Leadership Lessons

Creating Effective One-on-One Meetings

One-on-one meetings are a crucial way of updating employees, providing ongoing developmental feedback, and tracking progress and performance. It seems straight forward enough: meet individually with employees on a regular basis. However, there are a few simple things you can do as a manager to increase the effectiveness of these meetings.

1. Meet regularly and frequently. It’s tempting to schedule one-on-ones on an "as needed" basis, but the real value comes from meeting consistently and once a week is common.

2. Schedule enough time. Rushing or slotting in a few minutes here and there almost ensures important topics won’t be covered in depth and it also sends a strong message to the employee that the meeting isn't important. Schedule enough time that both you and your employee have time to discuss updates, progress, concerns, performance, etc. The amount of time needed will vary, depending on how often you meet and the complexity of their position, but 30 to 60 minutes is common.

3. Avoid cancelling. Problems, surprises, and emergencies come up, but rather than cancelling, it’s best to simply reschedule the one-on-one for as soon as possible.

4. Be straightforward. One-on-ones should improve communication between managers and employees, but sugar-coating, hinting, or politely omitting feedback leaves the employee guessing. Feedback should be clear and straightforward with objective examples and enough discussion to ensure everyone is on the same page.

5. Be prepared. A lack of preparation wastes time and sends a strong message to employees that the manager doesn’t value the meeting. Plan ahead by reviewing notes from previous meetings, listing out topics for this meeting, noting recent successes and challenges, etc.

6. Involve the employee. This isn’t a lecture or one-way communication. Effective one-on-ones create discussion around all of the key issues and one way to foster that is to require the employee to set the agenda. At the very least, the employee should have a list of items he or she wants to talk about.

7. Use a consistent format. The exact meeting format probably doesn’t matter as much as using a consistent format where both and manager and employee understand how the meeting will flow and what to expect.

Adapted from the "7 Deadly Sins of One-on-One Meetings" by Natalie Hackbarth.