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Don’t waste your one-on-one meetings

Tips to make one-on-one meetings a time for conversation, for building a relationship, and for ongoing feedback in both directions.
4 min read

Few managers are taught how to hold one-on-one meetings with their team members, but it’s a strong tool for developing, engaging, and motivating staff. It also builds trust, surfaces important issues, and maintains alignment of priorities.

“The best managers recognize 1:1s are not an add-on to their role—1:1s ARE foundational to being a manager.”
Steven G. Rogelberg, professor and author

Purpose of the 1:1

Often, managers make the mistake of seeing one-on-ones as little more than clutter on their calendars. They might use them only as accountability or status checks, or to ask for help on their own projects. Status updates belong in a project management system or tool. Performance problems deserve their own meeting. The regular one-on-one meeting is not for the manager’s benefit, but for the employee’s.

One-on-one meetings are a time for conversation, for building a relationship, and for ongoing feedback in both directions. They are a time to check in on well-being and career goals, to listen to employees’ frustration or excitement, and to get feedback on your own performance. The manager should be curious, ask questions, learn about challenges, welcome new ideas, be as candid as possible, and show empathy.

Scheduling the 1:1

Having a regularly scheduled meeting that rarely gets moved or canceled shows staff that their managers value this individualized time with them. Questions and concerns can be brought up when they are still top-of-mind and immediately relevant.

Many leadership consultants recommend a half-hour meeting once a week. If anything is brought up that requires more attention, another meeting can be scheduled. It can be helpful to leave a few minutes available on your schedule after the meeting so you don’t have to rush away. New employees or those working on new or challenging tasks might appreciate longer meetings for a while.

If the meetings are feeling unproductive, consider scheduling them a little differently. Go for a walk together (even virtually), get coffee, or change the format somehow.

Topics for the 1:1

Ultimately the topics are up to the employee, but for some, this might be uncomfortable. The manager and employee can both contribute items to an agenda the day before. Or the manager can begin meetings with open-ended questions.

Sample 1:1 questions

Asking these questions can help your employees understand how they can use this time. Listen more than you talk. Sometimes silence is the best invitation for the other to speak.

  • What’s been on your mind this week—work-related or otherwise?
  • When do you plan to use your allotted time off? What are you looking forward to doing during that time?
  • Is your work environment OK? What ways have you found to take breaks and move around a bit during your work day?
  • How productive have you felt this past week? What contributed to this feeling?
  • What are your current priorities, and are there any problems or concerns you would like to talk through?
  • How does your workload feel? If you could give up some work, what would it be? If you could take on more work, what would it be?
  • Do you think any tasks or opportunities should be prioritized differently for you or your team?
  • Are there any barriers I can try to clear for you or your team?
  • What feedback do you have for me? Is there anything I should do more of, or less of?
  • Is there anything you need to be able to be more productive, feel more connected to your team(s), or better understand the purpose of your work?
  • Are there any educational activities you’d like to take advantage of? Or any skill you think your team is lacking?
  • How do you feel about the direction the organization is going?

Managers should make it clear that it’s OK to use this time to confront tensions between the two of you, or talk about fears and hopes. Ideally, employees leave their one-on-one feeling heard, respected, included, valued, and trusted. Ideally, the manager-staff relationship moves from superficial to authentic.

Listen for

  • issues presented by more than one direct report
  • issues beyond your ability to address
  • feedback about your own performance as a manager
  • systemic problems that should be brought to senior leadership
  • ways you can build or reinforce positive work culture
  • signals the employee is ready for more training, responsibilities, or advancement

While the one-on-one is focused on the individual, it’s possible that the manager will discover issues that could be better addressed at the team, department, division, or senior levels. Some issues might need to be taken to HR for assistance (as long as you have permission or aren’t betraying assumed confidentiality). Ideas might present themselves for building stronger teams or improving procedures—as long as the manager is listening for them.

Benefits of Everything DiSC® Management

Management profiles are a great place to begin a first one-on-one meeting. The report addresses issues of communication and motivation—critical things to understand right away. Managers and their staff can refer to the report while discussing how they can best work together. Referring back to the reports ensures that you cover important issues right away and in a nonjudgmental manner.

If staff have a hard time offering feedback to the manager or the manager isn’t sure what kind of feedback to ask for, take a look at the report. It lists potential challenges for managers with specific styles. The manager can bring up one or two for discussion.

There’s also a section on developing talent based on the employees’ DiSC® styles. This will be worth returning to before any one-on-one the manager knows will touch on related issues.

Everything DiSC Management profile sample page

Whenever the conversation is slow during a one-on-one, the manager can always pull out this report and ask if descriptions of the employee’s style are accurate. If reviewing the page above for the C style, the manager might make note that this style of person is unlikely to reveal when they are struggling. So the manager can regularly ask a question to get at that employee’s current challenges. Elsewhere in the report, the manager would learn that the C style prefers to have their accomplishments recognized privately and with concrete examples. So the manager could also include a regular, low-key recognition during their one-on-ones.

Employees want to feel supported and understood by their managers. This applies to both their work and their personal selves. The one-on-one meeting is a place for managers to provide that support and understanding.


Kristeen Bullwinkle

Steeped in Everything DiSC since 2010. Strongly inclined CD style. Leadership style and EQ mindset: resolute. Believes strongly in the serial comma.

Certifications from Wiley:
Everything DiSC, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team

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