One-on-one meeting guide for managers and employees
Last updated on: June 20, 2022
Regular one-on-one meetings between managers and employees are one of the key ways of maintaining maximum employee engagement and performance.
Moreover, regular one-on-one meetings provide an ideal opportunity for managers to support employee mental health.
This was especially significant at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 when organizations and teams relied on one-on-meetings to maintain team connection and provide optimum support for their newly remote teams.
In fact, Reclaim reports that there has been a whopping 500% increase in one-on-one meetings from 2020 onward.
To help you ensure your team members and organization enjoy all the benefits of regular one-on-one meetings, we’ve prepared a complete guide on effective meetings for both managers and employees.
Let’s dive in.
What are one-on-one meetings?
A one-on-one meeting (or 1:1) is a meeting between a manager and an individual team member.
These meetings can also happen between coaches, peers, or mentors.
But, in general, the term usually refers to a one-on-one meeting between a manager and their direct reports.
In most cases, these are recurring, monthly, or quarterly meetings used to:
- Give and solicit feedback,
- Discuss priorities,
- Stay in the loop on progress,
- Discuss potential team or work issues, and
- Talk about potential blockers.
According to most recent research, one-on-one meetings are becoming more frequent:
- 64% of professionals report attending weekly 1:1s
- 21% say they have one-on-one meetings every two weeks
One-on-one meetings are most commonly conducted in-person or via video conferencing platforms, depending on the organization’s work model. In-office and hybrid teams will more likely organize these in person, while remote and remote-first organizations will schedule video conference calls.
One-on-one meetings also provide an ideal opportunity for a more open and in-depth discussion about all things that team meetings or other public and group settings don’t allow.
What do you discuss in a first one-on-one meeting?
The very first one-one-meeting between a manager and an employee should mainly be dedicated to setting expectations and responsibilities on both sides, in addition to getting to know each other.
We reached out to Mark Beal, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice, Communication at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, and asked for his perspective on the matter.
Professor Beal highlights two key points for each party to introduce into a discussion:
“In a first one-on-one meeting, there are two critical topics to discuss:
- The new employee’s interests and passions in and out of the workplace, and
- Their short- and long-term objectives in their new role.
As a new employee, you want to gain an immediate sense of belonging and that your employer cares about you as an individual and a professional.”
Ideally, the first one-on-one meeting will be held during the onboarding process. Onboarding provides an ideal opportunity to set the right foundation for what you both want the collaboration to look like.
Use this time to gain insight into:
- Preferred communication styles and methods of the employee/within the company as a whole
- Expectations from one-on-one meetings
- Preferred employe/manager skills and manner of working
- Preferred methods of getting/giving feedback
- Career goals/Company goals and how they align
Questions to ask in a first one-on-one meeting (for managers)
In line with these discussion points, here are some questions to ask your direct reports in a first one-on-one meeting.
Use these when you need inspiration — and customize them depending on your goals for your first one-on-one meeting.
- How’s the first week been so far?
- Do you need more information or resources?
- How can I help you settle in and ensure next week is successful for you?
- Have you managed to connect with and integrate into the team? Are there any challenges I can help you with in this regard?
- Are you more of an independent worker, or do you prefer to collaborate with others?
- What are your expectations from me?
What is your preferred style and method of communication?
- How do you like to receive feedback?
- What makes you feel appreciated at work?
- What are your goals for the next period?
- How can I support you in achieving these goals?
- How do you track your progress when working on achieving your goals?
Questions to ask in a first one-on-one meeting (for employees)
As an employee, you share the responsibility of setting the right foundation for successful collaboration with your manager in your first one-on-one.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask to get started on the right foot.
- What did your career path look like?
- What were some of the most valuable resources you used to improve your skills?
- When’s the best time to get feedback on my work?
- What are your preferred methods of receiving feedback?
- How can I improve my skills?
- What resources do you think I could benefit the most from?
- What are your expectations from me in the first week/month/year?
- What are some skills and manners of working you find most valuable for employees to achieve success in this position?
- What is your management method and preferred communication style?
- What do you think of my work so far?
- Have you noticed any potential areas of improvement I could work on?
- Where do you see my role evolving in the next 6 months/year?
- What can I do to help improve our team performance?
What is the importance of one-on-one meetings?
One-on-one meetings provide a space for in-depth discussions and feedback sessions between managers and their team members.
But, they also play an important role in several key areas for the employer, manager, and organizational success:
- One-on-one meetings build trust — By promoting transparency and support in reaching common goals, one-on-one meetings develop trust and understanding.
- One-on-one meetings improve employee experience — Employees report feeling more motivated and, overall, more positive after one-on-ones, according to research.
- One-on-one meetings increase employee productivity and performance — By reducing blockers and solving issues, effective one-on-one meetings help employees perform better in their roles. In fact, Quantumworkplace finds that regular one-on-one meetings are a common practice in 55% of highly engaged companies.
- One-on-one meetings improve communication — Effective team communication relies on transparency, regular updates, and adjusting to diverse communication styles, all of which are key components of successful one-on-one meeting practice.
- One-on-one meetings enhance accountability — By setting clear expectations and responsibilities with employees from the start, organizations encourage a more driven and accountable workforce.
- One-on-one meetings help employees better align with the company’s purpose and mission — Regular one-one-meetings help remind employees how the day-to-day work they perform connects to the overarching mission of the organization.
A manager’s guide to effective one-on-one meetings
Except for the first one-on-one meeting, the manager’s role in these meetings is to support their direct reports rather than dominate the conversation.
However, there are still several important aspects managers need to keep in mind when organizing and conducting successful one-on-one meetings.
🗓️ Create a recurring schedule
Consider scheduling recurring one-on-one meetings in your calendars. This practice will help make these meetings a part of the regular work process, instead of adding to the consistent stream of interruptions.
It’s also best to experiment with the frequency of these meetings in the beginning — until you find what works best for you and your team.
The frequency also largely depends on the size and structure of your team, and their expectations and level of experience.
For example, junior-level employees will in most cases require more guidance, feedback, and support — especially in their first months.
Therefore, it would be ideal to customize these schedules based on the said factors.
🧘 Get in the right frame of mind
One-on-ones are meant to be a space where you get to connect on a more meaningful level with your team members.
A positive attitude is critical in creating the best possible atmosphere where you both are fully present, engaged, and ready to openly share.
Here’s how to maintain a positive tone throughout the meeting:
- Start on a positive note by sharing a win, or congratulating a team member on their most recent accomplishment. This will help set a positive tone for the meeting and later allow for more open discussions about the challenges and potential issues.
- Also, remember to keep your ego in check to be able to hear and acknowledge any feedback your employees give you. Be mindful of how you approach potential criticism and remember that you’re role-modeling the behavior of your team members.
It’s also a good practice to record the feedback you get to reflect on the points later and act on them when necessary.
- Don’t forget to express gratitude. It’s one of the simplest, yet so commonly overlooked ways to show appreciation and professionalism — and, it’s a great way to end any interaction on a positive note.
📄 Prepare agenda items
Although usually less formal, one-on-one meetings don’t allow plenty of room for winging it if you want them to bring value.
To avoid letting an important topic slip, or having to improvise on the spot, consider preparing discussion points and questions you’d like to cover ahead of time.
So, prepare a plan — but, at the same time, remember to allow for flexibility in case you go over the estimated time on some topics and need to park other topics for your next meeting.
You can use this template as an inspiration for the talking points in your next one-on-one meeting.
Or you can collaborate with your direct reports and customize the meeting items according to your specific agenda points.
✅ Be supportive
As a manager, you should treat one-on-one meetings as a learning opportunity.
Employees come to these meetings expecting support and guidance, so be ready to turn your active listening mode on.
Find the right balance between listening and jumping in with additional questions and instructions when there’s an issue to be solved.
In addition to showing support to your direct reports, you can learn a lot about your team’s engagement, performance, motivation, and dynamics during these meetings.
Practice listening and be ready to help solve any problem the employees might bring up.
When giving feedback, remember to provide enough context and try to always stay honest. Most effective one-on-one meetings are built on trust and open communication.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
For more actionable tips on how to give constructive feedback in a remote setting, be sure to check out our guide on the subject:
🤷♀️ Be mindful of nonverbal signals
How you think you appear and how you actually appear to the other person in a meeting can vary tremendously.
When looking to improve the effectiveness of your one-on-one meetings, be mindful of the messages you’re conveying with your body language.
Your posture, facial expressions, gaze, and gestures all tell a story. Make sure it matches your intention of being present, supportive, and engaged in the conversation.
Try to master the art of body language in virtual meetings yourself to make sure you’re sending the right message.
Learning about the nuances of body language will also help you understand how to read the body language of your team members.
Whether you’re meeting them in person, or via video calls in Pumble, you’ll get a better insight into your direct reports’ real thoughts and feelings by paying attention to their nonverbal cues.
What can I ask an employee in one-on-ones?
Depending on your one-on-one meeting agenda, you can compile a list of questions to ask your direct reports.
Here are some examples in several categories to use for inspiration.
What are some points you’d like to talk about?
What were some of the challenges/wins in the last week/month you’d like to share?
What were some of your major priorities?
What will you focus on more from now until our next meeting?
What can I help you with in the future?
Questions about work habits and employee performance
How is project ABC going?
What are your top priorities at the moment?
What can I do to help you with your priorities?
How do you like to organize your work day?
What part of the day do you feel most productive?
How do you track your productivity?
Is there anything you’d like to spend more/less time on?
Questions about team dynamics and collaboration
Do you think we work well as a team?
Is there anything we could do to be more in sync?
Have you helped a teammate or received help from a teammate over the last week/month?
Has [new team member] integrated well into the team?
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
For more on how to help your team collaborate more effectively, visit our ultimate guide and get the best strategies:
Questions about employee engagement
How happy are you at work?
Is there something I could do to improve your happiness level at work?
Did your job meet the expectations you had upon starting?
Do you get to use your strengths often at work?
What situations/achievements/goals/projects at work made you the happiest recently?
Questions about any challenges and concerns
Are there any blockers or issues that prevent you from performing your best at the moment?
Is there any aspect of your job you need more resources on?
What caused the most stress for you recently at work? Is there anything I can do to help prevent that?
Is there any aspect of your job you need more clarity/information on?
Questions about professional development goals
Do you feel you’re moving forward in your career?
What are your key long-term professional goals?
How does the work you do here align with these goals?
Manager feedback questions
What is something I should do more/less to improve my management style?
Would you like more/less guidance from me?
Is there anything I’m not addressing that you think I should focus on more?
What do you like about my management style? What would you change if you were in my shoes?
Is there something you think I should delegate to someone else on the team?
Is there something I could do to improve how we work together?
An employee’s guide to effective one-on-one meetings
As an employee, your role in one-on-one meetings is to use this time with your manager to get detailed feedback and guidance.
Unlike other types of meetings where you might be assigned a different role, a one-on-one with your manager also allows plenty of space to take initiative and have your perspective heard and acknowledged.
To help you maximize this time with your team leader, here are some actionable tips on how to have successful one-on-one meetings as an employee.
🙋♀️ Volunteer to collaborate on the agenda
First things first — show initiative early on in the process.
By signing up to collaborate with your manager on the agenda, you’re demonstrating a proactive mindset and ensuring you are setting clear expectations with your manager.
You can create a shared document and write down key discussion points you’d like to cover during a meeting.
Having both parties on the same page regarding key discussion points gives you both a better chance to prepare your questions and answers and have a more productive meeting overall.
🎤 Drive the conversation
Ever left a team meeting wishing you had more time to receive proper feedback on that one project that’s been slowing you down for days?
One-on-one meetings are designed for you to express every and any work-related issue and gain more clarity and guidance.
So, don’t be afraid to do most of the talking.
It is expected that you assume a more active role during one-on-one meetings.
Your manager isn’t a mind reader, so don’t risk leaving out any important issue that they might have not noticed or addressed. It’s your responsibility to utilize this time to solicit any feedback or advice, and clear any misunderstandings.
🧑🎓 Make your manager’s job easier
Another important aspect of creating a more effective one-on-one meeting environment is to do your part in creating better understanding through effective communication.
More specifically — learn about your superior’s management and communication styles and try to adjust yours accordingly.
For example, if your manager leans more toward a personal communication style, you can build a better understanding if you show more interest in getting to know them as a person and engaging in some small talk in the beginning.
You can also show more empathy and acknowledge their role in building a psychologically safe space for your team.
Another way you can make your manager’s job easier is to let them know what areas you need their help with.
In a way, you need to guide your manager in the right direction to help them guide you.
🎯 Be specific when giving and soliciting feedback
This is not a place to beat around the bush. The purpose of one-on-one meetings is ultimately to get clear directions on all areas of improvement. So, make sure to leave out vague and generic questions and answers that won’t bring any results.
Ideally, your manager will ask for your feedback on their management style. But, even if they don’t explicitly ask, it’s your responsibility to give constructive and specific feedback during one-on-one meetings.
For example, instead of saying you’re happy with the way they manage the team, point out the specific method they use that you like or dislike, or the situation where this was reflected the most to better illustrate your point.
At the same time, be specific when asking for feedback yourself.
Instead of asking for a generalized overview of your performance, ask about the specific project, or specific areas you need to improve on, for example.
Finally, don’t forget to record the feedback you receive and make a plan on how to act on it.
👩💻 Mind how you show up on screen
This is where framing and body language become crucial to how you are perceived by other participants.
In the case of one-on-one meetings, you’ll want to put your best foot forward and show up as an engaged and fully focused professional.
Here are some tips on how to look professional in a virtual one-on-one meeting.
- Mind your posture. Always sit up straight closer to the edge of your seat, with your feet on the ground.
- Fill the frame. Set the camera so that you appear centered on the screen, and neither too distant nor uncomfortably close.
- Be mindful of your facial expressions. A smile is very much appreciated, but yawning, staring, and frowning are to be avoided at all costs.
- Create a professional setup. Remove any distractions from your desk to stay fully present. Tidy up your room or your office, or set an appropriate background on your conference tool. Also, it is always a good idea to dress at least semi-professionally.
What can I ask a manager in one-on-ones?
To help you make the most of your one-on-one with your manager, we’ve compiled a list of example questions in several categories.
Questions about manager expectations
What are some of the things I’m doing well?
Is there anything I need to change/do more/less of?
Do you have any advice on how to go about implementing these changes?
Questions about roadblocks
Can you suggest additional resources for improving [skill X]?
I’ve been experiencing challenges integrating with [team Y] from our department. Can you facilitate an introduction or collaboration opportunity?
Questions about goals and plans
What are some areas I need to improve to do better at my job?
Which skills do I need to work on to advance in my career?
What do you think are my main strengths and weaknesses?
Where do you see my role evolving in the future?
Questions about collaboration/team dynamics
How can I help the team more effectively?
Which teammate do I need to develop a better relationship with?
What are our main goals and priorities for the team? How can I help in achieving these?
Wrapping up: Meaningful one-on-one meetings are frequent, purposeful, and structured
One-on-one meetings play a critical role in developing a productive, engaged, and happy workforce.
However, when not organized and conducted in the right way, these meetings can only add to the overall meeting overload without creating any tangible value.
To ensure you’re adding more meaning and value to your one-on-one meetings, consider:
- Creating a recurring schedule
- Preparing a thorough meeting agenda and questions
- Maintaining open and direct communication
Follow these and other actionable tips in this guide to hold one-on-one meetings that make a difference.