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Guidelines for Effective One-on-One Meetings

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Every personal conversation you have with an employee holds so much potential. You can discuss current projects, keep up with blockages, discuss professional development opportunities, and more. But 30 minutes is a small window of time to cover all of these topics. You need the right shared agenda and one-on-one meeting template so you can stay on task, hold yourself accountable, and get the most out of your time with your employee.

As a manager, you are 50% responsible for the success of the meeting. To help you do your part, we've put together this short guide explaining why one-on-one meetings are so important and what you should discuss in these important conversations. We also provide you with a detailed, science-backed one-on-one interview template to help you have effective conversations with your direct reports.

What is the purpose of one-on-one meetings?

Individual conversations (also called 1-on-1) are recurring meetings between managers and their direct reports that ideally go beyond simple status reports or performance discussions. When done correctly, these conversations improve alignment between employee and manager while promoting employee productivity, motivation, and growth.

These conversations are most successful when managers and employees create and use a shared agenda to guide their discussion. Ensuring that your one-on-one meetings have a clear structure will help you make the most of your limited time together and ensure your employee has the support they need to be successful in their role.

What topics should I focus on in a personal conversation?

1-on-1 conversations should include more than just status updates. Here are some other topics you should make room for in your agenda, as well as some questions you can ask your employee about these topics:

Barriers: Is there anything currently hindering your productivity and progress? How can I, as your manager, help resolve these issues?
Productivity: Are there certain hours of the day when you are most productive? How can I optimize your work schedule around these times?
Employee Wellbeing: Are you feeling burnt out? When was the last time you took a vacation? Do you take regular breaks and pay attention to your energy levels?
Work relationships: Do you feel connected and belonging to the team? Do you have any problems with colleagues?
Professional development: How are you progressing with your individual development plan? Are you on track to achieve your larger career goals?
Goal Progress: How are you achieving your quarterly (or annual) goals? Are you on the right track or do performance goals need to be reconsidered?
Recognition: If your employee has recently exceeded expectations for their role, let them know and celebrate their success.
Feedback: Let your employee know what they have done well recently and what areas they can improve on (if any).

If this seems like too much material for a quick one-to-one conversation, don't worry. You don't have to cover each of the above topics in every conversation. Each conversation will be different depending on what is important to you and your employee in a given week.

One-to-One meeting agenda template: How to have an effective conversation with your employee

There is a lot to discuss during a weekly one-on-one meeting. Here's a simple four-step process you can follow to make the most of the time you and your employee spend together. Follow this face-to-face meeting template to keep your conversations focused and productive:

Start with a casual check-in

At the beginning of every meeting, take time to have a casual conversation with your employee. This sets the tone for the meeting and helps you get to know your direct report better. Ask him about his weekend, his upcoming vacation, or even a passion project outside of work—anything that gets him to open up and feel more comfortable before diving into the rest of the meeting.

Discuss your shared agenda

1-on-1 meetings are designed to be beneficial for both you and your employees. Having a shared agenda allows employees to take ownership of the meeting and ensure they get what they want from your discussions.

Ask questions

After you have discussed all the items on the shared agenda, ask your employee any outstanding questions you have. This can be anything from asking how they are doing to asking for more detailed information about their current projects.

Below are some examples of questions you might ask. For more ideas, check out our list of the best questions to ask in person:

  • What part of your work do you enjoy?
  • What two or three new skills would you like to learn in your job?
  • Do you have any feedback for me?
  • What do you find most/least valuable about our one-on-one meetings?

Is there anything we didn't discuss today that you'd like to discuss next time?

Record the meeting points and agreed actions

Although 1-on-1 conversations are often quite short, you'll be surprised at how much you can discuss in such a short amount of time. Take detailed notes during or immediately after the conversation to capture the scope of your conversations and track any action points that may have come up during the conversation.

Best practices for leading effective one-on-one meetings

A few things to keep in mind for your next 1-on-1 meeting:

Determine your meeting rhythm

Every employee is different. Some are comfortable with a direct leadership style, while others prefer to work independently. At the beginning of a new employee-manager relationship, sit down with your direct report and discuss what meeting rhythm they find most helpful.

While most employees and managers meet weekly, some prefer to meet more or less depending on their role or personal needs. Also discuss the length of the meetings and the day of the week you will meet so that your employees feel adequately prepared and not rushed.

Come prepared

To get the most out of the time together, both employees and managers need to prepare for these meetings. Both sides must contribute to the common agenda and provide up-to-date information, feedback, praise and even questions.

Personal meetings are a central part of the relationship between employees and managers. Chronic postponements, lateness, and distractions signal to your employees that you don't care about them, their work, or their time. You can avoid these and other common face-to-face interview pitfalls by being punctual and attending the interviews.

Cover the right topics

Many managers use one-on-one meetings simply to complete an employee's to-do list. That's not a good use of anyone's time.

As mentioned above, one-on-one meetings are the perfect opportunity to discuss personal and professional challenges and growth opportunities, give and receive feedback, share blockages, develop solutions, and more. Go beyond status updates to build stronger relationships with your employees and support them in the ways they need.

Follow up

Chances are good that your one-on-one meetings will lead to some tasks for you as a manager. This could include helping to remove an obstacle, reviewing a policy, asking HR questions, solving a software problem, or dealing with a difficult scenario. Whatever the results, make sure you follow through quickly on what you promise.

And why? If you don't act when your employees raise concerns, you risk losing their trust and damaging your relationship. This could mean they are less willing to open up to you or ask for help in the future. Take their questions and concerns seriously, track progress, or update them at your next weekly meeting.

Tips by IceHrm, your trusted HR management software partner that helps organizations streamline their HR processes.

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