Making a Difference with One-On-One Meetings

What is a one-on-one meeting really for? It's a supervisor's most valuable tool for understanding their staff and building a successful team!

1-on-1s min read
1-on-1 meeting

Making a Difference with One-On-One Meetings

New supervisors may wonder what is a one-on-one meeting. For some employees, they are a chance to shine. For others, it’s a reason to call out sick. For those in management, taking time to have a face-to-face with those you supervise is just as important as the tone these meetings take.

A lot of daily business can be handled through e-mail or conference calls. Some managers may not immediately see the value in having frank and open discussions with each individual employee, especially if they are in charge of a larger staff. The truth is, there is a lot of value to these meetings, especially if they are handled correctly and effectively.

Brass Tacks

Even if a supervisor doesn’t know the underlying purpose one-on-one meetings, most can answer the basic setup and organization they take.. These are simply weekly or monthly private sessions with your employees where you can have direct discussions about work. This can entail a host of different questions that should be tailored to each employee.

Seeing staff on an individual basis gives supervisors the chance to learn more about each person. Creating a bond with those you manage is important, and these conversations will go a long way to letting employees know you care about their work and well-being. In return, employees who know their boss cares can be more responsive and motivated to impress.


Knowing the one-on-one meeting definition only gets you so far. There is a purpose behind these sessions beyond progress reports and water-cooler talk. They are meant to give you insight into how your employees interact with their co-workers and other supervisors as well as evaluating how they handle particular tasks and responsibilities.

An update is good, but understanding is better. Knowing that an employee is behind schedule doesn’t tell you why delays have occurred or if there are external factors that might explain a loss in productivity. Staff members who are embarrassed about their shortcomings may not wish to discuss failures or setbacks in a large group. Private discussions give them a chance to have a voice without appearing weak or incompetent to their co-workers.

A Matter of Time

As the old saying goes, time is money. Spending hours and hours of meetings with each employee may seem counterproductive to the working environment. That’s why part of the purpose of one-on-one meetings is streamlining workplace efficiency with well-timed and regular meetings. Ideal face-to-face sessions should follow a few guidelines:

  • They should be short. Quick meetings let managers and their employees stay focused and get back to work. A 30-minute block gives you plenty of time if you devote 10 minutes to a general report on progress and morale, 10 minutes to offer your input, and 10 minutes to plan for the upcoming weeks.
  • They need to be regular. Consistency in one-on-one scheduling ensures your staff has time to prepare and may motivate them to finish projects before they meet with you. If these check-ins occur every two weeks, you’re on the ball. Don’t let them go longer than a month in between or you might lose tough and momentum.
  • They’re about the employee. These meetings aren’t meant to communicate new office procedures or for disciplinary purposes. A one-on-one should be a time for your employees to shine and to discuss work topics that are relevant to them.

It’s important to remember that you’re the boss. If there are important topics that you need to discuss with your team or individuals, you can schedule additional meetings as necessary. Save one-on-ones as relationship-building times that will solidify your employees’ roles within the company.

Digging for Gold

For some supervisors, the concept of interoffice relationships between managers and staff is both foregone and undesired. “What is a one-on-one meeting” can be answered by these managers quite simply: a waste of time. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These meetings give supervisors the chance to find the bumps and issues that are inhibiting office or field performance.

You may learn of personal issues that you were unaware of, leading you to suggest ways to accommodate staff with workarounds. Some staff may simply be working inefficiently, which can be improved with coaching. Others may feel undervalued in their current position or have skills that aren’t being utilized to the fullest extent. A lot can be learned from your employees when you set time aside and listen to what they have to say.

Unique Situations

While the purpose of one-on-one meetings with employees is to support and improve their efficiency, they shouldn't be treated like a standard performance review. Choosing a conference room as a venue or sitting at a desk in front of your employee turns it into a formal affair, which can be both intimidating and off-putting.

Many supervisors find that informal meetings make a larger impact on face-to-face communications. Going for a walk or sitting down in a quiet space for coffee will create a more relaxed atmosphere. Search for a good balance, since a meeting that’s too formal comes off as oppressive but one that's too lax can devolve into unproductive chatter.

Proper Planning Takes Practice

You’d want to prepare before any big meeting, so take the time to get ready for one-on-ones as well. Everyone’s favorite topic to talk about is themselves, so going into these meetings with an agenda prepared will help you guide it away from topics that are too personal back to praising or improving behavior.

Take a look at each employee’s productivity in the past few weeks and look over notes from prior meetings. If there are things you feel need addressing, mark them for discussion, but remember that these meetings are really about collaboration. Being flexible with your agenda shows that you’re there to listen to your employee and you two will work together towards a successful outcome.

Topics of Conversation

Managers who really know what is a one-on-one meeting often have a checklist of topics that they’ll discuss with each employee. Going in with a game plan for these sessions is just as important as with group meetings or presentations. This is a work conference, after all. Some topics you may want to discuss include:

  • The employee’s current morale
  • Progress on certain tasks
  • Obstacles that prevent moving forward
  • Providing constructive feedback
  • Suggesting new directions or habits to improve performance (coaching)
  • Specific issues that employees or supervisors have

This is only a portion of what you may wish to discuss with your staff. Every job is different, and each individual requires unique tactics to motivate them. The real purpose of one-on-one meetings is to form a relationship, and that can’t be done without paying attention and creating situations where employees are comfortable opening up.

That Is the Question

Taking the time to schedule these meetings is only the first step. Even if you know what the one-on-one meeting is about, you still need to understand how to get where you want to go. Asking direct questions is the best way to learn more about how each employee is doing. Start out with queries about their wellbeing and general company issues:

  • How is the week going?
  • Has anything new happened since our last meeting?
  • What is your opinion on specific topics (Board announcements, new projects, etc.)?
  • How do you feel about what we discussed last time?
  • Do you agree with where the business is headed?
  • How confident are you feeling?

Keep questions open ended to give your employee a chance to express him or herself. Asking these will help you understand how your staff is interacting with the office in general. Try not to focus too much time on the basics, though, because the “meat” of the meeting comes from examining the employee’s progress.

The Path of Performance

A primary purpose of one-on-one meetings with employees is to have a record of your staff’s progress. Keep these sessions well documented so you can track how each employee is doing throughout the year. If you’re spending face-time twice a month with your staff, you’ll have plenty of notes to look back on.

You can only help your staff reach their goals if you know what’s going on. Looking back at past meetings, you can get a true understanding of how your employees react to situations and whether they’re ready to start that special project or have skills that work well in other departments. When it’s time for the annual review, you’ll be thankful for a year’s worth of detailed notes on performance.

A Key to Success

While there is no right way to conduct one-on-ones, they are essential to the success of any business. Giving your employees the time to express how they feel about work and the office helps you to make better decisions. You’ll have all of the information to stay informed and can recognize problems before they become serious issues.

What is a one-on-one meeting? It’s a question only you can answer. Make bi-monthly one-on-ones an important part of your office policy and you’ll soon see the difference that establishing close working relationships with your staff can make.