Having effective one-on-one meetings.

Treat 1-on-1s like a journey with different stages where the manager and the employee discuss a variety of topics depending on what is going on in the company, team, and with the individual employee

Mayank Prabhakar
4 min readJun 14, 2020

The one-on-one meetings can be a truly valuable tool for managers to keep employees engaged and motivated to do their best work. I have been doing 1-on-1s regularly with my teams. I have worked with both kinds of managers — ones who did regular 1-on-1s and the ones who didn’t. And I can tell you the difference it has on the team’s productivity and motivation.

As a manager, if you start doing your regular 1-on-1s effectively, it can make you more successful.

But a lot of managers shy away from these meetings or don’t do it well and end up giving up on 1-on-1s. Let’s face it, we can only keep doing an activity for a long period of time if it’s valuable or satisfying, or meaningful.

So how can managers have effective 1-on-1s with their teams?

There is a plethora of information out there on how to have effective 1-on-1s with the team. They talk about structure, frequency, preparation, questions, etc. Most of them are good but may seem overwhelming to a manager trying to build a 1-on-1 habit.

To make sense out of all those information and resources it’s important to treat 1-on-1s like a journey with different stages where the manager and the employee discuss a variety of topics depending on what is going on in the company, team, and with the individual employee.

Don’t treat them like a one-off meeting and put structure around them. Instead, put structure around the journey to make it more effective:

1. Spend more time building trust in the initial few meetings

Trust is key to any successful relationship. The same is true for a manager-employee relationship. Without trust, employees would not open up and share their true feeling, concerns, opinion, and challenges with you.

Before you move to discuss different topics, spend more time building trust and authentic connection with your team member. Neuroscience tells us that people trust familiar things. Share about your background, family, interests, and hobbies, and talk about things you have in common. Doing this on a regular basis is important but more so when you have just started your 1-on-1 journey.

Ask their opinion about things that you are responsible for, or concern you. This would make them feel valued and more likely to trust you.

2. Make growth an ongoing agenda.

Growth and personal development is the most important outcome that employees hope to get out of 1-on-1s. But managers also stand to gain by caring about their team’s growth in the form of a higher level of engagement, ownership, and citizenship behavior by the employees.

Start by asking about their long-term goals, and don’t limit it to their current role and company. Ask them “why” and make them think about it. Ask them to identify the skills they would need to achieve their long-term goals. Provide them your perspective and give them opportunities to learn, develop, and hone those skills. Work with them to identify key milestones. Do this over the initial few meeting and then track progress.

Share your learnings and experience with them. Similarly, ask them if they learned anything new recently. Hold yourself accountable for their success and well-being, and they help you win big challenges.

3. Align expectations, give and take feedback

As a manager, you should use these meetings to clarify and align high-level goals and expectations. Ensure they understand their role and how that relates to the team’s overall objective. Listen and address the challenges they are facing. Recognize their success and wins.

Discuss things that are happening in the company — a new leader, strategy change, new program or project, etc. Ask them how they feel about it.

The 1-on-1 meeting is also an opportunity to give and take feedback. Start by asking how you can support them better. Provide them regular feedback on their work while keeping the overall interaction positive. Make the feedback specific but don’t pick on things, rather focus on their strengths.

Finally, and most importantly, ensure that you track notes and action items from these meetings and follow through on them.

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Mayank Prabhakar

Product Manager in HR/People Tech domain. I explore and write about emerging research to solve people and org problems through tech.