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A Guide to One-on-One Meetings

one on one meetings


One-on-one meetings with direct reports are one meeting to keep on your calendar and not reschedule.

Regardless of whether everything is running smoothly, or if your company is in a transition period or struggling through difficulties, one-on-one meetings are important. 

One-on-one meetings can be tricky. The value can feel elusive in the blur of daily life and reacting to constantly changing needs and time pressures.

How can you avoid wasting both your time and the time of your employees?

If you are going to put anything on your calendar, it needs to have a multiplicative effect on your ROI. When done correctly, one-on-one meetings pay off in both the short and the long term.

One-on-one meetings cultivate the manager-employee relationship, establish a healthy culture where employees feel both seen and heard. You can utilize these meetings to encourage your employees to become their best selves and help them to make it happen.

Conducting regular recurring one-on-one meetings enhances performance, productivity, and helps teams tackle roadblocks in real-time.

Management and leadership is a constant balancing act and it often can feel like you put off important connections for the sake of what seems like top priorities at the time. 

Learn how you can leverage your one-on-one meetings in a way that can actually help you and your employees to better keep up with those tasks and priorities and to expand the value of that employee relationship. 

Get the most out of your one-on-one meetings. Leveraging your one-on-one time has huge benefits, not just for your team, but also for yourself. 

It’s a creative game. 

Design a conversation that can move the needle in the future. Create clarity, transparency, accountability, and empowerment that sets up your employee, your team, and ultimately your company for success.

What is the Purpose of a One-on-One Meeting?

The purpose of one-on-ones is to encourage engagement. Engagement of both the employee, your direct report, and also you as a manager. Your goal is to guide your employees on their journey to success. Success, not just for you and for your team and for the company, but success for them as well.

And if you are a direct report and your manager is not having this one-on-one, you can certainly steer the meeting in that direction and request it. 

When this is done correctly, one-on-one meetings pay off in both the short and the long term. It cultivates the manager-employee relationship. It establishes a healthy company culture where employees feel both seen and heard, where they feel valued for living in their zone of genius, where they know that this organization is one where they can become even more their best self, and where you are their partner in helping to make that happen.

The one-on-one enhances performance, productivity, and it will help you to tackle roadblocks in real-time and see issues coming from a mile away. And we all know the issues that destroy companies are not just tactical, it’s so often personal.

What to Avoid During a One-on-One Meeting

Here are some big pitfalls to avoid, many of which are present in today’s corporate culture. 

  1. Avoid missing/canceling meetings

Week after week, the meeting gets pushed back, it gets shortened, it gets canceled.

One-on-ones are meaningful to your employees because they’re a touchpoint they can count on with you. Maintaining your meetings helps your team to feel like they matter to you and that you are a proxy for the entire organization. 

Regardless of whether everything is running smoothly, or if you’re restructuring and everything feels like a total mess at the time, it’s really important not to cancel a recurring one-on-one meeting. 

Take that time to focus on individual growth. Foster a healthy and engaged employee mindset. Address unresolved issues on a recurring basis before it’s too late. 

If you keep canceling the one-on-ones, you will find out about deep issues once they’re unlikely to improve on their own. Recurring meetings help you get ahead of problems. 

  1. Avoid using one-on-ones for status reports 

One-on-ones are an opportunity to discuss where the employee is and where they want to be in terms of their talents, their strengths, their skillset, their mindset.

You can take this opportunity to raise their morale and promote a motivated, productive, and proactive mindset by connecting their current role to their future life goals.

Yes, I said, life goals, not just career goals. 

You want to connect their role, which is something that exists in the organization, to them as an individual. You want to help them to identify the ways that their life path intersects with what is here and best for the organization. When those two are aligned, you’ve just found your sweet spot. 

You don’t want to use one-on-one meetings for tactical updates. If it could be sent in an email or OKR tracking tool or a Slack message, this meeting is not the place for it. You don’t need what could be read in the document to show up in a one-on-one meeting. 

A one-on-one meeting is valuable face-to-face time; use it to build a relationship.

  1. Avoid giving low-quality feedback

When you are giving feedback, provide it in a considered, precise, and actionable way. 

When you communicate in a way that is constructive, you recognize how empowered your employees are, whether they currently know it or not. You can give feedback, knowing that your team is capable of change. 

You want to use your feedback to facilitate growth, not just to correct errors. 

Growth is proactive and action-oriented, not preventative action. 

When you clearly explain why a task was successful or why it wasn’t, in a way that is objective, unarguable, and clear, that marks the difference between repeated errors and repeated successes.

The key to one-on-ones is that you’re using them to empower your employee as an individual. 

You can always connect the feedback back to that and see how the feedback is related to their desired overall growth trajectory.

This is not a place to get action items done. Sometimes you might be discussing action items that have happened or are about to happen. But if you’re trying to use this time to tick through a list, that is more like a project meeting. In that case, you may want to look at how you can rebalance your meetings. 

There’s no rule that says you need to have a one-on-one every single week or that it always has to be 50 minutes long. You can shorten it. You can choose to have it every other week. You can have three a month. You might want to have project meetings that are more clearly defined. 

When you stop trying to turn one-on-ones into a catch-all meeting for anything that needs to be discussed and described, you can super-boost the value and effectiveness of this type of meeting. 

Action items can stimulate desired growth and they can add real and perceived value to your employees’ roles. So you want to encourage them to engage in those and to succeed, but this is not the place to get them done.

A one-on-one is there to grow and develop employees within their roles and within the team. 

Commit to the intention that a one-on-one meeting is meant to boost the value of an employee and to boost the value of your organization to them.

How to Prepare for a 1-on-1 as a Manager 

Start with a kickoff meeting

You could think of this as a role negotiation meeting where you are aligning on purpose with your direct report. This first meeting is a really critical step in setting a framework and a mental model where you can lead your employee down the road to growth and development. 

A kickoff meeting establishes that the one-on-one has the purpose of growth because this is often not expected. A growth-oriented meeting can be jarring for an employee if they’re used to tactical meetings, and suddenly you’re asking questions about their personal life. It is useful to have a conversation about what the one-on-one conversation is going to be about and do that first.

Step one in your kickoff meeting is to create some clarity! Clearly detail what their job requires and what is expected of them. You want to identify what their key responsibilities are and how their work directly impacts the work of the rest of the team and the organization as a whole.

The number two thing you’re trying to create is transparency. It’s very useful in this meeting to review your company’s mission, vision, values, and big picture goals. 

The third thing to accomplish in this initial meeting is establish what accountability looks like. Discuss the extrinsic accountability, rewards, whether they’re monetary or otherwise. Detail growth and development expectations, who is depending on them for what and why. This is the bigger picture accountability that connects more to personal choice and responsibility. 

Orient the conversation around how accountability can help your employee grow, and how they can help the team grow. 

Creating a meeting structure is the last step in the kickoff meeting. 

Whether you are checking in with each team member for 30 minutes, once a week, or for one hour a month, add some structure to the one-on-one so that there’s a habit and expectation. Establishing a structure will ensure that your employees know that they will be getting regular face time with you, and that they’ll be given a chance to give and receive performance feedback and they’ll know what order that’s going to happen in and what are the relative priorities of each of those items.

Reconnect to your role as a mentor

When you think about your role as a conscious leader, I want you to reconnect to your role as a mentor. ⁠

Yes, you are a manager, a CEO, an executive, but you also have a super creative and engaging role as a mentor. ⁠

A mentor mindset allows you to utilize 1-on-1 meetings in a way that is not just focused on the success of a project but the overall success of your team and company. ⁠

Before your first one-on-one meeting, I want you to reconnect to your role as a mentor. 

Get into that mindset of being a mentor. This is actually really fulfilling and fun work. 

Your goal should be to guide your employees on their journey to success. Success, not just for you and for your team and for the company, but success for them. This is your opportunity to get personally invested in your team’s growth and in their development and your employees will follow suit. 

Your team will mirror and mimic and feed off of that investment that you have in their growth and they will invest in their growth 10X when they see it and feel it for real. This really means being honest when your expectations are not met, and praising them to the fullest when those expectations are surpassed. 

Give yourself that chance to really feel into, “How am I feeling about these expectations? What really matters to me? What matters to them?” And give that direct constructive feedback. That’s your role as a mentor.

Collaborate on the meeting agenda

Design the agenda for your one-on-one in tandem with your employee. 

Create a template, a recurring structure for this agenda, but you also probably want to reach out and have a habit of collaborating with your direct report ahead of time, to get some input about what’s going to be on the agenda specifically for that particular meeting. 

That will help both you and your employee prepare, with questions, feedback, etc. Create the chance to make sure that everybody’s most important items are going to be addressed.

Develop a coaching plan

Get a clear picture in your mind of what success looks like for your employee in their role and what the role of the one-on-one is in supporting them to achieve that success. Tap into what the goal is and what work needs to be done for them to achieve that. 

This is something that needs to be at the top of your mind before you begin that meeting. When I ask managers what their coaching plans are for an employee, most of them don’t have one.               If this is you and you’re scratching your head, “I don’t know. What am I coaching each of my direct reports on?” 

Awesome, you’ve just uncovered one of the highest-leverage possible questions that there is to ask as a manager. What I really recommend is that for each of your direct reports, to have one specific thing that you’re really coaching them on.

I find that there’s actually a lot of leverage in coaching on things that are around mindset and around habits of perception and habits of bringing emotion and personal motivation in. If personal responsibility or personal accountability is an issue, that’s a great high-leverage thing to coach someone on, but it also may be that you’re coaching someone on more of a specific skill. 

It’s important to just have this plan in mind about what actionable ideas can help an employee grow in their role in a way that’s personally meaningful to them.  That’s your coaching plan! This can help you in your one-on-one meeting to provide ideas for opportunities where they could improve, ways they could develop, and how they can tackle any current performance issues or roadblocks.

Photography by Kelley Raye //

Dr. Caneel Joyce is a CEO Coach and social scientist who helps people break out of the invisible traps and make whole-life changes easily and naturally.

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