Get the most out of 1 on 1 meetings with employees

Regular team meetings serve many purposes. They allow managers to convey information pertinent to all direct reports and receive status updates. They provide an environment for group brainstorming, planning, and discussion. Being together allows leaders to gain insight into employee morale and how team members interact with one another.

Do not, however, consider staff gatherings as a substitute for consistently holding individual meetings with each employee. While at first glance these one-on-one meetings may seem to lack the efficiency of staff get-togethers, their contribution to employee engagement and performance makes them worth the time.

What are one-on-one meetings?

As the name suggests, 1-on-1 meetings take place between just two people — typically a manager and an employee. This arrangement allows focusing on the worker and his or her specific role in the company. Such employee-centered conversations set the stage for tailored constructive feedback, individualized professional development discussions, and personal goal-setting.

Determining how often to meet

How often to conduct these check-ins varies by manager. Many leaders find weekly meetings ideal. Sufficient time exists between sessions for employees to make progress on feedback and action items. But, this length remains timely, which means new concerns and feelings do not get put off.

Managers overseeing a large staff may find bi-weekly check-ins (every two weeks) more suitable for working everyone in. Experts do not recommend going more than one month between one-to-one meetings. Too much can happen during that period, and the sense of regularity is not as strong.

Tough Talks D

Cases exist where managers may want to hold a 1:1 with certain employees on a more frequent basis. The first three months of a new hire’s employment, for instance, is a critical time. Managers may decide meeting alone twice a week or even daily is helpful. Using this time effectively helps get the new employee up to speed. It also helps the newbie feel cared about and important to the organization. The connection to the company formed during the onboarding period affects retention.

Meet in a comfortable place

No doubt, how often 1:1s happen is important. But perhaps even more essential to their success is consistency. Maximizing the benefits of one-on-one meetings requires the involved parties to build rapport. This connection comes with dedicated time. If you always are canceling or need to reschedule, workers will wonder how seriously you actually take these check-ins.

Aim for privacy when thinking about where to hold one-to-one meetings. You want to establish a safe space where the employee can talk without fear of others hearing. Thus, while it might seem time-efficient to meet for lunch in the cafeteria, the environment may prove distracting or limiting. When holding recurring meetings with remote workers, opt for a Zoom call. This method best mimics the in-person experience.

What gets discussed at one-on-one meetings?

Consider 1:1 meetings unique, special experiences. They provide a chance to give the staff member in attendance your undivided attention. Such interactions strengthen working relationships, build trust, and enhance retention.

Conversations can go in many directions. Employees may have specific topics they would like to cover, such as career development or day-to-day workloads. Your interests may go toward development goals or reflections on events of the past week.

Do not, however, mistake a 1:1 for a free-for-all. Yes, diverse conversations take place. And, posing open-ended questions allows for plenty of branching out. But, both parties should come in with talking points ready. This preparation ensures what someone wants to cover gets allotted time. A meeting agenda also keeps the two of you from staring at one another wondering what to say! Think of your meeting as organized but not rigid.

Using a meeting template provides a basic framework. Put it online so that both of you can add to and refine it in the days leading up to the one-to-one.

The following are areas often covered during a 1:1. Note that not every subject needs to be brought up every time. Let situations and interests dictate. Give the participant your full attention by eliminating distractions (yes, that means phone off) and actively listening.

Basic check-in

With the daily hustle and bustle of the work environment, employees sometimes feel lost in the shuffle. A one-to-one meeting conveys the message, “Hey, your well-being is important to our organization. I want to pause to see how you are doing and address any concerns.”

To this end, try questions such as the following:

  • How are you doing this week?

  • What roadblocks have you faced recently?

  • How manageable is your current workload?

  • Do you have the tools and resources to complete your assigned tasks?

  • What might I do to make your workday run more smoothly?

  • Anything else you would like to talk about today?

The two of you also may want to go over priorities for the upcoming week. Answers, of course, will determine where the conversation progresses. Jot meeting notes as reminders of what you discussed and agreed-upon actions. Follow up in the next 1:1.

If dealing with remote workers, tailor some of your standard questions to that scenario. Ask about technology kinks. Inquire about any communication issues. See how you can help them feel more connected to the team.

The basic check-in is also a good time during which to chat a bit about something besides work. Friendly exchanges about sports, family, holidays, upcoming vacations, and pets build connections. Note specifics in your recap notes for future use. (“How did your son’s graduation go?” “What do you think of that college pitcher the Cubs drafted?”)

Effective one-on-one meetings create a consistent, safe space in which employees feel comfortable. Once they do, they may start bringing up more delicate or complicated subjects. You may gain insight into their work-life balance and be able to help them generate solutions. You may learn of stressors from their family life and offer empathy and direction to resources. Or, you may find out about tensions with a fellow employee and offer to serve as a mediator. A key employee takeaway from 1:1s should be that you care and are there to assist however you can.

Constructive feedback

A performance review should not be the first time someone hears about an issue. Rather, routinely address employee performance in 1:1 meetings. Correct minor mistakes before they become major ones. Guide on how to handle tasks more efficiently or effectively. Coach on issues such as professionalism, better communication, or interacting with colleagues.

Seek feedback from the employee, too. What ideas does she have for making the company better? Tackle topics such as morale, procedures, company culture, communication, and psychological safety. Also, have the courage to ask for ways you could improve your managerial style.

Goal setting

Is there something the worker is interested in learning how to do? Is there a task you feel the person could do at a higher level? The 1:1 meeting is a great time to discuss these types of things and set the ball in motion.

Vague, undefined goals rarely get accomplished. Coach your workers on setting SMART goals in order to construct an engaging plan and develop the pride that comes from steady progress. Each letter in SMART stands for an important element of successful goal-setting: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Use future 1:1 meetings to track progress and make adjustments.

Career aspirations

Most workers are interested in not only the job at hand but in professional and personal development. Inquire about career goals. Together, look at paths to get there — training, a certain degree or certification, leadership development opportunities, stretch assignments, etc. Show that the organization values high-performing employees and invests in their future.


Learn about what makes each individual employee “tick.” Encourage the person to answer the question, “What do you want from a job?” Some thrive on extrinsic rewards such as prizes and public recognition. Others value things such as making a difference in the world or opportunities to work with others. Knowing what gets someone up in the morning and encourages them to put forth their best enables you to add more of what they prize to their employee experience.


Lastly, as the 1:1 is a time to demonstrate that you “notice” employees, be sure to commend efforts and achievements. Thank the individual for specific actions – staying late, always displaying a positive attitude, outstanding teamwork on hectic days, etc. This specificity tends to feel more genuine and be more memorable than a generic “good job.” Connect what they do to the overall success of the company. Recognition ends the gathering on a positive note, which may improve participant attitude toward other one-to-one meetings in the future.