One on One Meetings: Actionable Techniques and Best Practices

There is a vital productivity tool that many managers and team leaders avoid or overlook. Elizabeth Grace Saunders, the author of How to Invest Your Time Like Money, has called them “one of the most important productivity tools you have as a manager.” They’ve been called “the Manager’s Swiss Army Knife” because of how many problems they can fix. On top of that, they can help managers address each and every factor affecting productivity identified in a Gallup 2010 study, including the quality of coworker relationships and whether or not employees feel they have all the right tools to help them do their jobs. So what is this magical productivity tool? It’s the one on one meeting.

Part 1

What are one on one meetings, and why should we use them?

One on one meetings can take many forms, but at their simplest, they are a regular face-to-face meeting between a team leader or manager and every one of their direct reports. This may sound so simple as to be almost redundant in today’s world.
After all, modern companies have countless ways to communicate, including team meetings, communication apps, emails, and conference calls. But one on one meetings continue to provide a number of unique benefits over other forms of communication, including helping you to:

  • Gather vital information:

    We’ve known for years that nonverbal communication such as body language and tonal cues are vital sources of information on mood, engagement, well-being and potential conflict. However, it’s difficult to gather this information over email or during conference calls.
    And although in-person team meetings provide the opportunity to see your team face-to-face, it may be difficult for you to spend time analyzing how each member is going while also managing a packed agenda. In contrast, the main agenda of one on one meetings is to check in with your employees, give them the opportunity to volunteer information and provide them with support.

  • Address minor problems before they become major problems:

    One on one meetings are often the only way employees feel comfortable raising minor issues. Even if your company has a warm, friendly culture and you have a great open-door policy, team members can feel uncomfortable interrupting your schedule or sending an email to report a minor problem.
    That’s why regularly scheduled one on one meetings are the best opportunity for employees to raise these issues, helping your company solve small problems before they become bigger ones, and improving your efficiency and results.

  • Build rapport, performance, and engagement:

    Keeping one on one meetings informal help provide an open environment where employees feel they can freely communicate. For shyer or quieter employees, it’s also a more comfortable environment than team meetings to offer thoughts or suggestions. That’s why one on one meetings are the perfect venue to brainstorm ideas and possible solutions to personal and team challenges and to ask for honest feedback.
    This, in turn, helps to improve your team members’ performance and engagement, because they know they can voice their concerns and management will act on them, and therefore feel supported and motivated.

Part 2 

What should you talk about in your one on one meetings?

While experts recommend your 1-on-1 meetings be generally informal, to encourage honest and open communication, people are often confused about what to talk about in one on one meetings. Here are best practices:

  1. Short-term goals:

    One on one meetings are perfect for helping your team members to plan their short-term goals. You can also use short-term goals as a focal point for how they’re progressing in their current project and if they need any assistance. Sample one on one meeting questions could include:

    How’s the project? Do you need any help?
    B) Is there anything about the project that you want to clarify?
    C) If you could choose, what other projects would you like to work on?

  2.  Long-term goals:

    The regularity of one on one meetings means you can use them to track your employees’ progress on their long-term goals and help them when they need to realign or change tack. The informal nature of one on one meetings also makes them a good opportunity to discuss your employees’ dreams and aspirations and how they plan to get there. One on one meeting sample questions could include:

    Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, or 20 years’ time?
    B) How do you feel about your current progress? What challenges are you facing? Is there a way I can help support you?
    C) How does what you do in our company contribute to your future goals? How would you like your work to fulfill your goals?

  3. Improving the company:

    Most employees will have ideas on how to improve your company or your team’s performance. Take advantage of the privacy of one-on-one meetings to invite them to share these suggestions and discuss how they can help to implement these improvements. Sample one-on-one meeting questions could include:

    What are the things you like best about our company? What are the things you like the least? Why?
    B) How do you think we could best reach our company’s goals?
    C) If you could change one thing about our company, what would you change?

  4. Work attitudes and habits:

    You can also use one on one meetings to gain better insight into how your team members work, so you can best manage their assignments. Sample one on one meeting questions could include:

    When do you feel you are most productive? In the morning, afternoon or evening?
    B) What do you do to motivate yourself when you feel low?
    C) What parts of your job do you like most? Why?

  5. Team relationships:

    While one on one meetings are a great way to deepen your working relationship with your employees, they’re also a good opportunity to check in with each team member on how they’re working with the rest of the team. One on one meeting sample questions could include:

    How do you feel the team is going?
    B) If you could change one thing about the team, what would you change?
    C) Is there anyone in the team that you look up to? Who would you like to learn more from?

Part 3

5 Actionable Techniques

It’s clear that one on one meetings can be incredibly valuable, both for you as a team leader and for each individual team member. With that in mind, here are 5 actionable techniques you can use for your next one on one meeting:

  1. Schedule regular one on one meetings:

    Whether a one on one meeting is weekly, fortnightly, or monthly, having a recurring meeting is incredibly important. It’s too easy in our busy work lives to think we can schedule a one-on-one meeting once the team finishes that big project or once you have a bit more spare time, and then have months pass and nothing happen.
    It’s also easy to keep postponing regular one-on-one meetings until they are so infrequent that it’s difficult to manage your team member’s progress and help support them. Not only does this mean you lose out on the main benefits of one-on-one meetings, it also sends the message to your team that they’re not worthy of your time. So send out regular or automated one-one-one meeting invites and stick to them.

  2. Tailor the one on one meeting agenda to each employee:

    To make the most out of your one-on-one meetings, you’ll want to tailor the general agenda to each team member. For example, when a new employee has joined your team or company, you may wish to schedule weekly one-on-one meetings in the first few months focusing on orientation, knowledge, and helping them settle in. But for more seasoned employees, fortnightly or monthly meetings may be more appropriate, with a focus on long-term goals or challenges.

  3. Talk less:

    Much of the value derived from one-on-one meetings comes from providing the opportunity for your employee to communicate with you. That means that while you should set broad goals for your one-on-one meetings tailored to each employee, you should give your team member the chance to speak and direct the meeting.
    That way you have the chance to actively listen and learn new information on how you can help and support them. When you do speak, focus on asking open-ended questions to draw out how your employee’s feeling and anything they may need.

  4. Keep it informal:

    You might consider doing a walking meeting or meeting over coffee, rather than holding the one-on-one meeting in the boardroom. This will help your employee to feel more comfortable speaking about their concerns and also receiving constructive criticism and feedback. It also helps if you have already encouraged a culture of giving and receiving open and honest feedback.
    One way to do this is by implementing daily and weekly updates, so your employees become used to openly discussing their concerns and receiving constructive criticism and mentoring support.

  5. Record any action points:

    Write down any agreed action points during or directly after the meeting so that you can both monitor progress. This also provides a handy checklist to refer to during your next one on one meeting.


While open-door policies are fantastic, one on one meetings go a step further by ensuring that a regular chance for direct communication is actively scheduled and respected. So if you haven’t already, add the one on one meeting to your management toolbox!


  How to Write Scope of Work - 7 Necessary Steps and 6 Best Practices