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September 22, 2022

The Low-Down On Better One-On-One Meetings With Employees

So you’ve scheduled one-on-one meetings with your staff. It’s a dedicated time to connect with each of your employees. They start off great, but as daily demands increase these meetings are pushed back (and back) and eventually stall indefinitely. Sound familiar? 

We’re here to help you make one-on-ones a priority because they’re crucial to supporting the long-term growth of your company and employees. 

What is a one-on-one meeting? 

On the surface, a one-on-one meeting is exactly what it sounds like: a conversation between two people. But it’s a particular type of discussion between a manager and an employee. And you may be thinking, “I have meetings or quick conversations all the time with my staff. How is this any different?”

What differentiates a one-on-one from any other meeting is its particular purpose and content. It’s not for discussing upcoming projects or weekly deadlines (even if it’s tempting to do so). Instead, it’s a time to discuss your employee’s growth, career goals, challenges, and to exchange feedback.

“I think the one-on-one meeting is probably the single most important tool for a manager,” Mosheh Poltorak, founder of said. “A manager should never cancel a one-on-one. There needs to be a culture of ‘This time is sacred.’ It’s a combination of accountability, coaching, and providing a sounding board. It’s your opportunity to most consistently measure how people are doing and feeling.”

Why are one-on-one meetings so important?

  • Invested employees. When your employees know you’re invested in their growth, they’re more inclined to genuinely care about the success of the business. Especially as employee engagement is at a low and  “quiet quitting” enters the public consciousness. 
  • Increased retention. Employees who are growing and supported are more likely to feel satisfied in their jobs and less likely to leave. 
  • Boosted trust. When you create a safe space for employees to provide honest feedback or discuss sensitive issues, you’ll boost the amount of trust within the relationship.
  • Two-way feedback. The most powerful one-on-one meetings aren’t just about giving feedback to your employees, but also about receiving feedback from them. This input helps you be a more effective manager and ensures you’re serving the needs of your team.
  • Empowered employees. If you’re using one-on-ones to provide coaching to your employees rather than telling them what to do, you’ll build their sense of self-sufficiency, confidence, and ownership
  • Reduced potential for conflict. Regular one-on-ones will allow you to discuss and address concerns before they become big demotivators or conflicts
  • Stronger big-picture strategy. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day requirements of running a business or office. Taking some time to look ahead will foster a more focused strategy and long-term vision

"One of the biggest values of one-on-ones is...helping [employees] find a path forward. Not by telling them how you'd do it, but by guiding them to come up with their own solution."
Jon Plax, Senior Director, Salesforce


Why do we cancel them and how do I make them a priority? 

For the same reasons most well-intentioned habits slip to the waist side. When work gets hectic it’s easy to put aside less pressing tasks.

So how do you get this habit to stick? Consider scheduling your one-on-ones as a recurring meeting that’ll always take place on the same day and at the same time. Also, try to schedule them for a time you know tends to be less distracting. This might be the first thing in the morning, before everyone is vying for your attention. It’s okay to experiment to find what time works best for you and your employees. 

Best practices for your one-on-one meetings 

A 2017 study that surveyed over 1,000 managers and employees found 70% of managers thought one-on-one meetings were among the most important things they did to manage the performance of their staff. But only slightly more than half of employees felt the same way. 

So, how did you conduct one-on-ones in a way that’s encouraging and useful for staff? 

  • Show your employees that 1-on-1s are a top priority. Avoid rescheduling or canceling them, and disable phone or desktop notifications during the conversation.
  • Hold them regularly, as a recurring meeting on the calendar.
  • Make sure you get on the same page about the purpose of one-on-ones. A majority of employees believe one-on-ones are to review project status, while managers are more likely to see these meetings as time for professional development.
  • Ask your employees what they’d like to get out of these meetings. How can you support their own growth and goals? Have them articulate what would be most valuable to them
  • If your employees aren’t sure what they’d like to discuss in your one-on-ones, suggest a menu of sample topics to choose from that’ll encourage higher-level conversation, such as: Future career vision, soft skills, current challenges, people-related dynamics, increasing influence, exchanging feedback, or longer-term departmental goals.
  • Invite employees to take the lead by setting the agenda for these meetings. This’ll encourage more ownership on their part.
  • Conduct the meeting in a place that limits distractions and is private, whether that’s in-person or virtually.
  • Document the key points and action items of your discussion. In future meetings, you can return to this list. 


    The same 2017 study asked both managers and employees to articulate the signs of an unsuccessful one-on-one. And each agreed that vague, undefined conversations were a waste of time. So to make sure one-on-ones are useful for both parties, take a moment at the beginning of each session to agree upon the topics or agenda for the conversation. 

    Also, unbalanced conversations were a point of contention among employees. A one-on-one should be a two-sided discussion where each person can feel free to speak openly and honestly. There may be one-on-ones that veer into sensitive or tense territory — and that’s okay! It’s better to have these discussions in a place that’s designed to be constructive. 

    TAKE A LISTEN: #41. How to Facilitate Conflict Resolution with Pattie Porter

    So how long and how often? 

    These meetings should be far enough apart that they feel important, but not so far apart that they’re inconsistent. 

    Ideally, “…you’re doing one-on-ones every other week with each person on your team,” Poltorak said. “And that is really the barometer for how people are performing, for how people are feeling.” 

    This will guarantee there’s enough time to cover important issues without feeling rushed.

    Interested in coaching or team workshops? Let's chat!

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