Regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are crucial for ensuring that employees feel valued and supported at work. They are a key ingredient as part of a holistic people management system.
As a manager, your ability to successfully coach the members of your team will be a major factor in the overall performance and engagement of your team. You owe each person that reports to you the time and attention required to coach them to be successful in their roles. Conducting effective one-on-one meetings is how you improve the communication lines between the two of you to achieve this.
For a full primer on why one-on-one meetings are so important, we suggest that you read our guide, “Meeting With Purpose: The Unique Benefits of 1-on-1 Meetings”. To recap, there are five high-level reasons why this meeting format holds such importance:
- They make checking in quick and simple
- They provide a unique opportunity for private discussion
- They foster empathetic work relationships
- They make employees feel valued
- They encourage a problem-solving mindset
With one-on-one meetings carrying so much weight in terms of the long-term impact they can have for your team’s success, it’s understandable why so many managers find themselves wondering how to run effective one-on-one meetings.
Whether you’re new to management or just looking for a few tips on how to best structure your one-on-one meetings, this guide is for you. There is a free one-one-one meeting template available for download below as well.
What should be discussed during a one-on-one meeting?
While every manager might have their own management style, there are certain “pillars” that make a great one-on-one meeting.
In her excellent book, ‘The making of a manager’, Facebook VP Julie Zhuo highlights 4 important discussion topics for managers and direct reports.
- Discuss top priorities
- Calibrate what “great” looks like
- Share feedback
- Reflect on how things are going
You might not cover aspects of all four in every meeting but if your meetings regularly contain discussion points oriented around these pillars then you can rest assured that you are having impactful conversations.
Tip: if the thought of having difficult conversations and sharing critical feedback with your reports sounds daunting, check out our helpful guide and cheatsheet on how to give feedback in 5 steps.
Great managers are comfortable in supporting their reports with everything from their long-term professional goals through to having compassionate conversations about aspects of their personal life that might be impacting their performance.
To dive further into this, in his aptly named blog post ‘One on One’, Ben Horowitz, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist and former successful entrepreneur says:
“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.”
Two important things to note from this are that it’s best-practice to avoid using one-on-one meetings as a chance to catch up on the progress of ongoing projects. They are a time to discuss all of the topics that you would not otherwise have an allocated time for during regular day-to-day business.
And secondly, the important distinction that the meeting is owned by your report and not you, the manager. While naturally, you might have things to raise during the meeting, the report should set the agenda and managers should be mostly listening and coaching.
With all of this in mind, how can you create the right environment to conduct effective one-on-one meetings?
How to schedule one on one meetings
As a manager, you should set up a recurring 1-on-1 meeting with all of your direct reports from week 1 onwards.
As a rule, one hour every week is a good cadence; bi-weekly at the very least. This provides a sufficient amount of time at a high enough frequency to build a strong relationship and cover important topics.
An email template for your first one-on-one with a direct report
Bearing in mind the ground rules of what should be included in an effective one-on-one meeting, below is an example of the email that you could send out to your reports to schedule the meeting and to set the expectations.
The email serves three purposes:
- To agree on a day and time that you will meet each and every week
- To set some expectations with your report on what they should expect from the meeting.
- To reiterate how much you’re looking forward to working with them.
Ultimately, you’re aiming to build trust and to make them feel comfortable.
Subject: Scheduling our 1-on-1 meetings
Hi [name of report],
Really looking forward to working with you.
I would like to set up a recurring 1-on-1 meeting for us to get together at the same time each week.
So that you know what to expect, here are some details on how I like to run 1-on-1 meetings:
- Our 1-on-1 meetings are your meetings. They are a chance for us to speak about any topics that are on your mind, give each other open feedback, discuss your career development and anything else you would like. Their purpose is to help you to be successful in your role so whatever would help you achieve this would make for great topics for these meetings.
- As we will be working closely together on projects and will have other meeting formats where we will speak about the progress of those projects, our 1-on-1 meetings are not meant to be status update meetings. Our 1-on-1s should be for all the topics that we would not otherwise find time to talk about.
- As they are your meetings, you should own the agenda for the meeting. We will use [Google docs or insert name of software tool] to keep track of our agenda, notes, and action items each week. It’s always helpful to have the agenda sent over the day before the meeting when possible.
We should block out 1 hour for the meeting to give us enough time to cover important topics each week. Here are some time slots that work for me. Let me know which time you would prefer or if none of these work for you then please feel free to suggest alternative times.
- [Insert day] at [insert time]
- [Insert day] at [insert time]
- [Insert day] at [insert time]
Once we’ve agreed on the time, I’ll send over a calendar invitation.
Looking forward to our discussions and once again, really looking forward to working with you!
Once you and your report have mutually agreed on the time that the meeting will occur each week, you should then make sure that it is scheduled in the calendar.
A one-on-one meeting calendar invitation template
Head to your business calendar app and create a new meeting to make sure that the time is scheduled for both you and your report.
Event Name & Participants
The name of the event is not what’s important here. The act of having the time blocked in both of your calendars so that you make a commitment to each other that this time each week is dedicated to your one-on-one meeting is what is most important.
Name the event something that is clear and concise. “1:1 - [your name] & [report’s name]:” is usually sufficient. This way, both participants can easily recognise the meeting when glancing at their calendar. (Don’t forget to add your report’s email address to the calendar event so that they receive the invitation.)
Date & Time
Set up the calendar event for the day and time that you have previously agreed. And remember to set it up as a recurring event.
While you may wish to get out of the office occasionally for your 1-on-1 meetings for a “walk and talk” (hint: the nearest coffee shop is a good destination), usually the location should be set so that you both know where to meet. If you need to book an internal meeting room, you should do this in advance so that you have a space to meet every week.
Managing a remote team or just meeting remotely with your team member? It’s also a good idea to have a permanent Google Meet or Zoom meeting link (or whichever video conferencing software your company uses) in the calendar invitation so that you can both easily join the meeting without having the bother of setting up a new link for the meeting each time.
Even if you usually plan on meeting in-person, it’s worthwhile having a video conferencing link in the calendar invitation so that on the odd occasion when you do need to meet remotely, you’ve already solved the problem of how the meeting will occur.
It’s also a great idea to include the URL of the Google doc that you are using for the meeting agenda and notes so that you both have easy access to the relevant documents when the time for the meeting comes around. If you’re using Google docs, just ensure that the privacy settings are set up so that only the two of you have sharing access to the document.
If you’re using a meetings tool, place the URL for the tool in place of the Google docs URL.
A template for your first one-on-one meeting with an employee
While your ongoing one-on-one meetings will likely cover many topics, as mentioned above you should find that they have some sort of “rhythm” to them with recurring themes.
However, your first one-on-one meeting will need to have a different flavor to it. If you’re the manager and it is your first time working together with your new report, it is likely that you will need time to get to know each other and that’s why the first one-on-one is particularly important.
At the start of the first meeting it is always best to verbally recap the format for the meetings and the expectations that you laid out in your invitation email just in case there are any open questions or concerns. Once this has been covered, you can jump into an open conversation. Given that it is the first meeting, you should have many great questions prepared to keep the conversation moving.
There are two types of questions that will be most useful in your first one-on-one.
- “Getting to know you” questions. These will help break down the barriers a little to kick off the relationship on the right foot.
- Questions to help you understand the lay of the land. These questions will help you as the manager get a feel for the status quo.
Questions to ask your employee in your first one-on-one meeting
- How did you come to be working at [company name]?
- What do you enjoy most about working here?
- What do you enjoy most about the specific role that you do?
- What is currently going well (and why)?
- What is not currently going well (and why)?
- If you could only change one thing, what would it be?
- What are your expectations of me as your manager?
- What are your ambitions? Where do you see yourself in the next year/3 years/10years?
- What should I know about you and how you like to work that will help us work well together?
As the manager, it goes without saying that you must listen intently to the answers that your report gives and you should also take notes. That is providing that your report is happy for you to do so and that they are not telling you anything that is “off the record”.
This first meeting will set the tone of your relationship moving forward so it’s important to kick-off on the right foot.
One-on-one meeting template and questions
If you’re using a simple Google doc to track your meetings, here is an easy-to-use format.
Ensure that you have the date and time of the meeting recorded. It might also be useful to make a note of the location where the meeting takes place; especially if the meeting is not in the regular location. If you’re ever reading back through notes, sometimes having a reminder of the physical location can jog your memory to remember details from that particular day.
You’ll want to create sections where both participants can add agenda items and talking points, take notes, and record action items from the meeting.
Then, when it comes to the next meeting, simply push all of the previous meeting’s contents onto the next page by using a page break. You’ll then have a neat record of every meeting that has taken place over time, all in the one document.
Of course, if you’re using a software tool such as Leapsome’s One-on-One Meetings, all of the above will all be handled for you within the tool.
A record of all of your one-on-one meetings will be particularly helpful when it comes to conducting performance reviews. You’ll have an extensive list of all the topics that you have discussed in the weeks leading up to the review.
One-on-one meeting questions for managers to ask their reports
In terms of discussion topics for your one-on-one meeting, here is a non-exhaustive list of questions and prompts that you could ask your employees. Simply insert the questions you would like to ask into the agenda ahead of a given meeting. You might even choose to have some of them as recurring questions that you discuss every week.
- How are you doing?
- What's on your mind this week?
- Any admin items (e.g. holidays) that we should discuss?
- How confident do you feel with where the company is going?
- Do you have any questions about strategy?
- Do you need any additional input from me?
- What are the key achievements since the last meeting?
- How are you progressing towards your goals?
- What are the current roadblocks?
- What's one thing you learned since we last talked?
- What has challenged you since we last talked?
- What has gone well since we last talked?
- What feedback do you have for me?
- Any interactions you'd like to discuss?
- How can I best support you between now and the next time we meet?
- What progress have you made on your career goals?
- Which skills would you like to continue working on?
- What are this week's top priorities?
- Anything we should discuss next time?
📥 Free download: Get our free one-on-one meeting template and questions in a handy Google doc. Download here.
As a reminder, the overall agenda of the meeting should be owned by your report. These questions are designed to help you stimulate the discussion so that you support your report and help them be their best.
Leapsome’s Built-In 1-on-1 Meeting Templates & Prompts
To make 1-on-1 meetings that are conducted with Leapsome more efficient and easier to set up, we’ve built-in a range of questions and prompts that can easily be added to your agenda template with one click.
These prompts will be particularly useful for all managers looking to create a structure with their reports and to have impactful conversations.
You will find these meeting questions within the meeting settings. Clicking “Show Ideas” above the agenda structure will reveal the list of suggestions. From this list, simply click “Add” on any of the suggestions to have them automatically added to your agenda as a section.
The suggestions are grouped by the following categories:
- Next Steps
We also allow for the administrators of your company’s Leapsome account to add additional suggestions. If there are items added by the admins, these will be displayed in their own category with labelled, “Recommended by your team”.
This way, if the company has internal best-practices, they can be recommended to every manager to create a level of consistency in the 1-on-1s that are happening across the business.
Interested in getting started with Leapsome’s 1-on-1 meetings tool for you and your team? Request a free demo here.