Guide for Leaders: How to Have Productive One-on-One Meetings


You’re in the middle of a big project and have upcoming deadlines and you’re staring at your calendar trying to figure out what to do. It may be tempting to look at those one-on-one meetings as the first thing to get axed from your schedule, but don’t do it! One-on-one meetings have a purpose. They’re dedicated time for relationship building, communication and realignment with your team. Unresolved issues with your team won’t just go away – cancelling the meeting can hurt morale, lead to the team having to use less effective communication channels for the messages they need to convey or have an issue be missed entirely. If you or your employees aren’t getting the value that you need out of one-on-one meetings or if you think that they would benefit from more organization the solution is to restructure your meeting style and cadence, not to cancel or routinely skip the meetings.

Set expectations and an agenda. Share the context of the meeting and what you hope that the employee gets out of it. Let them know what one-on-one meetings are for and the expectations of the meeting. If you have a specific structure or template that you want the meetings to follow then share that with your employee to have them fill out before every meeting. Having an agenda set and shared before the meeting will ensure that the time will be used effectively and will allow you to add to the agenda any items that you want to discuss. This site has a couple one-on-one meeting agenda templates available and there are quite a few already out there if you’re looking for a different style. If the topic of the meeting is more informal, like a general check-in on how a new employee is settling in or how they feel about recent work changes then it is okay to plan on having a meeting without an agenda. Having a more informal meeting allows for a more comfortable and relaxed conversation, you could opt to have the meeting over coffee or while walking around the office.

Make the time. One-on-one meetings should have a regular cadence; they are meetings to allow for open and regular communication from supervisor to employee. Meetings should be scheduled for every two weeks. Planning on every two weeks means that if something like a scheduled vacation or client meeting results in a scheduled one-on-one meeting being cancelled there is still going to be at least one scheduled one-on-one every month. One-on-one meetings should never be held less than monthly. Meetings should be scheduled to run about 30 minutes, with longer meetings being scheduled on an as-needed basis. Scheduling 30 minutes allows for enough time for the employee to share with you, for you to provide feedback or share information with them and then for there to be a mutual discussion of any other information.

Listen. This is your employee’s time to have your ear. Allow your employee to cover the issues that they have outlined and listen to their concerns or feedback. Don’t cut them off or try to rush them through, let them talk and show that you’re listening to understand and care about the items that they’re bringing to you. If you’re dismissive or not actively listening you risk coming off as disrespecting your employee, which could create a poor relationship where an employee may not want to bring future issues to your attention.

Ask probing questions. If your employee is bringing up an issue or something that they’re having difficulty with ask them probing questions, it gives them a chance to shine and develop. For example, ask questions like “how would you solve that problem” or “do you have any ideas on what your next steps could be” and then help them think through the issue. Critical thinking skills need to be used to be developed and this helps give your employees confidence in working through problems on their own. Additionally, it also allows for you to have a discussion with them about some pros and cons of the approach or idea that they may be working through and for you to help coach them through their critical thinking process.

Get personal. Take the time to learn more about your employee personally, both inside and outside of work. This is a time to ask questions to learn more about how your employee works best and how they’re looking to grow. Ask questions about when they’re most productive, changes that would optimize their work, what inspires and motivates, tasks they most and least enjoy, if they’re facing any roadblocks and what they want their professional development goals and plan to look like.

Confirm next steps. Outline any action plans from the meeting and what the timeline is for each of the action items. Make notes of whatever topics need to be revisited or what items you would like to continue to work with the employee on or develop a coaching or development plan to address. For example, if you notice in the meeting that you think that the employee may be a fit for larger projects or projects involving a certain skillset make a note for yourself to go and review those opportunities before your next one-on-one.