Do’s & Don’ts for One-on-One (1:1) Meetings in the Workplace

Learn how to improve workplace efficiency with our guide on the Do’s & Dont's for One-on-One (1:1) Meetings

September 22, 2022
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You’re not going to like this, but one-on-one meetings can be a waste of time. Imagine spending time talking with an employee, but you’re not prepared, and you end up dominating the conversation. The meeting ends with no actionable steps, and the employee is left feeling scolded. 

Yikes!

Great 1:1s are like speeches. They seem effortless but require a lot of effort. And just like great speeches, they keep your employees engaged and satisfied. 

Professionally run, one-on-ones can be a manager’s secret weapon. This article will explore what employees and managers should and should not do to ensure a successful one-on-one.

What is a One-on-One Meeting For?

A 1:1 meeting is a regular check-in between managers and employees. It can also be between team members who share similar goals and it can hold anytime and anywhere. The best one-on-one meetings feature a balance of official and unofficial conversations.

The purpose of one-on-one meetings is to gain helpful insight into the team member’s experience. It also serves to:

  • Keep both parties in the loop
  • Give feedback
  • Resolve work-related issues and
  • Help employees grow

How long should one-on-ones be? They should typically run for 30 to 60 minutes. As a manager, scheduling one hour to talk to every team member at least once a month can be a lot. To fulfill its purpose, it’s best to be prepared and stick to the allotted time.

When run effectively, one-on-one meetings can benefit both managers and team members. How so?

Benefits of One-on-One Meetings:

For Managers

As a leader, 1-on-1 meetings can help you:

  • Improve your listening and communications skills. It takes a great leader to listen and offer feedback without judgment or prejudice.
  • Better understand your team members’ thought processes and behavior.
  • Actively improve your leadership and mentorship skills by adjusting your management style. 
  • Get employees to open up more and share ideas.
  • Build trust with your team and create a safe work environment where they feel seen and appreciated.
For Team Members

Effective one-on-one meetings can help employees to:

  • Confidently share their thoughts, ideas, and challenges.
  • Build a positive professional relationship with their manager.
  • Encourage critical thinking.
  • Feel seen, valued, and satisfied.
  • Boost engagement and increase productivity.

Wondering how to make your one-on-one meetings successful? Here’s what to do.

What Managers Should Do:

  1. Effectively Initiate One-on-Ones
  2. Make the Agenda Flexible
  3. Address Difficulties and Challenges
  4. Give Clear, Constructive Feedback
  5. Speak Less, Listen More
  6. Celebrate Their Wins
  7. Establish Clear Expectations

  1. Effectively Initiate One-on-Ones

Nobody likes having meetings sprung on them without explanations. Help your team embrace the idea by telling them ahead of time that you plan to start having 1-on-1 meetings. Reiterate the importance of these meetings. Also, explain that it applies to everyone. This way, they won’t feel singled out, and they’ll be more willing to open up.

  1. Make the Agenda Flexible

To drive successful conversations, it is vital that you use a collaborative agenda. This means you and your employee can see it and add items to it before the meeting. An agenda fosters open communication. It also helps you take note of issues that are important to the team member. 

To make the best out of your meeting, use Assembly’s one-on-one meeting template.

  1. Address Difficulties and Challenges

One key purpose of a one-on-one meeting is to solve work-related problems. So when an employee expresses concern or opens up about difficulties and challenges they face at work, actively address them. Pay attention to them and help them see the challenge as a learning opportunity. 

Use this as an opportunity to get personal with them. Remember that they have lives outside the work environment and that external factors can affect their productivity. If possible, steer the conversation away from work. Let them see that you care. To build a stronger relationship, offer to work on the challenge as a team.

  1. Give Clear, Constructive Feedback 

You can’t totally skip giving negative feedback. But you can tailor the delivery to have a positive effect. Consider checking the employee’s self-awareness first. Ask questions like:

  • What would you like to change about this week?
  • What could you have done better this week?
  • What do you think about the XYZ task?

If they are self-aware, they’ll easily point out areas that need fixing. If they don’t, you need to be clear about specific aspects of their performance that need improvement. Help them understand how this affects the team. Suggest actionable ways to fix up. 

  1. Speak Less, Listen More

Effective one-on-one meetings are more about the employee and less about the manager.

In this vein, apply the 80:20 ratio. Let your employee talk 80% while you talk 20% of the time. Since they hear from you all the time, it’s only fair that one-on-one meetings with employees are tailored to give them room to express themselves as much as they want - no interruptions. This also means that you get as much insight as possible. 

You can make this possible by creating a safe environment where team members can speak freely. Create a thoughtful agenda. Use questions strategically. Craft questions that are specific to the individual and listen with an open mind. Ladder questions to gain deeper insights from the employee. If you need some time to respond to something they say, let them know, and be sure to follow up after the meeting.

  1. Celebrate Their Wins

Make a list of things your employees did well. This can include tasks that they handled well or deadlines that they met. You can also highlight instances where they took initiative or showed progress. For a more employee-centered approach, try asking:

  • What wins are you most proud of?
  • How have your contributions affected the team positively?
  • How would you like to be recognized/rewarded for XYZ accomplishment?

Acknowledging and celebrating even minor wins will boost their morale. Rewards can be as simple as a gift voucher or a free lunch at their favorite restaurant. It’s a simple but effective way to keep employees satisfied.

  1. Establish Clear Expectations

Before concluding the one-on-one, it is important to establish your expectations. Both parties should be aligned on next steps. With this, you can hold them accountable and pave the way for constant follow-up. It’s also important that you take notes during the meeting. You can revisit these when necessary and use them to track progress, decisions, and accountability.

What Managers Should Not Do:

  1. Don’t Skip the Checklist
  2. Don’t Turn it into a Performance Review
  3. Don’t Dwell on Past Mistakes
  4. Don’t Fix All Their Problems

  1. Don’t Skip the Checklist

Meetings are never productive if both parties don't have a clear agenda. As a manager, you need to plan and be ready to lead the discussion. Prepare to ask the right questions to help the employee open up. With a proper checklist, you can be sure of what you need to do before, during, and after the meeting. That way, your one-on-one will not end up punctuated with awkward silences and irrelevant banter.

  1. Don’t Turn it into a Performance Review.

Although a 1-on-1 meeting can be an excellent opportunity to discuss an employee’s performance, it is not the same as a performance review. 

Focus on giving feedback and discussing current goals, career aspirations, and any nagging concerns the employee may have. If the meeting is for a yearly review, highlight individual, team, and organizational goals. Offer managerial help and support and explore avenues for professional development and career growth.

As much as you’d want to stay in the loop, avoid turning your one-on-ones into a project status update. Instead, create other avenues for getting project status reports. You could initiate weekly emails or use project management tools to keep track of tasks and projects.

  1. Don’t Dwell on Past Mistakes

It’s important to learn from past mistakes. However, dwelling on them and bringing them up repeatedly is counterproductive. Focus on current and future events and activities.

  1. Don’t Fix All Their Problems

As much as you want to help your team members, you can’t fix all their problems. To be an effective coach, it is best to guide them to the solution. Use smart questions to engage their problem-solving skills. This way, they’ll be better equipped to handle such problems in the future.

Need help structuring effective 1:1s? Watch the video below!

What Employees Should Do:

  1. Talk About Your Career Goals
  2. Take Notes
  3. Talk About Next Steps
  4. Ask How You Can Support Them

  1. Talk About Your Career Goals

Since you’re the main subject of the one-on-one meeting with your manager, it is the perfect time to talk about your career goals. Mention specific skills you would like to improve and if there’s a new role you aspire to, bring it up. Remember that it is your manager’s job to support you and he’s privy to opportunities you may not know about. 

  1. Take Notes

Taking notes during meetings helps you document key points. You also keep track of important decisions and can use them to monitor your progress. Besides, you want to remember aspects of your work that needs improvement. 

You also don’t want to seem unserious when you don’t remember what was discussed in the last meeting. So, take notes. You can encourage your manager to take notes as well. If something is important to you, you’d want them to remember it. Try using positive reinforcement like thanking them for taking notes. 

  1. Talk About Next Steps

Don’t just walk away from the one-on-one with a “See you later”. Ensure that both you and your manager discuss actionable next steps. Why is this important? No action means no progress and no progress means no change. 

If nothing changes after your 1-on-1 meeting, you can become disengaged and unproductive. Be proactive about this step by asking action-based questions like:

  • What can we do to fix XYZ?
  • Based on what we talked about, how do you think we can avoid XYZ?
  • If I’ve delivered on this, can you do that for me?

Presenting it as a social contract, you make your manager a part of the solution. You also ensure that they stay committed to your progress.

  1. Ask How You Can Support Them

Want to stand out and make a difference? Ask your manager what you can do to make their work easier. It helps to see your manager as a human who’s doing their best to support you and everyone else in their team. Showing empathy and offering to help is an excellent way to make your 1-on-1s effective. Some proactive ways to support your manager include:

  • Taking time to find simple ways to keep them in the loop.
  • Learning how they like certain things done and sticking to them.
  • Offering to take the lead on some projects to ease up their workload.

When you show initiative in supporting your manager, they’ll be inclined to do the same for you.

What Employees Should Not Do:

  1. Don’t Let Your Manager Cancel
  2. Don’t Give Status Updates 
  3. Don’t Attend Empty-handed
  4. Don’t Forget to Ask for Feedback

  1. Don’t Let Your Manager Cancel

One-on-one meetings can’t be effective if they don’t happen. And, yes, it's tough to say no when your manager asks to cancel your one-on-one meeting. Although their reason for wanting to cancel is valid, completely canceling that 1-on-1 will end up doing more harm than good. 

So what do you do? Offer to reschedule. This way, you agree to what they want at the moment without giving up a meeting that will benefit you. Be sure to suggest new times and once they agree to it, book it on your calendar. 

  1. Don’t Give Status Updates

We know this sounds odd but we mean it. 1:1s are the rare occasions your manager gets to meet with you alone. It is very easy for it to deviate into a progress report meeting. Next thing you know, you’ve spent the entire meeting talking about updates and there’s no time to talk about things that matter specifically to you. The best way to avoid this is to find other ways to give your manager status updates. Some great options include emails, StandUps, and through project management software. 

  1. Don’t Attend Empty Handed

Don’t show up at a one-on-one hoping that your manager has got everything covered. Even if they have a meeting agenda, you need to show up with a list of things you’d like to discuss. Take time to write out questions surrounding your career goals, team improvement, interpersonal issues, work policies, and any personal topics that may have an effect on your work.

  1. Don’t Forget to Ask for Feedback

Your manager may wrap up the meeting without giving feedback. Perhaps they forgot or are skeptical about the delivery and/or reception. It falls on you to then request feedback. 

Ask specific questions about your performance, shortcomings, and strengths. If you would like coaching on any aspect, ask. When the request comes from you, your manager is more likely to create time to help you.  

Foster Better Work Relationships With One-on-One Meetings

The first step to having an effective one-on-one meeting with employees is an open mind. Walk into the meeting with patience, curiosity, and the willingness to offer support where necessary. 

With Assembly, one-on-one meetings won’t feel like a chore. Book a demo today to learn how you can add structure and accountability to your 1-on-1 meetings.

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