One-on-one (1:1) meetings are essential for managers and team leaders. These regular check-ins provide opportunities to build relationships, exchange feedback, align on goals, address problems early, and coach team members. However, without intention and structure, 1:1s can quickly devolve into status updates that feel like a waste of time.
In this article, we’ll explore tips and best practices to make your 1:1 meetings more meaningful, valuable, and effective both for you and your direct reports.
1. Set a regular rhythm and stick to it.
To begin, set a consistent cadence for your 1:1s, such as weekly or biweekly. Avoid canceling or rescheduling unless necessary. This consistency builds trust and shows your team that they are a priority. Consider scheduling 1:1s for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the employee’s seniority. Calendar invites should go out well in advance so everyone can prepare.
Related: Several Leaders Got Themselves in Trouble for Communication Blunders Last Year — Here’s How You Can Avoid Becoming One of Them.
2. Set an agenda, but leave room for exploration.
An agenda lends structure to the conversation and signals that this is an intentional meeting, not just a chitchat. Share the agenda ahead of time so you both have an opportunity to add discussion topics.
However, don’t pack the agenda too tightly or stick to it rigidly. Leave adequate space for open dialogue and for new issues to surface. Provide a rough time budget for each item to keep the conversation moving.
3. Make it a two-way dialogue.
The days of the boss lecturing an employee are gone. Today’s meetings should involve a balanced, two-way conversation between managers and team members. Come prepared with things you want to discuss, but let your employees freely share their views.
Aim for a ratio where your employee does 60-70% of the talking, and you do 30-40%. Listen attentively. Ask thoughtful follow-up questions. Make the other person feel heard.
Related: The Biggest Threat to Your Boundaries Isn’t Your Boss or Family — There’s Someone Else You Need to Face First
4. Discuss progress on goals
A key responsibility as a manager is supporting your team’s growth and development. So, discussing progress on professional development goals should be a standing 1:1 item.
Ask open-ended questions like:
- What areas are you focused on developing right now?
- What milestones have you hit since we last met?
- Where do you feel you’re struggling or need support?
Then, problem-solve collaboratively around obstacles. Help align opportunities with goals. And recognize progress!
Related: The Key to Having More Effective 1-on-1 Meetings With Your Employees
5. Give real-time feedback
The 1:1 meeting provides a set time and space for giving your direct feedback about their recent wins or opportunities for improvement. Don’t let things bottle up until the annual review!
Praise something specific you saw the employee do well, like how they handled a difficult client conversation. Or come up with a creative solution.
Address areas needing improvement through two-way dialogue. Just make sure to…
- Focus comments on specific behaviors within the employee’s control
- Explain the business impact
- Suggest alternatives, offer resources/support
Feedback should inspire, not discourage. The goal is positive growth.
Related: Quarterly 1-1s Are a Waste of Time
6. Do lightweight check-ins
Quick check-ins on performance across key areas make the feedback less intense or surprising down the line.
For example, ask on a scale of 1-10:
- How are you feeling about hitting your goals this quarter?
- How confident are you feeling in your role right now?
- How effectively do you feel we’re communicating as a team?
There’s no need to review every priority. Just sample a few topic areas to take the pulse.
7. Make it employee-driven
The employee’s goals and concerns should drive most of the conversation. As the manager, your role is to listen, ask probing questions, and remove obstacles.
Let your employees share what they want to talk about, not just what’s on your pre-planned agenda. Prioritize giving guidance, not advice. Try to enable their development through growth opportunities.
8. Conclude each meeting with next steps
Always conclude the meeting by summarizing key takeaways and next steps. Recap any feedback and guidance given. Review action items and accountability on both sides.
Doing this ensures alignment and prevents losing momentum from meeting to meeting. It also reinforces shared commitment to growth.
Some best practices for closing the loop:
- I will hold myself accountable for ____.
- Over the next month, please focus on ____.
- Let’s meet again on ____ to review progress.
9. Follow up between meetings
The magic happens between meetings when action steps get implemented. So, follow-ups between 1:1s help maintain alignment and address obstacles more immediately.
Send a quick email the next day highlighting the following:
- Key takeaways
- Next steps you committed to
- Any resources or introductions requested
Ask how you can support goal progress and remove barriers. This shows you truly have their back.
10. Make space for relationship-building
At its heart, 1:1s are about the relationship between manager and employee. Technical skills can be trained, but authentic connections take dedicated time. So, don’t underestimate the value of personal rapport building. Leave room for some water cooler conversation about interests, families, weekends, etc. Show you care as a fellow human being.
Strengthening your interpersonal bond will increase this person’s loyalty, trust, communication and investment in your shared success.
11. Track metrics to improve
Consistently gather feedback to assess the relative health and effectiveness of your 1:1 meetings over time. Anonymous pulse surveys with ratings across factors like the following can quickly capture useful data:
- Meeting consistency
- Trust/psychological safety
- Clear communication
- Progress discussions
- Development support
Track ratings quarterly to spot trends. Declines may indicate relationship or communication issues needing attention.
You could also measure performance metrics before and after launching more structured 1:1s. Look for employee engagement, retention, productivity, or promotions improvements.
Consistent, high-quality meetings with employees enable their growth, innovation, and performance over the long run. Similarly, investing in a high-quality retail POS system like Hana Retail benefits you through optimized operations, better customer service, and sustained revenue gains. If you’re a retailer seeking those same benefits, sign up for Hana Retail POS free now.
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