The Perfect One-on-One Meeting Cookbook For Aspiring Leaders
Too often, leaders shy away from one-on-one meetings because they don’t know how to structure them or how to have difficult conversations. Plus, it’s easy to cut out meetings that you feel aren’t bringing value. But when executed well, one-on-ones have the power to significantly boost team productivity, morale, and engagement. This is my own contribution with the perfect one-on-one meeting cookbook for aspiring leaders!
We’ve all been there, jumping from meeting to meeting and feeling like nothing is being accomplished. But one-on-one meetings are different.
They’re a powerful leadership tool you can use to connect with your employees and grow as a leader. One-on-one meetings are about so much more than keeping yourself in the loop. Taking the time to hold one-on-one meetings shows your team that you care about their personal growth and development. It also shows that you value them as individuals.
One-on-ones shouldn’t be something you just check off of your to-do list. They are a critical tool for every good manager.
With such packed schedules, managers often race out of one meeting only to head straight into another one-on-one with their employee. You have only seconds to refocus your attention and plan an agenda. Worse, you may find yourself asking filler questions because you didn’t have the time to adequately prepare. Follow this routine enough times and these meetings can lose value for your employees.
While sometimes it can feel time-consuming, the return on investment is huge. Through regular conversations leaders can develop trust, both with individuals and within their teams.
In turn, trust in the workplace creates a safe environment for people to work in new and collaborative ways. 1-on-1s are also a perfect opportunity for leaders to develop their coaching skills, something that is increasingly sought after. By learning to actively listen to their team members and providing guidance and feedback along the way, they are applying and practicing a coaching mentality. By becoming better coaches, leaders can better support employee performance and improve overall team success.
One-on-one conversations with your employees, therefore, are critical to boosting engagement and productivity in the workplace.
One of the basic premises of being an effective leader is to have regular one-on-one meetings with your staff. Yet often, these meetings feel like torture to the employee, lacking forethought and focus. Here are seven tips for having motivating and meaningful one-on-ones, like a perfect one-on-one meeting cookbook to hold them the right way!
Tip #1: Get Personal
Sometimes it’s helpful to share some personal anecdotes or experiences in the context of the 1-on-1. It’s natural to want to unblock a project for your direct report by providing the solution. But by sharing your experience in a similar situation, you provide guidance, inspiration, and support to help the individual in a more sustainable way. By getting personal, you also encourage direct reports to open up and share any problems they aren’t sure how to tackle.
As a leader, you expect your people to do their job. However, it is your job to provide them with the support they need to not only execute their tasks perfectly but also to reach their full potential.
Unfortunately, that can be difficult to achieve if you do not know your employees on an individual basis. This is why one-on-ones are necessary, as they allow you to have a good read of a person’s strengths, weaknesses, values, and principles. For example, even among people with similar skill sets, you will find that they have different ways of working — because of their past experiences. Therefore, by finding out what excites each person, you will be able to delegate tasks more strategically, thus improving the team’s overall productivity.
One on one meetings does not always need to be about work or company affairs.
Sometimes you can opt for having a good casual discussion with your employees as well. You can indeed start off with some light talks before proceeding with the rest of the agenda. Ask them some open-ended questions like how is their day going so far or how they feel working for you. Also, note that adding some humor to your conversations is a very good idea. It will help the employee feel relaxed and speak up freely as the conversation progress.
It is a critical part of leadership to talk about broader topic with team members.
And this can be possible by having a good relationship with your employees. Understand the individual needs of each of your staff. Know they likings, dislikings, interests and what do they care about. One-on-ones can help in gaining insight about every person’s perspective on their work and help in leading and retaining staff. Keep in mind that this conversation is about that specific employee, and nothing else. This isn’t the time or place to chat about company updates or team-wide concerns. Those are usually better saved for your team meetings where everybody can chime in and ask questions.
Never underestimate the importance of the personal connection.
You do not need to know what the person ate for breakfast, nor do you want to know how they contracted that sexually transmitted disease, somewhere in between is ideal. Too personal and everyone thinks you are their best friend; too impersonal everyone will not feel comfortable with you. Strike the right balance and personal connection and you are able to build trust.
One-on-one meetings provide an outlet for employees to open up and show their whole selves at the office.
Leaders can understand what’s going on in their personal lives and how that might impact their work, and employees can feel comfortable to share personal topics in a setting that’s appropriate. Likewise, leaders can share what’s going on in their lives outside of work. With the full picture of the person you’re working with, you can both feel more comfortable and form a closer bond that goes beyond, “What’s the status on this project, Shannon?“
Tip #2: Don't Come Empty-Handed
1-1’s are not something which you can arrange or conduct within a short notice. Even this requires proper planning to be effective and flawless. And that’s why you should always prepare the topics which you might think are very important. Similarly, you can ask your employees about the pressing issues. And later take them up during the one on one meeting.
Before you schedule a meeting make sure you are prepared with what you are going to discuss. Don’t just wing it.
Every single meeting deserves an agenda, and that includes your one-on-ones. Both you and your direct report should know what will be discussed. Spend 5-10 minutes prior to the meeting to write out what you want to achieve. Inform your employee that they should come to the meeting prepared as well. Create an agenda that works for you both and start with having the employee share their information first.
Preparing for your one-on-one meetings is key. Doing so shows your employees that you value their time.
Setting a solid agenda is the first thing you’ll want to focus on because it helps you set the stage for a successful meeting. Take the time to identify what you are hoping to achieve with each of your 1:1 meetings beforehand. Are you looking to increase productivity? Boost employee engagement? By identifying your desired outcome, you can ensure you are asking the right questions.
Establish a purpose for your one-on-one to turn it into an effective meeting.
Make a list of topics that you want to discuss, plan new strategies, share your accomplishments, ask their inspiration, get a direction and get into a conclusion. Have a purpose for your meeting and know what you need from the meetings. Go over the questions you want to ask, leaving room for them to talk as well. Tipping employees off about talking points gives them time to prepare, thus ensuring a more robust and enlightened discussion. For best results, email a bulleted list, or even just a short synopsis of the topics to explore during the call.
It takes two to tango; therefore, ask people to prepare talking points for the meeting.
Let them know that the one-on-one is their meeting with you, not yours with them. The employee owns the 1-on-1 meeting, but make sure you add your points to the agenda as well. If important issues like career development, employee motivation, engagement, trust, progress on goals need discussion, make sure to bring them up.
Preparing for a 1:1 meeting ensures that nothing important falls through the cracks, and you are making the best use of both participants’ time.
Don’t rush through a rigid agenda, just write down some talking points you want to bring up during the meeting. Thinking about topics to discuss in advance also allows you to be concise and specific during the meeting. It helps you appear more confident and focused. You may also share your talking points, so the other person can better prepare for the upcoming meeting.
Tip #3: Have The Right Mindset
One-on-one meetings are your time to connect with your employees on a deeper level. It’s important that they feel you are transparent and honest with them. Depending on your current relationship with your employees, this trust may take more time to develop. In either case, it’s worth the effort.
Leaders often have good intentions when starting one on one meetings with their employees — but then bow out when conversations don’t go as smoothly as they had hoped.
One on one meetings require effective communication and feedback skills. And for most leaders, these are not natural talents — they must be learned and practiced over time. 1:1 meetings are the perfect forum for managers and employees to sharpen their soft skills. The first few meetings with an employee might feel awkward, clunky, or repetitive. But over time your one on ones should start to build momentum and run more smoothly as both managers and employees get a sense of what they need from each other.
Do not take meetings as just another item to tick off on your to-do list.
Consider it as a precious moment for making a connection with your employee. Be fully present to come out with a good conclusion and make a difference in the life of this person. Do not distract yourself from other talks or your phone pings and rings. Give your full attention to your employees so they do not feel awkward during the meeting.
How frustrated do you feel when you are having a conversation with a friend and they are busily texting on their phone?
People should pay an even higher level of respect when having a conversation with a team member. Give your undivided attention and avoid looking at your phone, watch, and computer during your meeting. Remain engaged throughout your meeting by maintaining eye contact and facing the other person. Another way to show that you are present is to take notes during your meeting. Not only will you demonstrate that you are listening, but you can also document action items, follow ups, and important pieces of your conversation.
A one-on-one meeting is a vital time to listen. Devote your full attention to mostly listening; avoid distractions such as looking at your cell phone.
You’re not kicking off or delegating new projects, you’re not defending decisions or espousing the team’s vision — you’re there to figure out where your direct report is at, mentally and emotionally, and where they want to go. We know you’re busy. But your employees deserve your full attention during your one on one meetings. Do what you need to carve out enough mental space to be fully present during each meeting. Turn off your laptop, silence your phone, and stay focused.
When you interact with employees face to face, you should be ready to hear them out very precisely. Use the moment to understand their concerns, their plans and aspirations from the job.
This will help you accurately gauge the depth of the issue they might be facing. And accordingly, device out a perfect plan to address those issues as fast as possible. Also, you’ll be able to answer their queries in a very effective manner. This will display your seriousness regarding the welfare of your workers. Thus, strengthening the bond that you share with your employees.
Tip #4: Take Notes
In every meeting, there’s always a chance that you might miss out one or the other important point. Hence, making notes during meetings is a very good practice. This helps you to revisit the important things discussed then later at any given time. Follow the same while conducting one on one meetings too.
Taking notes during one-on-one meetings will display your tough stand and will to support your employees.
Taking notes helps you remember the discussion, forms the basis for next steps, and signals that you’re committed to the growth of both the team member and the team. You can also use these notes later to find any common issues that your employees might face. And then take appropriate measures to address each of those issues efficiently.
Creating a summary of the key outcomes and sharing them with the other participant helps eliminate misunderstandings.
It also makes it easier to follow up on things you talked about. In addition, you can take private notes to keep a personal record of how the 1:1 went and capture key takeaways for future reference. 1:1 meetings are valuable with or without taking notes, so do whatever works best for you to get into the habit of meeting regularly. But acknowledge that a few minutes of note-taking can go a long way.
Regardless of how good your listening skills are, there is always a chance that you might forget an important point or two.
This is why it is good practice to take notes during or after the meeting. Note down action points, what you talked about, and any issues to bring up the next time. Doing that will allow you to review the important discussion points before your next meeting, thus allowing you to address any issues in future meetings.
A structured note-taking system or tool such as Evernote or Microsoft OneNote can help you organize your thoughts into easily accessible records.
Beyond Zoom fatigue and “meetings that could have been emails,” employee’s top complaints about meetings include regurgitating the same information at every gathering and a lack of follow-through on discussed topics. Note-taking helps to eliminate both these frustrations. By keeping notes to refer to later, you can circle back to unresolved or issues and ensure closure. This method also reminds you to follow-up on unanswered questions or concerns post-meeting.
When you write notes, you retain information much better, so you’re able to make better decisions.
Having notes will give you a solid start before the next conversation, you won’t forget to follow-up on essential points. It will allow you to review your previous conversation with that person and understand how the person progressed over time. Notes also help you capture the action steps you agree on during the meeting, and keep track of them later. Writing and sharing notes with your participants shows the importance of the meetings, displays a public commitment. It fosters accountability for both sides.
Tip #5: Create Action Items
Just as everything else business-related, one on one meetings should have a purpose and an actionable outcome. In other words, make sure that you, your employee, or, ideally, both of you, leave with an action item or a task to be completed.
Don’t let your precious one on one time be all for nothing.
What do you want to achieve? Discuss the current state of goals since your last one on one meeting, analyze progress made on current goals, and plan for new and upcoming goals. Make sure the meeting ends with clear next steps on both sides. Remember: Notes allow you to rely on facts and evidence instead of memory — and help you track progress, trends, decisions, and accountability over time.
Be as specific and clear as possible so the employee knows what the end result should look like.
Help the employee outline the objectives of a project and desired results. Be less focused on how they achieve the result. They will probably take a different approach than you would. Allowing them to find their way is a better learning opportunity — for them and you. The best, most productive meetings end with clear action items. There will likely be plenty of topics that you’ll follow up on in future meetings. That’s another benefit of having a shared agenda — you can make sure that you continue to check-in and don’t let those talking points slide off the radar.
It’s easy to hear ideas when you’re engaged in a conversation, and then forget them when you’re plunged back into your everyday work.
So be sure to agree clear conclusions about what needs to be achieved before your next meeting together, what his responsibilities will be after the current meeting has ended, and how his progress will be measured. You and your team member should both leave the meeting with useful and relevant targets, and an updated To-Do list. Follow up immediately, with an email to her that summarizes the agreed action points, and that includes a timeline for achieving the agreed goals. Scheduling some check-ins before the next one-on-one might help to keep you both on track.
By the time you are done with the meeting, you will have a clear(er) picture of the situation.
Use the opportunity to let your employee summarize and share what they are taking out of the meeting. This will enable you to see if you have achieved mutual agreement and understanding. Don’t miss the chance to assign responsibilities and ownership. It must be clear who is in charge of what. Agree on shared points of what needs to be improved by the time you meet again, define those goals. After the meeting, send a brief email — this will serve as an opportunity to document the one-on-one you just had and its significant take-outs. See this as a step in the process of building mutual relationship and accountability.
One on one meetings should be a valuable use of everyone’s time. Don’t just have a meeting to have a meeting.
Be intentional about what you discuss during each encounter. The short-term goal is climbing the ladder of personal growth, while the long-term goals and vision help to ensure the ladder is leaning against the right wall. Long-term planning is more to set the direction rather than being specific. That is why it is ok if long-term goals are vague, but short-term goals work best when they are time-bound and specific.
Tip #6: Recognize Wins
Your meeting will be more fruitful if you go into the meeting with a positive mindset. In fact, be enthusiastic about the meeting, which is why it is critical that you first de-stress before heading into a one-on-one. A positive, upbeat mood goes a long way in relieving any potential tension an employee might have when meeting their boss.
Be sure to acknowledge and celebrate those things the employee has successfully created or implemented.
Let them know you value and admire their achievements. Too often managers move to the next project or assignment without pausing to celebrate what the employee has just done. People love to hear you acknowledge what they’re good at. They want to know you see their strengths. Too often, leaders think their role is to give feedback about what the employee needs to improve. There are times you need to give constructive feedback, but you will be more effective if you start with their strengths and then move to where they could use additional support.
It does not always take expensive gifts to make your employees happy. Let them know that you appreciate their work.
Give them a note of appreciation and gratitude. Just slow down and say ‘Thank you.’ Employees thrive at work when they know their efforts are meaningful and their contributions have meaning. During a one on one interaction with your employees, tell them how important they are for your organization, talk about something they’re doing well or say something like, ‘I appreciate what you’re doing’. When you share with your employees your gratitude, they will never forget you and will return to you many times.
Acknowledgement is one of the easiest ways to improve employee morale.
Take advantage of your one-on-one meeting and dedicate a few minutes to recognizing your employee’s recent accomplishments. You can also use the time to acknowledge when they’ve taken steps to meet their personal growth and development goals. This will show you appreciate their work and are proud of their commitment to meeting their own career goals.
One of the primary reasons for doing one-on-ones is to improve employee engagement. A one-on-one achieves that by bridging the gap between managers and their employees.
Therefore, it is crucial that the meeting ends on a positive note. Even if you have to deliver bad news or bring up a difficult issue, frame that as a learning opportunity for both yourself and your employee in the meeting. Mistakes and failures can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks. It is your responsibility to help people see seemingly bad outcomes as a stepping stone for them.
No employee should leave demotivated after one on one meetings.
Conducting an effective one on one conversation may become difficult during tough times. And here, by the tough times, I mean when the prevailing business conditions aren’t in your favor. However, make it a point to motivate your employees after every meeting with them. This is also the most sought after quality of a manager that many employees look forward to. So no matter whatever the outcomes of a 1:1s are, always wind it up with a positive note.
Tip #7: Don't Jump Ship
Make your one-on-one meetings a recurring event and make them a priority. Nothing says, “You’re not that important to me” like routinely canceling or postponing your employee meetings. Select days of the week when you are usually in the office and times of the day where conflicting meetings/events will be less likely.
Allow enough time for the meetings and avoid back-to-back when possible.
Tempting as it may be to postpone meetings when you are short on time or light on updates, do not repeatedly deviate from the schedule. Forming a meeting habit establishes momentum. Once you miss a couple of meetings you are off the system, and restarting becomes a more arduous task. Not to mention, regular meetings keep open lines of communication, so employees feel comfortable airing concerns or asking questions. Plus, meeting solely based on necessity puts teammates on edge, while regular meetings are less stressful and more comfortable for staff.
There’s one seemingly small thing to keep in mind: avoid constantly rescheduling these meetings with your direct reports.
These recurring conversations should be in your calendar, which means you should be able to plan around them in most cases. When their check-ins continue to get bumped, employees can quickly feel like they’re at the bottom of your priority list—and that’s the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve. Sometimes things happen. However, rescheduling should be the exception and not the rule.
In order for 1-on-1s to be effective they need to happen regularly.
Once you’ve agreed to a cadence, ensure 1:1s are scheduled and added as a recurring meeting into the calendar, this is a subtle but clear way for managers to show that they are invested in the 1:1 relationship and that they will consistently make time for the individual. Things come up and schedules change but instead of canceling the 1:1 do your best to reschedule. Cancelling can send the message that the meeting isn’t important, when in fact, it’s the cornerstone of your relationship with your direct report.
Things happen. I know. Nonetheless, buzyness is just an excuse and a trap to avoid.
But the minute we cancel a one-on-one meeting, particularly if it’s remote, we signal to our direct report: “I have other things to take care of that I believe are more important than talking to you.” That is a difficult message to overwrite in the future. It’s better to let your actions do the talking, and uphold your commitments to hold regular one-on-one meetings with your employees when you say you’re going to.
Cutting four 30-minute meetings with direct reports per day day seems like a huge time-saver. You’re adding a whole workday to your week!
Limitless potential lies in those hours! But when you stop taking the time to talk to people face-to-face, or at least camera-to-camera, it could leave those who depend on your direction fuzzy on the details. Instead of spending a focused half-hour talking through their questions and plans for a project, they could spend days and weeks working on something incorrectly, or wavering in focus because they’re not quite clear on direction. That’s a waste of your time and theirs.
It seems counterintuitive that spending time will free up time, but that’s exactly what one-on-ones can do. These meetings help leaders avoid overwhelm by ensuring the team is focused on the right task. Taking a few minutes to coach employees frees up your time to focus on your own work with the confidence that you won’t be putting out fires later.
One-on-ones are an important strategic tool for all managers.
Time invested in doing them well pay off not only with each individual, but with how your leadership team operates collectively. What’s even more important — the one on one meeting is an opportunity to shape your employee’s experience and perception of you as a boss. In many cases, what they think about you and your management style will also be reflected in their opinion about the whole company or organization that you represent.
One-on-ones shouldn’t be something you just check off of your to-do list.
They are a critical tool for every good leader. They help you learn what makes your employees tick, understand how to help pave a path for their success, offer coaching for personal development, and address their challenges and accomplishments. They keep your high-performing employees inspired, productive, and passionate about your cause.
As a leader, you need to be consistent in everything you do — and one on one meetings are no exception.
They don’t have to take place every day or even every week, but you need to be committed to them every single time. Remember — your primary goal is supporting your employee’s performance. Having a regular personal chat with each of the people who report to you will help you see an increase in employee engagement. And this will likely lead to improved company culture and higher productivity for the whole company.
One-on-ones are more than just meetings, they’re one of your most important leadership tools. Use them to help your employees grow, learn how to use their strengths, and live more fulfilled lives at work and beyond.
When they’re done well, one-on-one meetings help you fix issues, achieve goals, and build a team of happy and supported high-achievers. That’s more than worth the half hour every week or so, don’t you think? Follow these tips and see how your relationship with your employees can be transformed. It doesn’t have to be torture to have meaningful impact with your one-on-one meetings. Share your thoughts and own experience in the comments below!
Digital Dandy. Hacker From Heart. Workaholic. Coding Artist. Self-made.