How to run effective 1-on-1 meetings as a manager

So you’ve heard about others doing 1-on-1s (Aka. one-on-ones and 1:1s). Counting preparation time, 1-on-1s can take up a significant part of your busy schedule. In fact, it’s advised that most 1-on-1s are between 30-60 minutes at least every other week. You might wonder, “Would all the hours be well spent and justified?”

If done right, spending time doing 1-on-1s with your team members will benefit you and the team a great deal. It’s a chance to offer guidance, motivate, and support your people.

Timely feedback is valuable, and opportunities to motivate and support your people are priceless. This article will guide you through:

  1. Preparing for a 1-on-1 meeting,
  2. Participating in a 1-on-1 meeting, and
  3. Following up after your meeting.

1. Preparing for a 1-on-1 meeting

It is important to prepare for 1-on-1s. Here are the three factors to consider: the mindset, the schedule and the agenda.

Have an open mindset

1-on-1s are not a form of performance review and you should not use the feedback you get here for that purpose. Ben Horowitz recommends that a manager should only talk for 10% of the time. The rest should be saved for their team members.

Let a 1-on-1 conversation flow naturally around whichever matters to a team member. You can discuss many things from their short-term goals to their learning plan. If they somehow feel isolated in the team, make sure that they can also talk about it with you. The employee should be the main focus of 1-on-1 conversations.

Set a recurring schedule

When you set up 1-on-1s with an employee for the first time, make sure that you explain the concept. Give them a short description, and some suggestions for the first session. Don’t forget to mention that the sessions will be recurring. Here is an example:

“I plan to start doing 1-on-1s in our team. Just informal conversations to get more feedback from you. We can talk about anything. What is bothering you? Your progress? Or whichever else that you find important. I suggest we start next Thursday, the 20th at 11am. Then we can talk about making it a regular thing. Let me know if you have any questions.”

It is advisable that you schedule enough time for these conversations. A session lasting from 30 to 60 minutes is reasonable. Andy Grove, former CEO and Co-Founder of Intel, actually advised to do 1-on-1s for at least one hour.

I feel that a 1-on-1 should last an hour at minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.”
Profile Intel Andy Grove
Andy Grove
Former CEO and Co-Founder of Intel

It is important to keep the sessions on repeat. If your team has five members or fewer, you should do 1-on-1s on a weekly base. Otherwise, you can arrange one meeting a fortnight. These meetings will take up quite a bit of your time, 4 hours a week if you manage a team of four. But don’t wait a month till you start the next session. A lot of things can go right or wrong in four working weeks. If you want to make an impact then, it would be too late.

Besides, recurring 1-on-1 sessions help make feedback sharing a routine and a habit. It encourages a culture of continuous feedback.

Last but not least, regular personal conversations help build strong relationships based on understanding and respect. When you listen often to personal issues of an employee, they will like you and trust you more. It is more likely that they will be open for feedback from you. Next time, they will come to you with their problems earlier. It is also likely that they are more motivated to work hard and prove themselves.

Agenda is optional

A general agenda might help get the conversation going in the first few meetings. You can prepare a list of five topics that you are most interested to know. Your employee’s happiness at work and their opinions of your management style can make two topics.

Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt used to start his 1-on-1s by comparing his lists with the ones prepared by his employees. They then prioritised the items found on both lists because they were likely to be the most pressing issues.

A prepared agenda gives a structure to a conversation. It ensures that every pressing issues will be discussed. Managers should, however, keep in mind to use the list for reference only. You should let the conversation flow as it is to get the best out of 1-on-1s.

2. Participating in a 1-on-1 meeting

As the manager, you should take the lead to set an informal tone for the meetings. Focus on asking questions and listening attentively to understand the feedback. Towards the end, don't forget to wrap up each meeting and prepare for the next.

Keep it informal

Keep your 1-on-1 informal and private. It is best to find a relaxing place where you can hold a private conversation. Some ideas are to go for a walk, to have a coffee in the neighbourhood cafe, or to talk over lunch.

Ask questions

It is a good habit to prepare some questions you want to ask. When conversations naturally come to a certain topic, such as work habits or personal learning, you can use the questions to get more feedback from your team. A well-asked question is a powerful tool as there are so many things that you wouldn’t think of sharing until being ask.

As mentioned earlier, 1-on-1s can be about almost anything. However, there are some common topics that managers like to cover. Here is a list.

Work habits

You want to understand how each of your team members operates. Once you learn their productive modes, you can support them to work more efficiently. Here are some questions regarding work habits:

Team collaboration and relations

You can increase team productivity by improving the interpersonal relationship amongst team members. Ask the right questions to uncover the hidden challenges and opportunities.

Team’s happiness

Personal happiness has an undeniable impact on productivity and engagement. When is a better time to dig into a happiness issue than a 1-on-1 conversation? Grab the opportunity so you can help your team be happier at work. Here are some questions you can use:

Short-term goals

Your team’s feedback on their short-term goals will keep you aligned with their progress as well as their frustrations on the projects. It is healthy to address frustrations timely. Ask some questions, like:

Long-term goals

Long-term goals are important to a person’s sense of fulfillment and happiness. Your team members like to see that they are making progress toward their big life goals. You want to learn about their goals, and whether their current job fits into those goals. Here are some questions you can use:

Personal development

You want to find out if your team members take learning and development the same way as you do. Some of the following questions can help you learn more about their motivation.

Manager improvement

It is crucial for you to know how your team thinks about you and your management style. It is challenging to get honest feedback specifically about you from a direct report. Set the right tone and choose your questions wisely. Here are some examples:

Listen Actively

You should listen to your employee’s insight carefully. It is important to remember that you don’t just listen to be polite. You want to really understand what is being shared. Active listening involves:

Clarifying questions and reaffirmation bring you closer to what is being expressed. By showing your recognition and respect toward one's feeling, you are to build a stronger relationship with your team.

Wrap up and suggest next steps

At the end of the meeting, you should wrap up the talking points. It is also essential to suggest an action plan till the next meeting.

3. Following up after your meeting

Make notes about the discussion points and the action plan after the meeting. If you have done this already during the meeting, log it on your note system. You want to make sure you can easily review the items and act on what is needed. Make sure you do the legwork before the next meeting.

Also, remember to make it happen for the next meeting! Like we said earlier, it is very important to keep 1-on-1s going.

Conclusion

1-on-1s are a great tool for managers and employees. The weekly sessions are for you to check in with the team’s morale. They are also about getting to know the people you are working with better. You can also save 1-on-1s for higher-level things like career development and continuous learning. Employee’s feedback is extremely important for managers. Effective 1-on-1s are one of the best ways to get great feedback (as well as give it).

At the same time, feedback shouldn't be given exclusively during 1-on-1s. Whether it's following up after your last conversation, or providing coaching on a new project, you want to let your employees know that they can always come to you for advice, even outside of 1-on-1s. Using a feedback tool, like Impraise, will ensure you never miss out on the opportunity to give great actionable advice.

You may also be interested in our free step-by-step manager's guide on how to use feedback to motivate, engage and develop your team.

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