How To Nail Your 1-on-1 Meetings

The consensus is clear – one of the most important tools of any manager’s toolkit is that of the 1-on-1 meeting.

However, according to a study with over 1’000 responses, only 58% of employees say that they leave their 1-on-1 meetings more motivated.

That’s obviously not good.

The recurring 1-on-1 meeting is supposed to be a way for managers to connect with each person reporting to them, get a sense of what they’re working on, where their priorities are, any obstacles that are in their way, share information they need to know, and (most importantly!) develop a relationship with them grounded in trust.

But it seems that a few things might be going wrong 42% of the time… And because I know you’re busy and want me to get right to the gist of it, here is what I see as the biggest pitfalls for these meeting:

  • The manager just shows up week after week with nothing to tell or report on
  • The manager regularly cancels the meetings when things get busy
  • The manager speaks for the majority of the meeting and interrupts the team members when they try to speak
  • The manager frequently criticizes ideas and efforts brought up and doesn’t give enough positive feedback for the things that are going well

Now, what makes 1-on-1 meetings effective instead is if…

  • You show up every week prepared with an agenda
  • You spend time giving them your full attention without interruption
  • You openly and transparently share information you know across the organization
  • You answer their questions without judgment
  • You consider their ideas and give them tons of positive recognition for the good work they’re doing

To help you run your 1-on-1 meetings as effective as possible, I have consolidated five best practices for you to follow.

Plus, for additional guidance, a list of great coaching questions and templates for your 1-on-1 conversation, click the link below to download The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for 1-on-1 Meetings.


Tip #1: Make your 1-on-1 meetings weekly

The question I get asked most often is about frequency. Should they be once a week? Every two weeks? Once a month? What’s the best practice?

For my money, a weekly 1-on-1 meeting is always your best bet. There are a few reasons for this:

  • It keeps everyone informed. Office gossip starts when communication is not clear, consistent, and transparent. Having individual time every week ensures the consistency piece.
  • It enhances accountability. If your team members know that you’re going to ask them about their progress each week, they’re more likely to make progress rather than waiting until a day or two before to start the next step of a project.
  • A lot can change in a week! Having the time regularly blocked on your calendar makes sure you have it set aside for when you need to connect.
  • We live in an instant gratification society, where any piece of information we want is available to us at a moment’s notice just by pulling out our cell phone. That makes more frequent communication even more important.
  • Finally, every employee should have the peace of mind to know that their boss makes individual face-time a priority. If their boss doesn’t care about them, then why should they give you their best every day?

So there are lots of great reasons to keep it once a week. But here’s the most common objection I hear:

I don’t have the time for weekly one-on-one meetings with all of my employees.

And my response is simple: We find time for things we care about and deem important. So find the time. If you can’t give everyone reporting to you 25 minutes each week, then one of these statements is true:

  • You’re managing too many people;
  • You’re not delegating enough of your own work down to free up your time;
  • You just don’t care.

The most important job you have as a manager is to take care of the people reporting to you so that they can perform to the best of their abilities. Your 1-on-1 meeting is critical to that. This is not a time for excuses. This is a time to figure it out.

Tip #2 Use a consistent agenda

Consistency is your best friend when it comes to 1-on-1 meetings. It lets your team know exactly what to expect each time so that they can prepare accordingly. It also sets you up to prep efficiently, not only prior to the chat but throughout the week. As items come up that you know members of your team need to know, just make a quick note to add it to the agenda.

Tip #3: Make it all about them

Give your employee the opportunity to drive their 1-on-1s. By doing so, you’ll give them a sense of ownership that encourages them to make the most out of their meetings. They’ll also build valuable skills around setting meetings and adhering to an agenda.

The most important thing you can do in your one-on-one meetings is to listen – put everything aside and give them your full attention (with two ears).

Tip #4 Make it forward-looking

When your employees see that you’re listening to them, you’ll develop the trust required to have them come to you when problems arise or when they need help. That’s a good thing! You want them to feel comfortable coming to you with problems.

When it happens, however, you want to avoid giving your team member the impression they are in trouble. Focus your attention on how to move forward. “This didn’t go how we wanted it to. What are you going to do about it? How can I help you? What do you need?” If your team members feel they are going to get in trouble, they won’t tell you when things are going wrong.

However, if they feel like you’re motivated to support their success, that will give both of you the opportunity to come together and brainstorm on the best next steps.

Tip #5 Keep track of what you discuss

Finally, throughout the meeting, you want to make sure you’re taking notes and you know what to follow up on in your next meeting. I suggest to use a pen and paper and not your computer to avoid getting distracted by alerts and notifications.

If you’re looking for agenda, preparation, and note taking templates, then make sure to download The Ultimate Cheat Sheet for 1-on-1 Meetings.

These simple tactics allow you to be fully present in the meeting and focused on your primary goal of supporting your team member’s performance. You may have a lot going on, but run these meetings well and it will be some of the most productive time you spend each week.

The other things you have going on will be waiting for you when it’s over, and you’ll have an engaged team member ready to help you achieve them!

If you know someone who would benefit from these tips and the downloadable guide, coaching questions, and templates, please share it along.

Until next time… lead with courage and care.


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