It’s Time for a One-on-One Meeting

Love them or hate them, the one on one meeting (if managed correctly), is a great employee management tool that is often overlooked. Here, we impart some practical tips and advice that can seriously have an impact on the one on one meeting’s success.

“It’s a fundamental rule of management that to lead others, you need to practice frequent and open communication.”

-Kristi Hedges – Contributor, Forbes

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard staff and managers share their negative experiences of one on one meetings; some don’t understand the point in why they are implemented and others see it as an opportunity to be reprimanded and therefore come away with knocked confidence, fearful of the next one.

Status updates in one on ones leave elephants in the room
Status updates in one on ones leave elephants in the room

Because of this, it’s more often than not that the one on one meetings get cancelled, rescheduled or forgotten about altogether.

But let me tell you, with the right guidance, knowledge and understanding of how the one on one meetings can actually be a positive and rewarding experience, all of that can change.

So to ensure that these meetings are beneficial to both you and your direct reports, here are some tips that we have put together to help you get the most out of them:

#1:  Know the benefits of the one on one meeting

Without understanding the positive effects of having the one to one meetings on a regular basis, nobody will invest their time into them.

To go into full detail of the benefits would require another article entirely, but this list should give you an idea:

  • Strengthens relationships within the team and builds loyalty
  • Proactive approach to discovering issues that may have been hard to find
  • Address performance issues before they grow into larger problems
  • Improves employee engagement, morale and satisfaction
  • Creates a communicative, trusting culture within the organization
  • In turn will help in reducing turnover, thus saving costs
  • Enables employees to have a voice within the organization
  • Rewarding to have one on one time with management to discuss topics freely

#2:  Have a schedule you can both stick to

Don’t plan to have weekly meetings on a day or time that isn’t fully suitable to both parties.

If either person has other deadlines around the same time, you won’t be fully focused on the meeting and therefore it will be a wasted effort.

It is however, a good idea to try and schedule a meeting towards the beginning of the week, early in the morning so that you can recap on events of the week before and plan for the week ahead, but this needs to remain consistent.

With use of HR software, one on ones can be made simple by scheduling real-time meetings using a shared calendar and objectives set during the meeting can be made available to view at any time.

Managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units

It’s acceptable that other work may come up that causes you to cancel or reschedule, but they should really be the exception.

#3:  Engage in open communication

Create an atmosphere that allows both you and the employee to speak freely about concerns, accomplishments and ideas.

This will lead to an organization with a more engaged, positive workforce.

Block regular time in your schedules

Communicating clear objectives will help employees have a full understanding of the goals of the company and individually, giving everyone the chance to contribute to the success of the business and be more productive.

#4:  Meet in an environment that is free from distractions

Schedule one on one meetings for a time that’s not so busy in both parties working day.

Turn off work phones, don’t have a computer in front of you where e-mails are likely to pop up and conduct the meeting in a place where other staff aren’t likely to disturb.

There is only one time that is important – NOW!

Both people need to be ‘present’.  This meeting should be time focused on the needs of the individual employee.

#5:  Manage accountabilities

At the end of the one on one meeting, everyone should clearly understand what tasks they are accountable for so there is no confusion later on.

To be sure that everyone does understand, it’s good practice to recap the points made during the meeting and put something in writing, email or on HR software that is accessible to everyone involved.

#6:  Structure the meeting

Without a structure in place, the meeting is likely to fail; winging it just won’t cut it in this type of situation.

Create a structure that works for you and your staff as individuals.

Once you have the right structure in place, it is good to keep the same structure for all future meetings so everyone has an idea of how the meeting will run each time and can prepare accordingly.

one on one meeting questions
Kudos to Friday Feedback for the sample questions!

#7:  Prepare in advance

Like the old adage says, ‘By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.’

Both parties could prepare by bringing updates or evidence of progress on current objectives and be ready with questions that have arisen since the last meeting.

Knowing the structure of the meeting means you can have everything in order prior to the meeting and gradually, week by week, the meeting will soon run smoothly and efficiently.

It also comes across as more professional and shows you are really invested into the one on one meetings.


#8:  Be positive

Most will see one on ones as a negative experience because of poor management issues.

If managers are hurried in other areas, they may decide to use the opportunity of a one on one to highlight performance problems that they have not had time to address, which is why these meetings get such a bad rep and employee morale is often crushed afterwards.

Create a recognition culture

Now is a great time to discuss areas of performance or work that have gone well and praise your staff, so start and end the meeting on a positive note, even connecting on a personal level by showing genuine interest in activities conducted outside of the workplace.

Of course if there are recent areas of concern to discuss, make sure your staff are well aware of what topics the meeting will cover, so there are no nasty surprises.

#9:  Monitor progress and goals

If you show no interest in the objectives being set, it is unlikely that much effort will be invested into them which is why it’s important to monitor how employees are coming along with a target set.

Also be sure to check if they have all of the resources available to accomplish the goals and that the deadline will still be achieved by the set date.

HR systems can be a blessing for tasks like this when work gets busy, enabling both you and the employee to easily communicate and view what work is in progress.

#10:  Ask for feedback

If you want to find out if the way you are conducting the one on one meeting is seen as effective by your staff or the structure is to each individuals taste, it’s good idea to ask for feedback and use open ended questioning techniques.

However, this won’t happen overnight as it will take time to create a feedback culture within your organization, but stick with it, the results will come over time.

Collecting feedback will help with continuous progression and improvement, even when things are going well.

Coaching is the new managing

It is stated that employees whose managers hold regular meeting with them are almost 3 x as likely to be engaged.

So with the endless benefits associated with effectively run, regular one on one meetings it is worth taking on board all of the above tips to bring out the best in your employees, eliminate unnecessary tension and improve workflow within your team.

As an employee, the one on one meetings are a very useful platform to share open and honest feedback, helping you progress further within your role.

To summarize, the top 10 tips towards successful one on one meetings are:

  1. Know the benefits of the one on one meeting
  2. Have a schedule you can both stick to
  3. Engage in open conversation
  4. Meet in an environment that is free from distractions
  5. Manage accountabilities
  6. Structure the meeting
  7. Prepare in advance
  8. Share success and problems
  9. Monitor progress and goals
  10. Ask for feedback


Written By

Robyn South

Robyn is a HR professional with over 7 years experience in generalist and complex employee relations matters. A newly established Virtual HR Assistant offering a range of HR services online, who loves to travel and part of the content management team at CakeHR.