Company Culture

6 Techniques to Improve One-on-One Meetings (+ Template)

Sahil Mehta
August 22, 2022
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Managers are one of the most powerful tools for boosting employee engagement! 🎉 And what better place to engage your employees than in a one-on-one? These meetings offer valuable time to build stronger connections with employees and discuss successes, challenges, goals, feedback, and more.

However, a meeting that almost every manager could improve is, you guessed it, the one-on-one. When I started having one-on-ones for the first time as a manager, I felt blindsided. I never thought having these meetings would be a challenge. After all—I had been in so many as a direct report in the past. In reality, I had no idea how to make these meetings valuable for myself and my team.

Now that I've gained more experience as a manager over the years, I've picked up some techniques that I hope you'll find helpful. Below are six thoughtful ways to get the most out of your one-on-one meetings. 

Download our free one-on-one meeting agenda template to start getting the most out of your 1:1s!

Manager and employee one-on-one meetings

If you're under the notion that one-on-one meetings are only for employees and not managers, that's your first mistake. Communication should go both ways and one-on-ones are most valuable when each person feels comfortable being candid and open. 

Managers and employees should both take ownership of setting the meeting agenda and sharing updates. As a manager, you should feel comfortable sharing the challenges you're having with your direct reports. More often than not, they will want to help you! Also, if you set the example, your employees will become more comfortable sharing challenges they're having too, whether that's balancing workload or managing burnout.


Thoughtful managers can be powerful catalysts for growth

Personal and professional growth takes a lot, but there’s an underutilized weapon: the manager-employee one-on-one.

This consistent meeting is the best place to develop a culture of regular positive and constructive feedback and constant improvement, but it is often misused, underutilized, or not used at all.

If both the manager and employee have an understanding that their one-on-one meeting is a place for both parties to celebrate success, but also learn and grow through constructive feedback, amazing things can happen! This means that feedback should come from the manager for the employee but also from the employee to their manager. This way, trust is built.

Providing constructive feedback can be difficult. However, if there's a shared expectation that both managers and employees will provide positive and constructive feedback about one another, the process becomes a lot easier.  

Now that we're on the same page, let's dive into the practical ways you can improve your one-on-one meetings! ⬇️ 


1. Preparation: set an agenda

Many one-on-one meetings don't have an agenda and sometimes that's ok if you need a spontaneous, light conversation. 

However, meetings are most effective with a bit of intentional planning beforehand. Taking time to prepare thoughtful one-on-one meeting questions and discussion topics to reflect on is better than stumbling through nonsequiturs, or staring at each other silently for 30 minutes when neither person has anything to say.

You can start with a helpful one-on-one meeting template and adapt it to your needs. Before the meeting, each person should spend about 10-15 minutes adding notes to the agenda and thinking through specific recognition and constructive feedback they'd like to share.

Get our free, customizable one-on-one meeting agenda template that includes a proven structure for effective and productive one-on-ones.


2. Alternate between short-term and long-term discussions

Meeting weekly is important, but chatting about the same topics each week can lead to stale and repetitive conversations.

One way to keep discussion fresh is to alternate topics weekly between the short-term progress on projects or initiatives and long-term progress towards career goals, learning, and development.



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3. Technology: no unnecessary distractions

Despite what we tell ourselves, it’s impossible to have a thoughtful in-person conversation while looking at your phone or the 25 browser tabs you have open. Make sure you and your direct reports minimize distractions as much as possible.

If you're in person, you might consider sitting outside or having a walking meeting. Leaving the office on busy days can help free up headspace for better introspection and conversation.

If you're meeting remotely, make sure you clear your space of distractions, close out unused browser windows and be ready to provide your undivided attention.


4. Consistency: don't skip; reschedule

Things happen. If either person is too busy or has too many distractions to thoughtfully engage in the one-on-one, just reschedule.

A late conversation is better than an unfocused or canceled one.


5. Listen first

One sure way to make people unhappy at work is to deny them a chance to provide their take on what could be better. So take the time to ask for your employees' feedback in each one-on-one. This feedback might cover your management, processes used on your team, product features, or even the overall company culture or strategy.

While your company should be encouraging feedback from all employees through surveys and focus groups, why wait? As a manager, you can gain better insight from your employees while also encouraging them to proactively look for ways you and the company can improve. 

One easy way managers can help is by asking questions during one-on-ones, both specifically for the employee (i.e. “What can I do to better support you in your role?”) and for more general, company-level insights (i.e., “What opportunities are we missing out on as an organization?”).

Once you've solicited feedback, you're not done yet! Let them know that you've heard their viewpoints and that their opinions are valuable. Then, it's important to then act on the feedback you receive. You can become an advocate on behalf of your employees to voice company concerns or product ideas and make improvements as a manager based on the input you receive.



6. Positive and constructive feedback for employees

One-on-ones are the perfect place to celebrate successes and provide positive feedback to your direct reports. There are many benefits of frequent recognition including increased employee engagement, reduced voluntary turnover, and improved performance. If you're having a weekly one-on-one where recognition is prioritized, you'll be able to realize these benefits! However, it needs to go beyond "You're doing a great job!" every meeting. Recognition should be timely, specific, frequent, and values-based. For ideas on ways to provide meaningful recognition, here are some employee recognition tips for managers

When it comes to providing constructive feedback, you may not have it every time you have a one-on-one and that's ok. However, the important thing is to make sure you leave the opportunity (this could just be as simple as a placeholder in your meeting agenda) for both yourself and your direct reports to share constructive feedback.

When you do have constructive feedback to share with your employees, these steps from Shari Harley in How to Say Anything to Anyone can help: 

  • Begin with empathy, humility, and appreciation. 
  • Use specific examples of undesirable behavior.
  • Focus on the impact of those behaviors.
  • State any potential consequences.
  • Allow the person to determine the next steps. 
  • Praise any and all improvements. 

Are you getting the most out of your one-on-ones?

We hope this list of tips helps you improve your one-on-one meetings. For a resource that helps you put these tips into practice, download our one-on-one meeting agenda template! ⬇️

Download our PDF, Google, or Word Doc one-on-one meeting agenda templates to take these meetings to the next level.

The templates include:

🗒️  A proven structure for effective and productive one-on-ones.
✅  Fillable form fields to record agenda and action items.

📄  Customizable Word and Google doc templates to fit your needs.
💡  One-on-one meeting best practices.
📘  Additional resources to help you improve your one-on-ones. 



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