Knowing how to attend a one-on-one meeting confidently is an underutilized job skill. Often, one-on-one meetings are between managers and their direct reports or peer-to-peer.
At one-on-one meetings, people may clarify work-related questions, give constructive feedback, or… talk about the weekend visit to their in-laws.
So what exactly makes for a successful and impactful one-on-one meeting at the workplace? This deep-dive article will cover:
- What are one-on-one meetings
- Benefits of one-on-one meetings
- How to prepare for one-on-one meetings as a manager
- How to prepare for one-on-one meetings as a team member
- Questions to ask in one-on-one meetings
- One-on-one meeting sample templates
What Are One-on-One Meetings?
One-on-one meetings allow managers and direct reports to have an informal, private conversation. The purpose of these meetings is to build trust and identify any issues or concerns. While a performance review is a unique form of one-on-one session, that’s not the focus here.
Managers should hold one-on-one meetings regularly, and the frequency will depend on the specific relationship. However, they should generally occur at least once a month.
Both attendees should come prepared with topics to discuss in a one-on-one meeting. These could be
- things that have gone well,
- check in on goals,
- Catch up,
- areas for improvement, or
- questions on upcoming projects.
One-on-one meetings are the perfect time to check in on longer-term goals and provide feedback. These meetings provide open dialogue, and both parties should feel free to share their thoughts and ideas.
Why Are One-on-Ones Beneficial?
Whether you are a manager or a team member, there are so many benefits to great one-on-one meetings:
- They allow the manager to get to know their employees personally. You may find out what’s going on in their lives and how they feel about work. Your employees will likely trust you more once you’ve talked beyond professional matters.
- One-on-one meetings give managers a better understanding of their employees’ goals and aspirations, what they want to achieve, and their plans for the future.
- One-on-one meetings also allow employees to raise concerns or issues they may be having without fear of reprisal. This type of meeting provides a safe space for employees to voice their concerns and resolve any problems they may have with colleagues or issues within the workspace. When individuals raise concerns or issues without fear of reprisal, productivity increases.
- One-on-one meetings allow employees to provide feedback on their manager’s performance. Feedback can be helpful for managers to improve their management style and identify any areas where they need to provide more support or guidance to their team.
- One-on-one meetings make employees feel valued and appreciated because their manager takes the time to meet with them regularly.
How to Prepare for Your One-on-Ones as a Manager
As a manager (we have our full guide for managers here), there are some factors you need to consider while preparing for your one-on-one meeting to ensure its success.
Step #1: Have a goal
Before sitting down, think about your goal. Is it to reconnect, clarify, or give feedback? Get as specific as possible so you know exactly what you want to get out of the meeting.
Use a casual opener
Resist the urge to dive right into those “serious matters.” Your team members may be nervous to talk to you, so starting with non-work-related topics is best. Here’re some opening questions for you to consider:
- How was your weekend?
- How do you like the working environment here?
- Did you go to [a company event]? How did you enjoy it?
Be fully present
Try not to think of your one-on-one meeting with your employee as another item for you to do. Instead, have at least one of your goals to connect with your team member fully. Putting aside anything distracting, like your phone or computer, would be best.
Your team member may feel unimportant if you frequently message or make calls during one-on-one meetings.
Step #2: Develop a meeting agenda
Once you have the goal in mind, break it down into agenda items! For example, if your goal is to build trust with a new employee, you may want to ask about their background and motivation. If your goal is to help a team member move through a project smoothly, you may spend more time understanding what they’ve accomplished vs. the plan and if there are significant roadblocks.
Be sure to use our one-on-one meeting template down below.
While writing out these bullet points, you can be flexible during the one-on-one meeting, but you should try to get the discussion back on track, especially if anything urgent requires a course correction.
Step #3: Schedule recurring meetings
Having a cadence and scheduling one-on-one meetings with your team member is essential. You can go for either weekly or biweekly sessions. It will help build your relationship with your employee. Ensure you add them to your calendar, so you don’t forget them.
Once you’ve scheduled recurring one-on-one meetings and something comes up before the next meeting, try rescheduling instead of canceling. Canceling it may give your employee a message that the meeting isn’t necessary.
Step #4: Think about the logistics
Can you do a coffee chat, a lunch, or a walk?
It’s not uncommon to have one-on-ones outside of the office. A chat at a coffee shop or lunch together can be great alternatives. Employees tend to relax more outside the office—it feels like meeting a friend. You probably will build closer relationships this way. Besides, healthy foods even make people happier!
If you or your team member are the active types, you can also go for a walk—a perfect chance to get some of those steps in!
Who else do you need to invite?
Although we’re talking about one-on-one here, if you can anticipate the topics, think about who else you might need to invite.
For example, if you are talking about sensitive matters such as salary increase, severance package, garden leave, unusual promotions, and you aren’t 100% sure about the details, you could consider bringing in an HR person.
In another scenario where you anticipate your team member is having a hard time adjusting to the new working environment or is shy about meeting new people, bring in someone that may have a similar background (same country of origin or hobbies). Your direct report may be excited about chatting with their peers.
Remember to let your employee know beforehand if you invite someone else—we don’t want to catch them off guard because they may have reservations about sharing beyond the two of you.
Get the suitable device in place.
Ensure all the tools needed for a one-on-one meeting with your employee are available. If you meet virtually, you might want to decide on a video calling app. If the meeting is in-person, you may need tools like a whiteboard in case there is a need for further illustrations.
Step #5: End on a high note
Leave time for them to ask questions
You may be eager to find out whether your team member is hitting that deadline next week. But remember to leave time for them to ask you questions—even if they’re less related to the tasks. Managers can often be life/career coaches to their team members.
End with action steps
You have one-on-ones for a reason. To get the best results, ensure you end with concrete action steps.
- Is your team member feeling overworked? Redistribute work or help them prioritize tasks.
- Is your team member feeling unsupported and overwhelmed? Introduce company resources such as a meditation app, a therapist, or perhaps a paid leave.
- Is your team member feeling unsure about the best next move? Recommend a few good books, introduce people who’ve been through the same problem, or make checking in with them on the same issue your plan during the next one-on-one.
Try to get on those action steps as soon as possible—you don’t want your team member to think their sharing won’t lead to anything.
- Schedule weekly/bi-weekly one-on-one meetings with your direct reports and put them in your calendar.
- Spend 5 minutes thinking about the agenda for your next one-on-one meeting.
How to Prepare for Your One-on-One with Your Manager
One-on-one meetings help tremendously with your career development. Here are tips on how you can make the most of them.
A one-on-one meeting is your opportunity
Anytime you can get face time (or Zoom time) with your manager, it is an opportunity to showcase your talents, share ideas or get to know your manager better. Think about your goal for the meeting. What would help your manager appreciate you and understand you better? Try pre-planning with some of these questions:
- Is there anything you want your manager to know?
- What do you wish your manager understood about you?
- Do you need any help or advice from your manager?
Send regular updates before meetings
Don’t make your meeting all about status updates. Your meeting is for career planning, goal setting, and deepening the relationship, not just a list of what has been done or to-dos. Be sure to send your status updates ahead of time and frequently so that your one-on-one meeting won’t become a status update meeting. You can share status updates using one of the two options:
- A few weeks before the meeting, update them through email: Send your status update in emails frequently and some reminders if necessary. You can even make this a weekly email check-in. Or,
- do frequent stand-up meetings. Daily or weekly stand-up meetings will enable you and your team to update your manager on the work status.
Choose the option you and your manager agree to be most suitable.
The more they are updated, the less tempted they will be to bring it up during your one-on-one meetings. Doing this is beneficial because you probably want to discuss the “bigger, hairier career stuff” during one-on-one sessions, such as your goals and areas for improvement in the long term.
Pro-Tip: Send your goals for the one-on-one meeting or your questions ahead of time. Use examples like this:
- In our one-on-one next week, I would love to discuss ____.
- One thing I would love to chat about in our upcoming one-on-one is future growth opportunities at the company. I want to be doing more ____.
- If you are building an agenda for our one-on-one next week, please add the item of remote work/flex time / a new time management strategy / _______. I would love to discuss this possibility with you.
Write out your talking points
Write out a list of things you’d like to discuss in the meeting once there’s a scheduled date already. If you are not sure what to talk about, here is a list of things you can consider:
- your career goals,
- personal growth trajectory,
- ideas for team improvement,
- personal topics, interpersonal issues.
Your manager won’t know what is happening if you don’t tell them. The whole point of a one-on-one meeting is connecting and discussing (sometimes tricky) things with your manager.
Keep track of notes
You wouldn’t want to be caught up in a situation where your manager asks you about the things discussed in the last one-on-one meeting, and you don’t remember. This might make your manager think you don’t value the meetings enough.
When coming for a one-on-one meeting with your manager, get a notepad to take meeting notes or type them on a notepad software to avoid all these. Even better, consider using a template for your regularly discussed topics.
Try this template:
Last quarter work goals:
How’s my current work performance?
Questions and issues that have come up:
Pro-Tip: Consider saving your talking points from each meeting and bringing them all with you so you can refer back to them. This also helps you show your manager how much progress you have made.
Highlight progress & share your work confidently
One-on-one meetings are an excellent place for you to highlight your confidence and progress. What have you accomplished over the last quarter? Month? Year? Tenure? Please share it and highlight it!
Then when you are sharing all of your progress, share it with confidence. Sit broadly, don’t fidget. Remember, confident nonverbal is just as crucial as confident verbal.
Need more of a confidence boost? Check out our 11 Strategies to Up Your Confidence.
Ask for a meeting reschedule, and try not to have them cancel
One of the biggest obstacles preventing a one-on-one meeting with your manager is if they keep canceling it. It often happens in the professional world, especially if your bosses spend a lot of time with external clients. When your manager reschedules/cancels on you, rest assured that it usually has nothing to do with you.
You may want to be consistent and ask for rescheduling the meeting. This will show that you are proactive, serious about your work, or have something critical to share with your manager.
If your manager asks you when best the meeting should be rescheduled, ensure you suggest a date that will be convenient for your manager by looking at their calendar in advance.
- Spend 5 – 10 minutes thinking about what you’d like to discuss for your next one-on-one.
- Be sure to include your achievements and questions.
- Make a sticky note reminding you to bring a notebook/digital pad before the meeting.
One-on-One Meetings Templates
When in a one-on-one meeting, different questions can be asked depending on the goals of the meeting and who you are meeting. Here are some one-on-one meeting agenda templates.
First one-on-one with a new employee
Here, if you want to build a relationship with a new employee. Consider asking these questions to spark great conversation:
- Tell me a little bit about you.
- What made you choose this role?
- What are your aspirations?
- What are your professional aspirations?
- How can I support you better?
- What are your motivations?
- Tell me about your working habits—are you a morning person or a night owl? Are there essential activities/family traditions you want to ensure you have time for?
- What are your hobbies?
- Is there anything else you’d like to talk about today?
In a regular check-in meeting, the goal is to develop trust and smoothen out potential roadblocks. Try these questions:
- How has the past week been for you?
- What will you say you are proud of?
- Is there anything stopping you from achieving what you want?
- Do you need support?
- Where can I help?
- Is there anything else you’d like to talk about today?
Goal setting meeting
Make setting goals a collaboration that involves knowledge from all parties. Go over these topics during a goal-setting meeting:
- Let’s understand why we set goals.
- What makes a good goal?
- How did the goal we set go?
- Let’s take a look at our priorities.
- Let’s discuss how the current goal will add to our team development/client objectives.
- What is the next step to take in achieving our goals?
- Pick one of the templates above and customize it for your next one-on-one.
One-on-One Meeting Takeaways
Essential tips on how to make one-on-one meetings impactful:
- Write out your meeting agenda ahead of time. This will ensure you cover critical and time-sensitive matters.
- Use one-on-one meetings for goal alignment and feedback. Don’t use them as a status update.
- Always schedule one-on-one meetings with your direct reports—preferably weekly or bi-weekly.
- Proactively reschedule the one-on-one meeting if you have to cancel.
One-on-one meetings are one of the best ways to increase work productivity and build relationships. It’s an investment well worth making. If you’d like more tips on being a better manager, check out How To Be A Good Manager!