questions which receive a single-word answer.

Examples of open-ended questions include:

4. Talk Less, Listen More

As a general rule, if you as the manager are talking more than 50% of the time in a one-to-one meeting, you’re talking too much. Use active listening and take notes. This can help your employee feel that you value and understand what they’re saying.

As we mentioned above, if your employee needs some guidance, open-ended questions can help reignite the conversation.

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5. Provide Goals and Objectives

One-on-one meetings are great opportunities to discuss goals and objectives, including personal development goals, company goals, and goals for specific teams. By gaining an understanding of where your employee wants to be in six months, a year, or longer term, you’ll be in a better position to help them develop and achieve their goals.

You can also talk about how your direct report is contributing to company and team goals and learn how they see themselves fitting into the bigger picture.

6. Share and Receive Feedback

A one-on-one meeting is also an opportunity to share feedback, and ask for feedback from your employee. By sharing feedback on a weekly basis as well as at quarterly reviews, you can address any concerns as they arise. Any issues, big or small, can be resolved more effectively if they’re shared regularly.

You can also request feedback to help you be a more supportive manager and discover what you could be doing better.

7. Build Rapport

Effective relationships are based on rapport, which means not being afraid to talk about personal issues. You don’t have to share your entire life story, but sharing relatable experiences can help build trust.

Take the time to get to know your direct report and establish a relationship with them. This is especially important if you have workers who you manage remotely, or who you don’t see face-to-face on a regular basis.

8. Stick to Scheduled Start and End Times

Try to start and end your meeting at the times scheduled. While occasionally allowing one-on-one meetings to run over if in the middle of a discussion is fine, you should usually try to wrap things up within the allotted time. This ensures consistency and helps reduce the risk of employees resenting the time spent in one-on-one meetings.

If there’s something important that requires further conversation, book another meeting to dedicate it to that issue rather than allowing the one you’re in to run over.

9. Use the “Yes Sandwich”

Regardless of any negative issues that have to be discussed in your one-on-one meeting, try to begin and end the meeting on a positive note – the “yes sandwich” technique. This can involve saving some positive feedback on a piece of work for the end of the meeting, or be as simple as ending the meeting by saying “we will deal with this together.”

10. Assign Next Steps

Assigning the next steps helps hold both members of the meeting accountable. Be sure to outline who is responsible for each step, what needs to be done to achieve it, and when this should be completed by.

11. Avoid Status Updates

Effective one-on-one meetings aren’t the best arena for sharing status updates. These can be shared in team meetings, or by using shared trackers. One-to-ones are for sharing everything except status updates—including feelings, feedback, challenges and focus areas.

12. Monitor Feedback Regularly

Towards the end of your meeting, ask your employee whether their outlook has changed, and if so, whether this is for better or worse following your conversation. By creating this baseline for every meeting, you make it easier for yourself to spot any red flags, track employee engagement, and identify any blind spots you may have.

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