The 2024 HR Guide to One-on-One Meetings
Having a one on one meeting with employees comes with many benefits. It enhances employee relationships by giving managers the ability to learn more about what motivates them, it’s a way to get on the same page and ensure expectations are clear, and it has the potential to increase productivity.
Unfortunately, many one on one meetings with employees fall flat. Only half of employees prepare for their one on ones with their manager, one in every five one on ones is canceled, and one in three employees dreads meeting with their manager.
Don’t throw up your hands in defeat! It’s true that getting started and maintaining employee one on one meetings can be a challenge, but we’ve got you covered.
Here’s everything you need to know about having a one on one meeting with each of your employees, including how frequently to have meetings, how to prepare, types of meetings, and much more.
What Is a One on One Meeting?
At its most basic, a one on one meeting is simply a meeting between two people. It is usually between a manager and an employee, but it can also take place between employees, as well as between an employee and a mentor.
Also referred to as a one-on-one meeting, a 1:1, or a one-to-one meeting, one on ones are meant to be customized. Each one is completely different depending on the people involved and the topics that need to be covered.
Its purpose is to support the person whom the meeting is for, which is usually the employee. Each meeting should be planned according to the needs of the attendees, but every meeting should focus on support and collaboration in order for everyone to get the most out of it.
How Frequently Should Employees Have 1:1s?
Ideally, leaders should schedule 30-minute one on one meetings every week with each team member, as it is associated with the highest levels of engagement.
If that isn't feasible with your schedule, consider 45-60-minute meetings every other week. Hybrid plans are also an option, where you decide which team members need the most support, and they meet weekly, and which team members need less, and they meet biweekly.
It is important to be realistic about how much time you have to conduct employee one-on-ones. For example, if you have a large team, conducting weekly check-ins could fill up your entire work week. It’s more important to set a schedule that works for you and your employees so you don’t burn out, even if that means meeting once every three or four weeks until you have the time to meet more often.
The key is to be flexible and make adjustments. Be willing to increase or reduce meeting times or lengths so you and your employees get the most out of every one on one meeting.
Why Is the One on One Meeting So Important?
Employee 1:1s have many benefits, which we’ll get to in a moment, but at the core of a one-on-one meeting is its ability to foster stronger relationships between managers and employees.
The regular workday is busy. It isn’t uncommon for all interactions between an employee and their manager to be about deliverables, time-off requests, and other cut-to-the-chase topics that can leave employees feeling disempowered.
One-on-one meetings give employees the ability to talk about their goals, their experience on the job, and other matters that often get left behind. They feel like their manager truly cares about them and their success on the team, which is hugely important when it comes to things like engagement, employee attrition, and productivity.
What Are the Benefits of One on Ones?
The importance of one on one meetings with employees can be seen more clearly when you dive into how they can benefit not only your employees, but your overall business.
The benefits of one on one meetings include:
- Increased engagement
- Goal setting and goal completion
- Frequent Feedback
- Stay on top of tasks
A one on one meeting is a great way to drive employee engagement. Employees who got almost no one on one time with their manager were likely to be disengaged. However, employees who received twice as many one on one meetings with their manager compared to their coworkers were a whopping 67% less likely to be disengaged.
The quality and quantity of meetings matters. When meetings are collaborative (more on that in a little bit) and they occur on a weekly or almost weekly basis, you’re more likely to have an engaged workforce.
Goal setting and goal completion
Most companies ask their employees to set goals. It’s an especially popular task during annual reviews, but once the goal is set, no one follows up until the next annual review.
That's a problem because those who break down their goals into actionable tasks and report their progress on a weekly basis achieve 40% more than those who don't.
With frequent one on one meetings, you are able to help your employees set goals, but you’re also able to help them achieve those goals by being there for them along the way. You can help them break down their goals into more manageable chunks, modify goals, as needed, and celebrate wins together when you meet one on one.
Employees actually want feedback. As a matter of fact, 65% of employees want more feedback, with 98% actively disengaging from their work if they don't get it.
Frequent feedback also ensures that employees are on the right track. Most mistakes aren’t made on purpose. Instead, an employee almost always thinks they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing until someone tells them otherwise. A one on one meeting allows you to clarify expectations and course-correct quickly.
Stay on top of tasks
It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to prioritizing tasks. It isn’t uncommon for employees and even managers to spend more time on smaller, less important tasks that seem more pressing at the moment, but they actually don’t contribute much to long-term success.
A weekly one-on-one meeting can help keep everyone on track. Being accountable to another person helps everyone stay on top of important tasks, but it also gives employees and managers the opportunity to problem-solve challenges, receive encouragement, and make sure everyone is prioritizing the tasks that are most important.
How to Prepare for 1:1s
Just having a one on one meeting isn’t enough. It’s a waste of everybody’s time if you have meetings for the sake of having meetings without ensuring that they are valuable for both employees and managers.
Take the time to prepare for a 1:1 meeting and:
- Set a recurring schedule
- Choose a location
- Build an agenda
- Make your agenda collaborative
Set a recurring schedule
One-off one-on-one meetings aren’t effective. You have to have recurring meetings in order to reap the rewards of 1:1s. But if you don’t make them part of your schedule, they’re more likely to end up at the bottom of your to-do list, which means they won’t get done at all.
Create a recurring schedule of meetings that works for you and your employees. It will help you get into the habit of having those meetings, and when it turns into a habit, you’re more likely to do it. Not to mention, a recurring schedule allows employees to plan meetings into their schedule too.
Choose a location
Don’t waste time going back and forth on where you’re going to meet. That wastes time and creates frustration. Make sure the focus of your meeting is the topics that will be discussed—and not the location—by picking a spot and sticking with it.
That doesn’t mean your location can’t change. For example, you might schedule a monthly meeting in person, but other check-ins are done virtually. Make sure the locations you choose are consistent and convenient for both of you and the location itself can change to suit your needs.
Build an agenda
Don’t expect your meetings to be productive if you choose a free-form format with no direction. A one on one meeting agenda needs to be created so both parties know what to expect and prepare for.
That doesn’t mean your agenda has to be the same each time! There are actually many different types of one on one meetings that we’ll get to in a bit. The point is to choose what type of meeting you’re going to have and plan accordingly by creating a list of questions, collecting data, if necessary, and leaving a little extra time for employees to ask questions or bring up concerns.
Make your agenda collaborative
When you’re building an agenda and creating one on one meeting questions, make sure you ask for each employee’s input.
One-to-one meetings are meant to be collaborative. They shouldn’t just be a way for managers to talk at their employees about what they’re doing wrong. Employees want to feel like active participants in the meeting, which means giving them some say in how the meeting will go.
That could mean asking them to determine the type of one on one meeting that would be most helpful for whatever challenges they’re tackling at the moment, or it could mean asking them for feedback.
No matter how you collaborate, make sure you do it while you’re building an agenda. That way employees don’t feel like they’re being put on the spot when they arrive. It also ensures you make the most of every precious minute of your meeting by not wasting time brainstorming what to talk about.
How to Conduct a One on One Meeting
There is not a set type of 1:1 meeting that you can plan for each and every time. There are multiple types of meetings that managers and employees can conduct, but there are some commonalities between the different types of meetings.
Similar steps you should follow for every one on one meeting include:
- Check in with your employees
- Discuss objectives
- Ask about challenges
- Bring up any performance issues
- Ask what your employee needs for support
- Set expectations for next steps
- Document and follow up
Check in with your employees
Every meeting should provide you with a way to check in with each other. You simply have to ask how things are going. You might ask about something specific, like a project or a new role, or you might ask generally. The point is to give your employee the floor to talk about what’s on their mind.
In order for meetings to be successful, they have to have an agenda. Make sure the objectives on that agenda are made clear at the beginning of every meeting. It gets everyone in the right mindset for what to expect, it sets the expectation to stay on topic, and it also gets everyone to think about what they want to say.
Ask about challenges
Regardless of the topic, you’ll want to talk about challenges. What challenges are standing in the way of completing the latest project on time, or what do they find most difficult about their position? Often, when you ask about the challenges associated with your objectives for the meeting, they will uncover what you should talk about next: performance issues.
Bring up any performance issues
Performance issues are easier to talk about when employees bring up the challenges that are associated with those performance issues first. If they don’t, you’ll still want to bring up the performance issues that are associated with the topics you’re covering.
Ask what your employee needs for support
Talking about performance issues should be a supportive experience for your employees. Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, focus on what can be done to fix it, change it, or do better next time. Ask what kind of resources or support they need so they feel like you’re in their corner, providing them with the support they need to be successful.
Set expectations for next steps
It’s always a good idea to set expectations for the next steps that need to be taken. That might mean readdressing the support they need and how they’re going to get it, timelines for project completion, or anything else you expect ahead of the next one on one meeting.
Document and follow up
Employee one on ones are meant to be cumulative in nature. Meetings should build on each other and tackle new topics without rehashing the same things over and over again.
By documenting and storing the information from all of your meetings, you’re able to follow up with employees about what was discussed. It’s even easier for employees and managers to access the information they need when they need it with a central system that enables you to keep all of your meeting information in one place.
Performance Management Software for One on One Meetings
The best way to document and follow up on employee one on one meetings is by using performance management software, like PerformYard. It allows you to schedule meeting times, store and share notes from each meeting, and track progress. With all of the information associated with every one on one meeting in one place, you can facilitate better goal-setting, clarify expectations, and even track data over time, all without tracking down emails, jumping between platforms searching for information, or trying to maintain a complicated spreadsheet.
Better yet, comprehensive performance management software is customizable enough to accommodate all 11 meeting types.
11 types of one-on-one meetings
Below we’ve listed out 11 types of employee one-on-one meetings. Each one does not need to take up the full 30 minute or one hour timeslot you’ve allotted and you’ll find that you often combine two or three into a single sitting. We listed them roughly in the order of how frequently they should be used, and generally you should get through all of them about every 6 months.
The building trust meeting
The first step in creating effective one-on-ones is to build trust. If your employees feel that you’re distant they won’t come to meetings open and willing to share. They also won’t feel connected and ready to work through things together.
The good news is that creating trust is relatively easy, the only step is to take an honest interest in someone as a person. Find out more about their personal life and their hobbies, be there for them when they face life’s challenges. If your employees know you’re there for them and care for them, all the other types of meetings below will go much more smoothly.
If you don’t already have a strong connection with an employee, don’t be afraid to spend the first few one-on-ones just building up a stronger rapport. Then over time take a few minutes to check in on them every meeting and periodically just let a whole meeting go by talking about them. Remember, we’re not judging the impact of any one meeting, we’re judging the impact of our one-on-one practice as a whole.
- How are you?
- What did you do last weekend?
- What do you love to do outside of work?
- What’s your favorite thing about work?
- How are your kids/spouse/parents doing?
- Do you have any exciting plans for summer/holidays/new year?
The employee’s meeting
One-on-ones should be the employee’s meeting, as often as possible. This means they set the agenda. That said, you can still help guide them, and let them know it is ok to bring up certain issues.
For example, if your employee is having trouble working with another person at the office, they might not want to bring that issue up unless you first prompt them and let them know it is fair-game to discuss. Prompt the meeting with open-ended questions designed to unearth specific issues if they exist.
- What would you like to focus on at this meeting?
- Have you been struggling with anything?
- Is there anything that you think I should know about?
- Do you have an easy relationship with everyone at the office?
- Have you noticed anything at the company that felt off lately?
- Do you have any questions about the organization?
- Is there anything that you need from me?
What you’re working on meeting
Often check-ins are just a discussion of what the employee is working on right now. They can be an opportunity to provide feedback, course corrections, additional support, or remove barriers.
- How was last week?
- Tell me your plans for next week?
- What is the latest on the project?
- Is anything getting in your way lately?
- What are you prioritizing and what are you putting on the back-burner?
- What could we do to make it better?
- What project do you want to work on next?
- Are you confused by any part of what you’re currently working on?
Team dynamics meeting
An organization is by definition a group of people working towards a particular purpose. For that reason it is important to regularly check in on how your team is working with the rest of the organization.
- Who on the team impresses you? Why?
- If you were to build a small team to work with, who would be on it?
- Who do you have a hard time working with? Why?
- What makes someone a fit for our team?
- Is there anything you would do to improve how the team collaborates?
- Is there anyone you think you should be working more closely with but aren’t?
- What would you change about our team?
- Why do you think Jill left the company? Is there something we should change?
Requesting feedback meeting
Once you have built up some trust, use one-on-ones as a way for employees to share any issues they have with the way you work. Getting these out in the open is incredibly healthy, it gives you a chance to explain yourself, or make changes. Requesting feedback is also a great way to build additional trust before giving difficult feedback.
- What feedback do you have for me?
- Is there anything I can do to give you more support at work?
- Can I help you work through anything specific?
- Is there anything you would change about how you and I communicate?
- Would you prefer more or less direction from me?
- Is there something a former manager did that you really appreciated?
- Do you have some examples of things you don’t think I handled well?
Giving feedback meeting
The regular and recurring nature of one-on-ones makes them a perfect place for continuous feedback. That said it is also important to cater feedback to the individual, so if you the employee wants to hear from you in the moment, waiting two weeks or a month until the next check-in might not be appreciated.
- I want to talk about something I noticed the other day.
- We haven’t been achieving this goal, I want to work with you to figure out why.
- What’s something recent you wish you did differently?
- Is your work meeting your own expectations?
- Is there anything you’re currently working on getting better at?
Ideas for our company meeting
One of the most common complaints from employees is that no one is listening to their ideas. One-on-ones are the perfect platform to discuss what changes your team would like to see at the company. Front line team members can often be the best source of ideas, but also don’t be afraid to push back on ideas and give the employee more context when needed.
- If you could change anything at the company, what would it be?
- If you were me, what would be the first change you’d make?
- What don’t you like about our product or service?
- How do you feel about our company culture? What would make it better?
- Where do you see our company in 10 years?
- What’s the biggest opportunity we’re not pursuing?
Learning about the company meeting
This one can be easily overlooked. Your team will often not have the same view of the company as you do and a regular meeting can be a great time to communicate any new initiatives, company level goals, and how an employee’s work fits into the big picture.
- Has anyone told you how your new project fits into the company’s goals?
- Can we discuss the company’s 2018 priorities and how that impacts what we do?
- Do you have any questions about what I do?
- What part of the company would you like to learn more about?
- Can we talk about the impact your work has on the customer/the company?
Long-term goals meeting
While it doesn’t make sense to discuss long-term goals every week, it is important to understand what motivates your employees and where they are looking to go in life. If you can find ways to align their personal goals with the company’s goals the results will be dramatic.
- What’s your dream job?
- What’s your totally crazy idea that probably could never work, but you’d love if it could?
- What do you want to be doing 10 years from now?
- Is there someone who you think has an awesome life?
- What do you want to do in your next job?
- Do you feel like your work helps you make progress towards your goal?
- What part of your work here is most in line with your goals?
- Do you feel like you’re learning new things at work?
- Are there things you’d like to learn?
- Is there additional training or education that you’ve considered pursuing?
- Can we do anything to better align your work with your goals?
- Do you have skills that you think are underutilized at work?
Are you happy meeting
This one almost feels too big or maybe too simple? But, happy employees are better employees, and unhappy employees are at risk of disengaging or turning over. You won't know for sure until you ask.
- Are you happy working here?
- Do you feel proud of what you do here?
- Do you enjoy coming into work?
- What parts of your job make you unhappy?
- What part of your work energizes you?
The following up meeting
Finally, don't forget to follow up. If you are doing one-on-ones well, then they should form an ongoing dialog where ideas get raised and you can discuss progress over time. Take notes and set reminders together to revisit the idea at a future date.
Build your own one-on-one practice
Wow, I feel like I need even more frequent check-ins to have time to talk about all these different things. Hopefully you feel the same way and will never have to wonder, “what could we possibly talk about this week?”
Pick and choose from the different types of meetings above to create your own one-on-one practice that is a fit for each employee and your organization. Before long one-on-ones will be a key part of your management tool belt.