The purpose of 1:1 (one-on-one) meetings — with example questions
“[I]t’s simply not the case that all managers are holding regular 1:1s. This is a cardinal sin. 1:1s are quiet, focused collaboration time for employees and bosses to connect.
It’s also the most important chance for you to hear from your employee, and it’s their time, not yours.”
― Kim Scott in Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
The primary purpose of regular 1:1 meetings is to coach employees and help them do their jobs as best they can.
1:1 meetings make a huge difference to the working lives of managers and reports alike: According to Gallup, employees who have regular 1:1 meetings with their managers are 3x (!) more likely to be engaged at work.
Even as we hope to approach a post-pandemic era, companies are embracing more flexible cultures. But this also means not seeing your reports face to face — making regular 1:1 check-ins with remote employees even more crucial for engagement and alignment.
Keep reading to find out why you should have 1:1 meetings — and how to keep them efficient. (If you're looking for a best-practice approach to setting up your own 1:1 meetings. Take a look at our one-on-one meeting template.)
Why are 1-on-1 meetings important?
- 1-on-1 meetings are a valuable opportunity for regular, meaningful exchange between two people within an organization (most commonly a manager and a direct report).
- They provide a space for both participants to share feedback, discuss performance and identify roadblocks.
- Having regular 1-on-1s with your reports is known to boost engagement and productivity, and strengthen work relationships.
- 1-on-1s are ideal for approaching current challenges with a problem-solving mindset and can spur deep, creative thinking between team members.
🎯 Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning.
Learn how Leapsome empowers managers and employees in 1-on-1 meetings!
5 reasons to have 1:1 meetings with your reports
1. 1:1s make checking in quick & simple
Group meetings are often set up to exchange updates from each team member. But it can be hard to do that in practice when there are many people involved; some speak more than others, and individual updates can lead to tangents. 1:1s make the check-in process quick, attentive, and clear.
2. 1:1s provide a unique opportunity for private discussion
In some organizations, employees and managers rarely get the chance to talk in private — and that is an engagement and growth killer. Regular 1:1s allow even shy employees to share their aspirations, concerns, and ideas in a safe environment. What’s more, 1:1s enable more balanced, mutually active conversations than big meetings. They also provide opportunity for discussing more sensitive topics such as compensation and promotion reviews
3. 1:1s foster empathetic work relationships
According to studies, communication effectiveness rests on the ability to coordinate joint attention, which becomes far easier when speaking alone in a pair. Giving people your full attention shows your investment in them and helps you build an empathetic work relationship.
4. 1:1s make employees feel valued
In good 1:1s, an employee leads the conversation while their manager mostly listens. As a result, direct reports grow confident that they matter and are valued.
5. 1:1s encourage a problem-solving mindset
When managers encourage their reports to bring up and discuss challenges, it helps uncover the root cause of problems and solve them much faster, honing transparency and honesty within teams. Problem-solving also stimulates deep, creative thinking between team members.
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1-on-1 meetings: tips for managers
If you’re a manager who’s new to 1:1s, keep these magic bullet points in mind the next time you have a meeting with your reports:
- Bring a sense of curiosity and openness with you.
- Have a problem-solving attitude — but keep it collaborative. Share suggestions and create a space where people can find solutions together.
- Ask questions instead of telling people what to do.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Leave any blaming attitude out the door (better yet, get rid of that altogether).
“Beware of management maxims that stop information from flowing freely in your company.
For example, consider the old management standard: ‘Don’t bring me a problem without bringing me a solution.’ What if the employee cannot solve an important problem?”
— Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
Topics to cover in a 1:1 meeting
Now that you understand the purpose of 1:1 meetings, let’s look at what you should talk about when you host one.
Goals & OKRs
Don’t expect team goals to run on autopilot. Ensure individual goals aren’t drifting off the map and use 1:1s to clarify any doubts about the current OKR cycle.
1:1s are a perfect opportunity for an ongoing feedback exchange. This means that, as a manager, you should also ask for feedback and find out how you can best support your report. This includes requesting feedback on your 1:1s — are they useful? Could they be improved?
What if an employee works in marketing but wants to learn to code? Or someone is struggling in one area, but you could help them find a course to polish their skills? Find out how your reports want to grow and coach them through what they need to get there.
Praise & recognition
Everybody deserves to have their efforts seen. And 1:1s are a perfect setting to remind your reports that you value their work.
Questions for 1:1 meetings with your reports
- If there was just one thing you could change about our organization, what would it be and why?
- What’s one thing you learned since we last talked?
- What has challenged you since we last talked?
- What do you think our product is missing? Do you have any ideas to make it better?
- How do you feel during your workdays?
- Which skills would you like to continue working on?
🚀 Download our best-practice 1:1 meeting template to run your next meeting smoothly!
Employee corner: Questions for 1:1 meetings with your manager
- I’m having trouble with my responsibilities because I’m struggling with personal issues. Could you help me think of ways to balance my workload while I navigate this situation?
- I’ve always wanted to be a mentor to other employees. Now that we have a new sales hire, could I take on the responsibility of training them?
- I’m not sure [colleague] and I are compatible as work partners for this project. Do you think I could do more independent work?
- I feel like I’m spending too much time on this project, and my other tasks are being neglected. Is there a more efficient way for me to contribute?
Common misconceptions about 1:1 meetings
🤔 Unsure managers think: I don’t know how I feel about giving up my time to 1:1s. I can’t afford to lose one hour a week with three or four different employees!
⭐️ Clued-up managers know: It’s normal to worry about 1:1s taking up time. We’ve all sat through pointless meetings, and having several appointments can feel stressful. But in the long run, 1:1s save heaps of time by anticipating issues, encouraging accountability, and strengthening professional relationships.
🤔 Unsure managers think: I see my employees at the office every day. Can’t I just catch up with them then?
⭐️ Clued-up managers know: “Conferences That Work” author Adrian Segar — who describes himself as a designer and facilitator of “participation-driven meetings that don’t suck” — shares the following:
Think of the most important conversation you ever had in your life. Take your time — I’m not going to ask you what it was about. How many other people took part in your conversation? (...)
The most common answer is ‘one,’ followed by 2-3, with a few people reporting small group numbers. No one has yet reported a most-important conversation with ten or more people.”
In other words, if you want to have any kind of significant, impactful conversation with your employees, make an effort to meet with them in a 1:1 (described by tech investor and executive Keith Rabois as “high-leverage activities.”
🤔 Unsure managers think: I feel nervous about having a personal conversation with my reports. What do I say? Where do I even begin?
⭐️ Clued-up managers know: 1:1s are nothing to fear. Just come prepared and set up an agenda in advance, with talking points and open-ended questions. Remember: You’re meeting to support your report. Big bonus: Your conversation skills will improve dramatically the more 1:1s you have!
🚀 Top tip: If meeting in person, why not have a 1:1 outside? Walking and talking is relaxing and makes it easier to have a candid conversation.
1:1 meetings done right: the long-term benefits
Now that we know how 1:1s benefit individuals, let’s look at how they influence the organization. What does a culture of 1:1s do for companies?
- The company runs a lot more smoothly because all teams and employees understand expectations; as soon as priorities become muddled, direct reports use 1:1s to ask their managers for clarification and support.
- Executives spend less time auditing their workforce because managers are already getting regular, honest updates from their teams.
- Employees and managers get used to speaking frankly with one another. They feel comfortable giving each other feedback and conducting development-oriented performance reviews. Take a look at Leapsome’s guide for the best performance review questions for employee development.
- Consistent 1:1s remind employees what’s expected of them throughout the year. Performance reviews then become natural round-ups of the discussions held in 1:1s.
- As employees are regularly encouraged to be open about their needs, managers can set up the best conditions for teams to produce quality work year-round. The office has a good atmosphere because no one feels undervalued or overlooked.
- Interpersonal skills improve. Even when personalities clash, employees can discuss it privately before resentment builds up.
- As 1:1s become standard procedure, everyone’s soft skills improve. Employees get better at communicating, listening, collaborating, and being open to (and aware of) others.
4 bad practices for 1:1 meetings
“People complain a lot about meetings. Unfortunately, I haven’t discovered a more high-bandwidth, high-leverage way of sharing knowledge than a face-to-face meeting. What I think actually bothers people is bad meetings.”
— David Lynch, Senior Director of Engineering at Intercom
1. Using 1:1s as status update meetings
While it’s perfectly fine to discuss individual projects, as needed, during 1:1s, you shouldn’t make work updates your focus. If your entire meeting could be held just as easily with an open door — or even on Slack! — you’re probably not delving deep enough. If you’re a manager, ask about your employee’s well-being, how they’re experiencing current projects, and what they need to feel supported. If you’re a report, this is your chance to make suggestions, flag roadblocks, and be honest about your workload and aspirations.
2. Skipping meetings
It can be tempting to cancel a 1:1 meeting, but it’s important to acknowledge the value of your 1:1s. If managers don’t take 1:1s seriously, why should their reports? Shorten 1:1s if both parties don’t have many talking points — but resist the urge to cancel these meetings.
3. Having infrequent 1:1s
The quickest way to make 1:1s a waste of time is not to run them regularly. Aim to meet every 1-2 weeks; if work is always getting in the way, maybe it’s time to assess your organizational infrastructure (i.e., reducing the number of direct reports per manager and delegating tasks).
4. Lacking clarity
Great 1:1s don’t happen “just like that” — they need preparation and planning. On an individual level, it means writing up a simple agenda before each meeting. On a company level, it means training your teams to know how 1:1s work, why they’re essential, and their purpose. If employees don’t know that 1:1s are really about them and managers think 1:1s are mere status update meetings, they don’t understand the purpose of 1:1s.
Leapsome empowers managers & employees in 1-on-1 meetings
Collaborate on a shared agenda, take notes, and assign action items to have an effective and productive meeting of any kind.
Collaborate on an agenda before the meeting begins
Build a structure that fits your meeting format and add talking points ahead of the meeting. Automatically receive a copy of the agenda in the run-up to your session via email, Slack, or Microsoft Teams.
Summarize takeaways & assign action items
Take notes with ease and add comments under talking points to track discussions and decisions.
Keep unresolved talking points in sight, access the entire history of past meeting notes, and assign action items to individual team members.
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Ready for the best 1:1 meetings?
If you’re keen to start your journey with 1:1 meetings, we’ve got you covered. Avoid getting lost in weekly paper trails and email threads with Leapsome’s easy-to-use software for 1:1 meetings. With customizable 1:1 agenda templates, rolling talking points, automated reminders, and more, you (and everyone in your company) can have productive, well-structured, high-leverage meetings.
What questions should I ask in a 1-on-1 meeting?
1-on-1 meetings are a time for checking in with your employees. Questions can focus on personal well-being, development, goals, and challenges they might be facing. If you need help finding great questions to ask in your 1-on-1 meetings, we created a best-practice template that will help you.
What are 1:1 meetings for?
1:1 meetings allow you to have more in-depth, meaningful discussions with your reports. We recommend running them every week (between managers and each of their direct reports) to address progress, feedback, and challenges, and to foster empathetic work relationships.
What do you talk about in a one-on-one meeting?
A one-on-one meeting is designed as a time for direct reports to speak openly about various topics. You should encourage your reports to decide on the talking points for the meeting agenda. Most one-on-one meetings focus on roadblocks, goals, and feedback, but you should also discuss employee well-being, career aspirations, and learning opportunities.