Getting the Most Out of Your 1-1's

Shot of two young businesswomen talking together at a desk in an office

The regularity of one-on-one discussions helps both managers and employees open up in a more relaxed manner about day-to-day challenges and achievements.  These conversations help build strong working relationships and trust between managers and employees.

While one-on-one meetings can have a more informal vibe that the annual review, they should be structured in such a way to ensure important performance topics are addressed – whether that’s delivering constructive or positive feedback, discussing goal progress or development plans.

When one-on-one meetings are held consistently it limits surprises because both manager and employee are having regular conversations about what is and isn’t working. Not only does this meeting cadence translate into truly useful conversations it also helps the manager and employee develop excellent communication skills.

One-on-one discussions between managers and employees often feel more hurried and disorganized than they need to be. It’s important to check-in and connect regularly but how can you make the bet use of time? How can you make the discussion more productive and collaborative? what should the manager and the employee both do differently to better connect in a meaningful way?

Change your thinking

One-on-one discussions or check-in meetings should be seen as development opportunities, not just about “checking-in” or evaluation. Use the time to learn more about each other, the challenges faced by the team and how to continue to learn and grow.

Be fully present

When it’s time for the conversation managers and employee must shift gears. These conversations are important and the manager and employee should be prepared to devote their full attention during this time. Listen actively and ask curious questions to gain insight and understanding. Turn off your phone, sit away from your computer, don’t allow interruptions and enjoy the conversation.

Schedule time

Structure the meeting to be as long as needed to cover the topics that need to be discussed. hat could be one hour, as short as thirty minutes, or even less.

How often do you need to meet? That frequency will depend on the size of the team, and how much support employees need to be successful in their roles. Weekly, twice a month or even once a month could be the right frequency. The key is to schedule them at regular intervals as a repeating event in your calendars.

If possible, skip out to a local coffee shop occasionally for a change of scenery. Bonus points for your plan for health if you meet while walking. A brisk walk can help conversation flow more easily.

Prepare ahead

Both the manager and the employee should create a list of items you each want to cover during the meeting. Try to limit status or update reporting to no more than half of the meeting. Once in the meeting compare notes and determine which points are the most pressing to discuss. Structure during these meetings is important but also be flexible and work together to ensure you each have time to share.

Start on the right foot

Begin the meeting by celebrating a recent success. Providing appreciative feedback (both manager to employee and employee to manager) is a great way to start a one-on-one discussion as it creates positive energy and strengthens the relationship.

Goal Progress

While more in depth goal discussions should occur outside of the check-in, one-on-one conversations should routinely contain brief updates related to the progress of personal and professional goals. Discussion of successes and challenges provide the manager and the employee an opportunity to think strategically, ensure alignment and problem solve together. Don’t wait for the mid-year check-in to discuss goal progress.

End on the right foot

Continue to build positive employee-manager relationships. End the meetings with appreciation and gratitude. Be specific, be thoughtful and be genuine. These conversations should be something both the manager and the employee look forward to.

It’s important for both the employee and the manager to come prepared to one-on-one conversations.  Preparation includes thinking about questions or topics to bring up during the meeting. The agendas typically cover updates on what’s happening with the employee, the team, the unit or the university.

Employees should also consider asking the following two questions:

  • What has gone well? Share a recent success
  • What can be done differently?  or What have I learned?

Take the time to think deeply about the questions and prepare specific responses and examples to both questions.  For a more complete list of questions download the word document.

Discuss goals. Which goals are on track? Which goals might need revisiting? If a goal is off track, come prepared to discuss why, what it will take to get back on track and whether the goal needs to be revisited.

Think about how the meeting will end and what action might need to be taken. Who will be responsible for recapping the meeting? Are their decisions that still need to be made? Are there items that didn’t get discussed that need answers quickly? Is there follow-up that needs to be done? Are there action items that need to be completed?

To get the most out of your one-on-ones, go beyond the typical update discussion and instead ask powerful and curious questions. Doing so will set up a listen and learn dynamic between employee and manager. For example, employees could ask, “What’s one thing I should refocus my attention on?” This approach will lead to stronger relationships built on trust and genuine interest in the other person.