If you work in an office environment, you’re likely having 1×1 meetings with your manager on some sort of regular cadence. (If you’re not having them at all, that’s a real issue that you should address.)
I’ve had literally thousands of these meetings over the years, and invariably, some are better than others. Effective 1×1 meetings can improve communication, advance your work, help you address challenges, and foster strong working relationships. Not done well, they can become overly mundane, uninspiring, and a poor use of time.
Strategies for Effective 1×1 Meetings
Below are some suggestions for getting the most out of yours 1-on-1 meetings:
- Set a regular schedule. Consistency is key, whether weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Recurring meetings helps ensure that communication stays fresh and important discussions don’t languish. Note that not everyone’s 1×1 needs are the same, in terms of frequency or duration. This is true even for reporting line peers, so adapt for each individual as you see fit.
- Prepare with purpose. Both the manager and the team member should prepare for the meeting. Managers can convey necessary information and requests, as well as any coaching and feedback. Employees can outline their recent achievements, upcoming plans and priorities, and any challenges they’re facing. During the meeting, both the employee and manager should keep records of the discussions and action items in meeting notes so that they are able to track progress and follow up on commitments at the next meeting.
- Create a safe, open environment. Trust is essential to having good 1x1s. Managers should create a safe space where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns, aspirations, and mistakes without fear of reprisal. They should also let the employee manage the meeting agenda and guide the conversation, raising the topics that they want to discuss. This helps convey that the meetings are first and foremost designed to help the employee to be successful.
- Practice active listening. Both parties should give the meeting their full attention. This is especially important when the 1×1 is being held over video and the temptation to multi-tasking is more prevalent. Ask clarifying questions, play back what you’re hearing, and show empathy. (See below for examples.) Encourage open dialogue by framing questions in a way that requires more than a yes/no answer. This approach helps deepen a shared understanding of the topics discussed and strengthen the manager-employee relationship.
- Provide feedback and recognition. Regular, constructive feedback should be a mainstay of 1×1 discussions. Feedback should not be just a basic performance review but specific and actionable, and it should acknowledge the employee’s achievements and career development. The more regular this habit becomes, the more comfortable it will feel and the better the guidance will be. Managers can help to encourage this to be a two-way practice by explicitly and regularly asking the employee for feedback.
- Step up to challenges. The best 1x1s aren’t just meant for the employee to present a glossy view of what they have accomplished. Use the time to acknowledge challenges and problem solve them together. Managers should push the employee to suggest solutions first, rather than jumping in with the answer. If more time is needed for an important topic, set up a separate discussion rather than rushing through it in the 1×1.
- Be willing to be flexible. While agendas are a must, be flexible enough to address urgent issues that might arise, or to pick up on a queue that maybe there is something deeper going on that isn’t being said. Sometimes the biggest advances – in the work itself or in the working relationship – occur in these moments.
- Review goals. Reviewing annual or career goals doesn’t necessarily need to be a topic for every 1×1, but it’s essential for both parties to have a shared understanding of goals as a foundation for the discussions. Revisiting them periodically also helps ensure that they are accurate and current.
- Take a “whole person” view. Managers should check in with the employee on how they’re doing or feeling, or if they are worrying about anything. Ask about their family, if appropriate. While some people are more private than others, make the effort to show them that you care about them as people. This is especially important given the growing prevalence of mental health issues that are surfacing in the workplace.
- Pursue continuous improvement. Regularly assess the effectiveness of your 1x1s. Ask the other party how you could make the meetings more beneficial and adapt accordingly. See the table below for some self-reflection questions to consider.
Your 1×1 meetings can be a valuable tool for advancing work, fostering professional growth, improving communication, and building workplace relationships. Whether you’re in the employee or manager role, apply the tips above to help transform routine meetings into more powerful sessions that build trust, address challenges, and set the stage for workplace success.
|Sample open-ended questions to ask|
|Continuous improvement questions (from the manager’s perspective)|