Need to know how to run a one-on-one meeting that goes beyond the usual updates? Effective one-on-ones can transform your team’s internal dynamics and bring greater results, but it’s not just about scheduling time to talk. In this article, I will walk you through essential steps to make every minute count, such as setting goals, engaging in active listening, and creating actionable follow-ups. Let’s get started.

Two people talking about something

Establishing the Framework for Productive One-on-One Meetings

Successfully steering one-on-one meetings always begins with laying a solid foundation. After all, these one-on-one meetings are not just about discussing day-to-day tasks or performance reviews. They are a dedicated time for managers and employees to connect on a deeper level, discuss challenges, and plan for the future.

Productive conversations hinge upon establishing a clear purpose and structure for these meetings, as this aligns both parties on the same page. However, how do you go about doing this?

Defining the One-on-One Meeting

It is crucial to have a thorough understanding of what a one-on-one meeting is and how it is used by managers to foster internal growth. A one-on-one meeting is a recurring calendar event where a manager and a direct report engage in a focused conversation. Unlike team meetings, the primary objective of a one-on-one meeting is to support the employee’s growth and overall development. It’s a platform for open communication, where employees are encouraged to share their thoughts and bring up any topics they would like to discuss.

This approach nurtures a trusting relationship between the manager and the direct report. In turn, the direct report will feel more comfortable in their position week by week, increasing productivity and aligning all parties with business goals.

Identifying the Goals for Your One-on-One

Establishing clear goals for each one-on-one meeting is crucial. This goes beyond just discussing tasks and projects. One-on-one meetings should also be a forum for providing and seeking constructive feedback. As such, a manager should go into a meeting understanding exactly what they are hoping to gain from it. Should they ask for feedback on their own managing style, the way a recent project was run, or maybe something else?

By following this approach to communication that is reciprocal in nature, managers can foster a culture of continuous improvement within their business simply by running effective, well-planned one-on-ones.

Selecting an Effective Schedule

The frequency and duration of one-on-one meetings can greatly influence their effectiveness. A biweekly schedule is a good starting point, but it’s important to adjust this based on specific circumstances like team size or the nature of the work. For example, a situation may arise such that you would need more frequent one-on-ones, such as an urgent project due date.

Aim for a duration of about 30 to 60 minutes, providing ample time to address various discussion points without dragging the meeting along.

Preparing for a One-on-One: The Pre-Meeting Phase

Having established a framework for one-on-one meetings, it’s now time to explore the pre-meeting phase. Before diving into the meeting, both the manager and the direct report need to come prepared. This includes designing a shared agenda, setting clear expectations, and gathering necessary resources and data.

Crafting a Shared Agenda

A shared meeting agenda is the backbone of a successful one-on-one meeting. Collaborating on the agenda ensures that the meeting addresses the needs and concerns of both parties and sets the stage for a productive meeting. The agenda should include clear objectives and be structured around specific topics.

In doing so, the manager and direct report can arrive at the meeting, not have to spend time running through the agenda, and go straight into a productive discussion.

Setting Expectations and Meeting Goals

Setting expectations is just as important as setting goals for a one-on-one meeting. By discussing what each party hopes to achieve from the meeting, it’s easier to stay focused and ensure that the conversation is meaningful and beneficial for both parties. Remember, one-on-one meetings are a two-way street, and both the manager and the employee should leave the meeting feeling that their time was well spent.

Gathering Resources and Data

Once the agenda and expectations are set, it’s time to amass any necessary resources and data for the meeting. This can include any documents, reports, or other information relevant to the discussion points on the agenda.

Having these at hand helps keep the meeting on track and ensures that all discussions are backed by accurate and up-to-date information.

Smiling man while talking to someone

Conducting the One-on-One: The In-Meeting Experience

Upon completing the pre-meeting phase, it’s time to transition into the actual meeting. This is where the rubber meets the road, and the real magic happens. However, conducting an effective one-on-one meeting isn’t as simple as just going through the agenda. It involves several different important factors.

Building Rapport Through Active Listening

Active listening is a key ingredient in building rapport. By actively listening and clearly showing it, managers can better understand their direct reports and foster stronger relationships with their team. In addition, direct reports will leave the meeting with a positive attitude, feeling as if their thoughts and points were fully heard and valuable. However, this doesn’t just involve hearing what the employee is saying but also understanding the underlying emotions and concerns.

To be an effective active listener, a manager must fully dedicate themselves to their job at hand and fully listen to their employee from not only the perspective of a part of a business but also as a human speaking to another human. In doing so, trust can easily be fostered and grown, making for better, happier workers.
Navigating the Agenda and Facilitating Discussion
Navigating the agenda involves more than just going through the talking points one by one. It’s also about facilitating a discussion that addresses each point while also leaving room for any additional topics or concerns that may arise. To do so, one must strike a balance between keeping the meeting on track and allowing for flexibility to address emerging concerns or issues.

Listen More Than You Talk

One of the most important rules of a one-on-one meeting is that the manager should listen more than talk. After all, one-on-ones are about the grievances and thoughts of the direct report, so ensuring that they are given a space to air these out is the most important goal of a manager in a one-on-one. This ensures that the employee feels heard and valued, and it allows the manager to gain a deeper understanding of the employee’s thoughts, feelings, and concerns.

Giving priority to listening over speaking, in turn, allows managers to cultivate a more open and trusting relationship with their direct reports.

Positivity is Key

Maintaining a positive atmosphere during a one-on-one meeting is critical. A positive environment uplifts morale, boosts productivity, and, in the case of a one-on-one, strengthens communication. Managers should always strive to end the meeting on a positive note, ensuring that the employee leaves feeling motivated and appreciated.

Focus on the Future

One-on-one meetings should not just be about discussing past performance or current projects. Instead, they should also focus on future growth and improvement. This involves discussing the employee’s career goals, personal development goals, and any potential roadblocks they may face along the way.

A future-oriented focus enables managers to assist their direct reports in developing a long-term vision and blueprint for their career development.

Following Up: The Post-Meeting Action Plan

The work does not end with the conclusion of the one-on-one meeting. Following up is an integral part of the process. This is when notes from the meeting should be documented, action items identified, and the process reviewed for any necessary improvements.

Documenting Meeting Notes and Action Items

After spending the meeting actively listening, taking notes after the meeting should be a simple task (although one can take notes during the meeting if they wish). These notes should cover exactly what was discussed during the meeting and include any personal thoughts the manager had throughout the course of it.

A notebook and pen A man taking notes

In taking effective notes, managers can guarantee the key points of a meeting are not lost to time, action items will be acted upon, and provide a reference point for future meetings that both the manager and the direct report can refer to in future one-on-ones.

Reviewing and Adjusting the Process

After the meeting, it’s important to review the process and make any necessary adjustments if things didn’t go exactly according to plan or if the manager spotted something that could be improved within the process. This involves reflecting on what worked well and what didn’t, and what can be done to improve future one-on-one meetings.

Not only does this continuous review and adjustment improve the quality of the meetings with a single direct report, but it also helps improve the process on a business-wide scale, increasing productivity and engagement.

Enhancing One-on-One Meetings with Tools and Techniques

With the right tools and techniques, one-on-one meetings can be made even more effective. This includes leveraging technology for remote employees and using templates for consistency.

Utilizing Technology for Remote Employees

In today’s world, where remote work is increasingly common, technology plays a crucial role in facilitating effective one-on-one meetings. Video conferencing tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams can help bridge the physical gap and make remote employees feel more connected and engaged despite the physical distance.

Utilizing these tools enables managers to guarantee that their remote employees remain as engaged and involved in one-on-one meetings as their office-based counterparts. After all, just because these employees work from home doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be included in the company’s culture.

Leveraging Templates for Consistency

Templates are a great tool for ensuring consistency in one-on-one meetings. They provide a structured framework for the meeting, ensuring that all important topics are covered. By using a consistent template for all one-on-one meetings, managers can ensure that all employees have a similar experience, regardless of who they are meeting with.

Man thinking about something

Overcoming Common Challenges in One-on-One Meetings

Just like any other process, one-on-one meetings can come with their own set of challenges. However, with the right strategies, these challenges can be effectively addressed.

Balancing Agenda and Flexibility

One common challenge in one-on-one meetings is balancing a structured agenda with the need for flexibility. While having a clear agenda is important, it can be easy to inadvertently force that agenda over all other conversation points.

A good manager will keep their mind open to different discussion points while also keeping the meeting on track and not letting it stray too off course. In addition, they will also be able to recognize if a new point being discussed in the meeting is more pertinent than anything on the agenda, and will be able to adjust on the fly.

Ensuring Psychological Safety in Tough Discussions

Ensuring psychological safety is another common challenge in one-on-one meetings. This is especially important during difficult discussions or when receiving upward feedback. By creating a psychologically safe environment, managers can encourage open communication and make their direct reports feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns.

Maintaining Engagement Over Time

Keeping engagement consistent over time can pose a challenge in one-on-one meetings. It’s not uncommon for these meetings to start off strong, only to lose steam over time. However, by regularly revisiting goals, addressing concerns, and celebrating achievements, managers can keep their direct reports engaged and invested in the one-on-one meeting process.


In conclusion, one-on-one meetings are an essential tool for improving communication, fostering relationships, and promoting a culture of continuous growth within an organization. By establishing a clear framework, preparing effectively, conducting the meeting with focus and positivity, following up with a well-defined action plan, and leveraging the right tools and techniques, one-on-one meetings can truly unlock the potential of every employee. Remember, the key to successful one-on-one meetings lies in active listening, open communication, and a genuine interest in the growth and development of the direct report.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it helpful. If you are interested in more business-related articles, feel free to check out our blog.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you say in a one-on-one meeting?

In a one-on-one meeting, you should discuss topics such as performance review, goal setting, feedback, recognition, career growth, compensation, onboarding, and productivity to ensure effective communication and support for your employees.

How do you drive a one-on-one meeting?

To drive a one-on-one meeting, you should set the context of human care, paint a picture of excellence, set an agenda, create a plan, discuss challenges, hold employees accountable, ask about morale, and recognize wins. This will help ensure a productive and engaging discussion.

What makes a great one-on-one?

A great one-on-one is characterized by open discussions about goals and objectives, ensuring both parties feel valued, respected, and well-informed, and creating a safe space for sharing concerns and exchanging feedback without judgment. It is important to have a clear structure, maintain the right tone, and follow up effectively after the meeting.

Why are one-on-one meetings important?

One-on-one meetings are important in organizations as they help build personal connections, assist employees in overcoming work obstacles, and keep them updated on new projects. They are crucial for fostering a productive and supportive work environment.

How can I create a shared agenda for a one-on-one meeting?

To create a shared agenda for a one-on-one meeting, collaborate with your manager and/or employee to address the needs and concerns of both parties. You can use a variety of different shared collaboration tools to do so, such as Google Docs.

Rodney Warner

Founder & CEO

As the Founder and CEO, he is the driving force behind the company’s vision, spearheading all sales and overseeing the marketing direction. His role encompasses generating big ideas, managing key accounts, and leading a dedicated team. His journey from a small town in Upstate New York to establishing a successful 7-figure marketing agency exemplifies his commitment to growth and excellence.

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