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A Step-By-Step Guide To Better One-On-One Meetings

The one-on-one meeting is one of the most important tools you have as a manager.

It’s the best way for managers and their employees to discuss issues, develop a relationship, and make sure an employee’s goals are being met.

In this guide, I’ll break down everything you need to know about the one-on-one and I’ll give you some helpful tools to use.

First, some background, what exactly is a one-on-one and why do you need them?

A one-on-one is exactly what its name sounds like. An employee and their manager having a private, one-on-one discussion about whatever is on the employee’s mind.

An important thing to note: This is not a status update meeting. Don’t treat it as such. There are plenty of other opportunities to check up on work progress. This is a discussion to make sure the employee is happy.

The most important thing for a manager to do is to make the employee feel comfortable being open and honest with you.

Key Things To Know

  • Once a month for 60 minutes with each of your employees
  • Take notes! Download the template right here
  • Have key questions prepared (more on this later)
  • Listen more than you talk
  • Don’t ask for status updates, ask about their happiness

One-On-One Meeting Agenda

One-on-ones should be a recurring meeting, once a month, and last at least an hour.

I feel that a one-on-one should last an hour at minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel

That might seem like a lot of time to dedicate to one task, but it’s such a powerful way to increase engagement and spot issues before they become major problems.

From a high-level, here is how you should structure the one-on-one:

one on one meeting agenda

  1. Informal Catch Up

    Start your meeting with about 10 minutes of informal catch up. The point of this part is to make your employee feel as comfortable as possible. It’s a nice, light way to start off the meeting, and shows employees that you genuinely care about them.

    You can follow up on something that was brought up in a previous one-on-one (another reason taking notes is so important) or just ask how life is going outside of work.

  2. Employee’s Concerns

    This is where you listen more than you speak. Block about 20 minutes for this part, but if this goes longer, don’t cut the employee off.

    It’s during this block of time that you should encourage employees to share whatever is on their minds.

    One pro-tip for this part of the meeting is to pause for 3-4 seconds before responding to what they just said. This allows them to dive deeper into what they were just saying.

    People have a natural tendency to want to fill that silence, so you can use this to your advantage.

    PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer describes it perfectly:

    “If you resist the temptation to respond too quickly to the answer, you’ll discover something almost magical. The other person will either expand on what he’s already said or he’ll go in a different direction. Either way, he’s expanding his response, and you get a clear view into his head and heart.”

  3. Your Notes And Comments

    If the employee you’re chatting with doesn’t have much to say, you can share things that have been on your mind or use this as an opportunity to discover their career aspirations.

    Every now and then, you’ll need some questions to get the conversation started. Here are a few good examples of questions you can use.

    • If you had one suggestion for us to improve, what would it be?
    • What’s the #1 problem with our organization?
    • What do you like the least about working here?
    • If you were me, what changes would you make?
    • What do you think is the least useful feature in our product?
    • What’s the biggest marketing opportunity that we should be doing?
    • Are you happy working here?
    • What do you think are your 3 biggest strengths?
    • What do you love about your job?
    • What gets you upset at work?
    • What part of your job would you like to do less of?
    • What makes for a good day at work?
  4. Action Planning

    Take 10 minutes at the end of the meeting to come up with an action plan based on what was discussed that you can follow up on the following month.

    Jason Evanish, who has written a lot about one-on-ones sums up the follow up perfectly:

    None of the things you talk about in one on ones matter if you don’t follow through and take action on them. These two questions will ensure you always follow through with the important things you discuss in your one on ones:

    • What can I hold you accountable for next time we talk?
    • What can I be accountable to you for the next time we talk?
Free Bonus: Download the one-on-one template to make your meeting better.

Tips For Better One-On-One Meetings

These types of meetings can be tough, especially for new managers if they have no idea how to handle this. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re having the most effective one-on-one.

  1. Remember It’s The Employee’s Meeting

    One of the most important tips is that it’s the employee’s meeting, not yours. While this might seem subtle, it’s important to change your frame of mind to focus on the employee.

    The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting. This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.Ben Horowitz

  2. Ask For Feedback During The Meeting

    As a leader, you should always be looking to grow. Use this opportunity to have an open and honest discussion about how you could be a better leader for them.

    Feel free to prompt them to get the discussion going with yes/no questions about leadership behaviours you have. For example: “When I was criticizing your work, was there anything I did that bothered you?”

  3. Ask Employees For An Agenda 24 Hours Before

    Ask employees to send you an agenda of what you guys should be talking about 24 hours before the meeting itself.

    This is good for two reasons:

    1. It helps prepare the employee for the meeting
    2. It helps you guide the discussion
  4. Write Everything Down

    You should be aggressively taking notes during your one-on-ones. The key reason for this is that at the next one-on-one, you should look back at your notes from the previous one and follow up.

If you and your team are brand new to one-on-ones, you can send them an email in advance explaining the process to them.

Here’s an email template you can feel free to use:

Hi Jacob,
I’m considering having monthly one-on-ones with you and the rest of the team. The purpose of these one one ones is to get more feedback from you and give you a place where we can talk about anything that’s on your mind.
I was thinking we could have our first one on Thursday, March 3rd at 11am. We should ideally then schedule them every first Thursday of the month at 11am, to make sure we never miss one.
If you have any questions, please let me know.

One-on-ones have had an incredible impact at Officevibe ever since we’ve implemented them. They allow managers and employees to be aligned, talk about growth, and get to the bottom of issues before it’s too late.

Remember that one-on-ones are your best opportunity to discover what’s on an employee’s mind. It’s a chance to have a private, informal chat about what they like and don’t like.

They can be a powerful tool for increasing engagement on your team.

Free Bonus: Download the one-on-one template to make your meeting better.

Do You Conduct One-On-Ones?

Any tips to share with us? Let us know in the comments below!

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