Why one-on-ones are important
Frequency and duration one-on-one meeting best practices
How to create a space of trust and open communication in your one-on-ones
Best practices for managers to follow before, during, and after one-on-one meetings
The one-on-one meeting is one of the most important soft skills mastered by great managers. After all, the now popularized saying goes: people leave managers, not companies. In the highly regarded book ‘High Output Management” by Andy Grove, when describing how to conduct one-on-one meetings with your employees, Mr Grove says:
“A key point about a one-on-one: It should be regarded as the subordinate’s meeting, with its agenda and tone set by him.” - Andy Grove
So while the spirit of the one-on-one being “the subordinate’s meeting” makes sense, managers who take this too literally would be making a mistake. Managers are responsible for providing structure to the meeting and having systems in place for follow up and accountability. Not just for the employee but for themselves too.
Whether you are managing people for the first time or are a seasoned manager, the one-on-one meeting is one facet of your job that will evolve, grow, and improve with practice. In this guide, we break down the nuances and logistics involved, and provide an overarching framework on how to best approach these meetings as a manager. We'll also provide an employee one-on-one meeting template you can use in Charma.
In its simplest form, the one-on-one meeting is a recurring time set aside for a manager and one of their direct reports to connect. The content and format will vary depending on the individuals and their respective needs at the time. It can be a straightforward performance check in, a career coaching session, a project strategy session, a venting session, or time to get to know one another better.
Regardless of company size or how close you work together, the one-on-one is the foundation of the employee manager relationship. This is crucial to the success of the team for a few reasons:
Dedicated time outside of the day-to-day provides the space to build a strong working relationship. It gives both parties an opportunity to discuss things that may not surface naturally in conversation otherwise.
A one-on-one offers a chance to raise red flags, discuss blockers, and share feedback in a lower stress context. This helps keep projects on track and gives both individuals time to process and be concise (as opposed to being reactive on the spot). As a manager, it’s your responsibility to provide support to your team and enable them to do their best work.
One of the most frustrating parts of any job is when ongoing discussions lack follow through. Whether that is quarterly objectives or personal development goals, documentation is beneficial. Structure prevents the sentiment of stagnation and serves as a reminder to acknowledge growth. Checking in at a regular cadence provides managers insights into longer term employee goals and how to help them achieve them.
Many CEOs will share that one-on-one meetings should happen at a regular cadence that is baked into the calendar. Once a week is the most common, although once every two weeks or once a month makes sense in some circumstances. When determining what is best for you, here are a few things to consider:
A one-on-one meeting should feel like it is long enough to bring up a complicated topic without feeling rushed, but short enough that you are not looking to fill the silence. Depending on the size of the team and the nature of your working relationship, here are a few things to consider:
Is the goal to check in, offer feedback on current projects, and leave it open for the employee to bring other topics up? Scheduling a full hour may be too much if this is the format.
Is this an individual who wants mentorship and professional development opportunities? Limiting the coveted one-on-one meeting to 30 minutes may feel too rushed in this case.
The important thing about one-on-one’s is the ability to keep it consistent. This establishes a routine, and sets both parties up to know what to expect, so they can respectively get the most from the meeting.
If you ask anyone who has been working for a few years to tell you about their favorite manager and their least favorite manager, there is always someone that comes to mind for both. More often than not, individuals will experience an “okay” manager. There are no real complaints, but also nothing particularly remarkable.
Once in a while (a few times in their careers), lucky individuals will experience a manager who is truly, truly impactful. Whether it is a manager who served as an incredible mentor, or a manager that shaped their career growth, or a manager who set the bar for empathy--these are the managers that make a difference.
With that preface, this is why a meaningful, impactful one-on-one meeting is akin to an art form for every manager. Here are some high level recommendations on how to get the most from the meeting:
This is a key habit to develop. A temperature check will give the employee a chance to bring things up that they may not share without prompting. As a manager, it’s very likely that you’re busy and going from meeting to meeting. However, it is important not let your one-on-one devolve into a transactional experience by jumping right into an agenda. To ensure that this does not come across as small talk or rhetoric, leverage one-on-one meeting questions like the following:
The one-on-one meeting can be a powerful tool in cultivating morale, inspiring productivity, and motivating growth. To achieve these, it is important that there is a strong sense of trust and a degree of confidentiality/confidence. Keep the following in mind:
This is easier for some managers than others. Giving recognition or expressing thanks. It does not feel natural to everyone, but a little goes a long way. Instead of saving the acknowledgement for the big wins only (breaking sales records, promotions, etc.), try getting into a habit of recognizing small wins as well. Here are some ideas on where you can offer recognition and make your employees feel appreciated:
Although this might feel redundant, make it a practice to review long term goals first. Touch upon it briefly or reference existing goals in Charma to set the tone and the context for the next part of the conversation.
This is also great if there are any major blockers that are putting the long term goals at risk. It allows you to give feedback in an objective manner, leveraging the long term goals as the context. Additionally, this sets up the conversation to move into the next important topic: short term goals.
This is a delicate balancing act, especially as circumstances change and new variables show up. The purpose of setting benchmarks is so a large, overarching project or goal is more achievable and not overwhelming. In a one-on-one meeting, part of your responsibility as a manager is to gage whether or not the short term projects are feasible. If they aren't, it's your job to pinpoint why and offer solutions.
Hitting milestones creates momentum and traction which builds the confidence needed to tackle larger goals. On the flip side, if short term projects are too ambitious, it can feed burnout and low morale.
Depending on the discussion topics, it is a best practice to wrap the conversation with action items for yourself and your direct report. This is best done before transitioning to the next agenda item. It’s worth mentioning that this should not feel like extra work for either party. Simply convert the discussion topic to an action item from your meeting workspace.
For example, if one of the takeaways is skill development e.g. time management needs work, the action item could be to schedule a training to help optimize the employee’s day to day. This is a stark contrast to asking the employee to send a breakdown of where they feel they are spending the most time in a day or week. Sending out a calendar invite is a simpler action item.
Treat each one-on-one meeting the way you would a client meeting. Take coaching notes where possible and file it away for the future. Ideally, you are building a long, healthy relationship with your employee where coaching will come into play at some point.
In addition to coaching notes, take personal notes for yourself on what went well and what didn’t go well. The Private Notes section of your one-on-one workspace is purpose-built for this. Reflecting on the meeting will allow you to improve your future one-on-ones.
Lastly, follow up even if it is a short note or a comment in Charma. This will close the communication loop and give the employee a channel to respond if they had anything they thought of after the meeting.
Beloved by managers, HR, executives, and ICs alike, Charma is the best practice toolkit for managers to organize, motivate, and engage their teams. Find tools and AI to help you manage agendas for both one-on-one meetings and team meetings, action items, team collaboration, 360 reviews, continuous feedback & recognition, and goals — all in one place.
Check out our resources for articles, guides, and success stories dedicated to running efficient and effective teams. If you have any questions about anything you read or how to utilize Charma, reach out to our team at any time.
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