One on one meetings: Their purpose and benefits
Improving one on one meetings could make a huge difference in the working lives of managers and reports alike. According to Leapsome’s Workforce Trends report, many employees consider half of their meetings “a waste of time”, and say that there’s no clear agenda for one out of every three meetings. Overall, our study shows that three in four workers want more feedback and guidance from team leaders — and that the current meeting culture is falling short, leaving employees with unmet growth needs.*
Flexible, remote, and hybrid working arrangements mean that many teams have fewer opportunities for in-person meetings where they see each other face to face. This makes regular and meaningful one on one meetings and check-ins more important than ever.
By taking an intentional, employee-centered approach, managers can learn how to conduct 1 on 1 meetings that are effective, productive, and supportive.
Our guide covers the benefits of 1 on 1 meetings with employees and how to keep them efficient. If you’re looking for a best-practice approach, we’ve also included questions you can use for inspiration.
Why are one on one meetings important?
One on one meetings are a valuable opportunity for regular, meaningful exchanges between two team members, usually a manager and their direct report. They provide a space for both participants to share feedback, discuss performance, identify potential issues, and proactively address challenges.
Having regular one on one manager meetings can boost engagement and strengthen work relationships. In a one on one conversation, individual team members can get the feedback and guidance they’re looking for and feel confident they’re valued by the company.
On the flip side, unstructured employee one on ones can leave both manager and report questioning the value of the meeting.
It’s true that a casual one to one check-in can be a great way to build relationships and make employees feel appreciated. However, for truly productive conversations that move the needle on big topics like team goals, employee performance, and career development, you’ll need to structure your discussions. Our Workforce Trends report showed that 90% of employees say that a clear meeting agenda makes meetings more productive.
Here are the key benefits of regular one to-one discussions:
- Quick and simple check-ins — It’s challenging to get updates during group meetings 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 fast and focused.
- Chance for private discussions — Meeting one on one gives reports the chance to share their opinions in a safe environment and discuss sensitive topics like compensation and promotion reviews.
- Build empathetic work relationships — Giving people your full attention shows your investment in them and helps you build trust.
- Foster a problem-solving mindset — When managers encourage their reports to bring up and discuss challenges, it helps uncover the root cause of issues and solve them faster, developing transparency and honesty within teams.
Frequent check-ins are also crucial for remote teams that have fewer contact points with colleagues and managers. According to a recent report, 15% of off-site workers feel isolated and 11% struggle to stay motivated. More opportunities to talk to managers can make employees feel more connected and involved.
For managers: How to run effective one on ones
All managers can benefit from support and guidance on how to run one on one meetings effectively — but it’s especially important if they’re new team leads, or if you’ve had recent workplace changes, like switching to a hybrid setup. Here are some tips for managers looking to improve their one on one conversations :
- Write some suggested topics and questions, and add them to the agenda so your direct report can come prepared.
- Share suggestions but ask open-ended questions to ensure the one on one meeting is a collaborative process.
- Prioritize active listening by paying attention to what employees say and acknowledging their points when you respond.
- Keep an open mind as you listen, as you may not understand the reasons behind recent challenges your direct report has experienced.
- Schedule regular meetings with remote employees to compensate for the lack of casual encounters — often, biweekly or weekly one on ones are a good idea.
- Consider time zones and timetables so you hold meetings when your direct reports are best able to focus.
“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
Dedicated people enablement software can guide managers on how to structure one on ones and make sure meetings are consistent across teams and departments.
Leapsome automatically sends meeting and performance review reminders to support leaders. With our tools, you can easily build shared agendas that integrate with learning and development plans, goals, performance analytics, and more, so managers and reports can use their time effectively. Once the meeting’s over, Leapsome summarizes and stores your meeting notes and action points so all team members can easily track ongoing discussions. That means there’s less risk of issues being forgotten about after the initial conversation.
🎯 Focus on what matters in meetings
Leapsome’s one on one meetings tool lets you automate cycles and centralize employee notes so participants aren’t side-tracked by organizational tasks.
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Topics to include in your one on one meeting agenda
Once your managers understand how to run effective one on one meetings, it’s time to show them what discussion points they should aim to cover.
Goals & OKRs
Ensure individual goals aren’t drifting off the map by using 1:1s to clarify any doubts about individual, team, and personal objectives. Discuss how your employee is progressing on their individual goals and take the time to reflect on wider organizational OKRs to show your direct report how their work contributes. As well as giving feedback around goal progress, listen to your direct report’s feelings about how things are going and decide on any necessary adjustments together. If your business uses goal management software like Leapsome, you’ll be able to integrate development goal tracking, OKRs, and more into the agenda for one on one meetings.
1:1s are a perfect opportunity for an ongoing feedback exchange. Managers can both give their input as well as ask employees how they can best support them and how their leadership, team dynamics, or company culture could be improved. When creating the one on one meeting agenda, team leads should take the time to consider their direct report’s preferred communication style. With employees who may not feel comfortable sharing direct opinions, they could try anonymous feedback options. For example, Leapsome’s instant feedback features let managers request specific insights from reports like “Are my one on one meetings useful? Could they be improved?”
One to one meetings with employees are a chance to find out how your reports want to grow and coach them through what they need to get there. For example, they might work in marketing but want to make a lateral career move into coding. Managers can also see if someone is struggling in one area, and help them find development opportunities to polish their skills.
Combining meeting tools with a competency framework can help team members see possible pathways through your organization so you can plot a career development course together.
Praise & recognition
Everybody deserves to have their efforts seen and 1:1s are a perfect setting for managers to remind reports that their work is valued. While public praise is powerful, research by Gallup shows recognition is most effective when it’s a blend of shared and private experiences. Encourage managers to use specific examples so employees know what to keep doing in the future.
“[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
12 impactful one on one meeting questions
We’ve put together our top best practice questions for managers to use as a starting point when planning one on ones. As every individual has different needs and preferences, it’s important to tailor your 1 on 1 conversation to the context, rather than using the phrases verbatim.
For managers: Questions to ask in one on ones with employees
Managers can add versions of these questions to their agenda for one on ones with employees. They can share them ahead of time so employees have a chance to explore their feelings and answer honestly and clearly.
- 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 work days?
- Which skills would you like to continue working on?
⚙️ Have your check-ins running like clockwork
Give your one on one meetings structure with our best practice template.
👉 Download our template
For employees: Questions to ask in one on one meetings with your manager
Team members may struggle to make the most of manager meetings if they’re shy, new to the workforce, or had bad experiences with previous employers. You can provide some sample employee one on one questions like those below to empower team members to ask questions and share their opinions.
It’s a good idea for direct reports to add points to the agenda for one on one meetings with managers. Taking this extra time can make discussions feel more productive and collaborative as the other participant has a chance to consider the topics and prepare for a meaningful conversation.
Managers can also offer team members positive reinforcement on their choice of talking points ahead of the meeting to alleviate any stress they may have about bringing up topics for discussion.
- 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?
How to address misconceptions about one on one meetings
Teams may be hesitant about scheduled one on one meetings if previous experiences left them feeling frustrated.
However, by establishing a clear format focused on accountability, growth, and two-way feedback, HR and management can lay the groundwork for one on ones that become a core part of how team leaders and reports collaborate.
Now that remote work and distributed teams are more common, regularly scheduled check-ins are even more crucial to stay aligned on work, foster belonging, and catch small issues before they grow.
Here are some tips for dealing with misconceptions or resistance from both employees and managers.
- Time constraints: Managers may have concerns about allocating an hour a week to each team member, especially when they’re responsible for multiple reports. Ensure there’s time in everyone’s schedules for check-ins and highlight the importance of 1:1s for catching issues before they escalate.
- Dedicated meetings: When teams work together closely, they may already spend a lot of time talking and underestimate the importance of regular individual meetings. However, research shows employees find private chats less challenging than group discussions. You could make one on one meetings with direct reports less frequent but emphasize the need for individual team members to have regular opportunities to share sensitive matters.
- Personal conversations: Some team leads may be conflict-averse and feel it’s better to deliver feedback less directly through group settings or written feedback. Suggest they hold one on ones in a more relaxed setting, like in the breakroom or outside, if there is a private spot. Remote teams could bring a cup of coffee and have a pet-friendly policy for 1:1 calls. Managers and employees alike may benefit from communication training to feel confident having candid, effective discussions. You can build out personalized learning paths for team members with Leapsome’s Learning module, and even roll out ready-made expert-backed courses from providers like Ethena in our learning marketplace.
How to avoid common pitfalls with one on one 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
Ineffective practices can cause team members to disengage from meetings or actively avoid speaking one on one with their managers. However, leaders may not even know their direct reports are feeling dissatisfied with their meeting culture and remain unaware of the mistakes they’re making.
Share these common mistakes with team leaders so they can avoid the pitfalls and conduct one on one meetings that employees want to attend:
1. Using 1:1s only as status update meetings
While it’s perfectly fine to discuss individual projects during weekly one on ones, it shouldn’t be the focus. If the discussion could be a group discussion or even an email, it may not be a productive use of time, which can frustrate employees.
Instead, managers should ask about each employee’s well-being, how they’re experiencing current projects, and what they need to feel supported. Just keep in mind that it’s easy for discussions to go down tangents, so team leaders should always guide them back to the core agenda points: making suggestions, flagging roadblocks, and discussing workload and aspirations.
To make work updates as relevant as possible in one on one meetings, managers can tie project questions on the agenda to check-ins around to development, performance, or well-being.
2. Skipping meetings
It can be tempting to cancel a one on one meeting when workload is high and there are other, seemingly more pressing priorities. However, it’s important to acknowledge the value of one on ones and honor your commitments when possible. This models a positive attitude to meetings for reports. If both parties don’t have many talking points, you could finish early but it’s best to avoid missing them altogether.
3. Having infrequent one on ones
Irregular meetings are less likely to help teams seek support and resolve issues. It’s often a good idea to set up recurring meetings so you’ll have a designated time to touch base. Aim to hold check-ins every one to two weeks and if work is always getting in the way, that’s a sign of issues with your workflow. To solve this, perhaps you need to reduce the number of reports per manager or have them delegate more tasks.
4. Lacking clarity
Great 1:1s aren’t spontaneous, they require preparation and planning. Individuals should feel confident writing up agenda points, and companies should look at organization-wide structures for one to ones, which may include training both managers and direct reports. Employees should know how one on ones work, why they’re essential, and their purpose so they can come to meetings with the right mindset and get the most out of them. Otherwise, they might treat one on ones as mere status updates and be less engaged with feedback.
The long-term benefits of one on ones
When you’ve mastered how to have effective 1 on 1 meetings, you can expect the following advantages over time:
- Increased productivity: 62% of businesses say strong meetings lead to extra efficiency. Operations run more smoothly because all teams understand expectations and have opportunities to ask managers for clarification and support.
- Time savings: Executives spend less time auditing their workforce as managers are already getting regular updates and documenting them.
- Greater transparency: If you encourage employees to regularly open up about their needs, you’ll get more honest insights you can use to improve the organization.
- Better performance reviews: Employees and managers get used to speaking frankly with one another. They feel comfortable giving each other feedback and conducting development-oriented performance reviews. They’ll also get better at asking the right performance review questions for employee development.
- More inclusivity: 74% of employees say they’d benefit from companies trying to communicate in the style that suits them. Having regular check-ins allows managers to understand their team members better and tailor their language and approach to each report.
- Improved soft skills: As 1:1s become standard procedure, everyone practices and gets better at communicating, listening, collaborating, and being open to (and aware of) others.
Leapsome empowers teams through one on one meetings
While one on one meetings are essential, they have to be productive, collaborative, and open experiences to help managers and employees benefit from them.
Leapsome’s Meetings module enables your team to have regular, in-depth discussions while respecting each other’s time. They can collaborate on a shared agenda to ensure the check-in covers the most critical points. Then managers can summarize notes and assign action items to ensure the meeting was helpful.
Leapsome saves managers time while empowering them to conduct one on one meetings with impact. Our Meetings module integrates with Reviews, Goals, Surveys, Learning and more. That means managers can easily prepare for meetings by accessing all the relevant performance, engagement, and development data in one place — keeping discussions focused and meaningful.
Because when employees and managers feel confident about sharing their opinions, you cultivate a culture of feedback, transparency, and trust.
🪞Make meetings a great time to reflect and a great reflection on your work culture
Leapsome’s people enablement tools let you automate meetings, collect meaningful data-driven insights, and share them effectively with employees.
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