Getting the Best out of Manager and Employee 1-on-1s

Sharing the info on why having 1-on-1 with every member of your team is important, and how to plan them.

Getting the Best out of Manager and Employee 1-on-1s

We communicate in many different ways at work in this modern-day world; email, messaging, phone, but nothing is as valuable as a 1-on-1 face-to-face meeting.

The concept of manager and employee 1-on-1s is pretty straightforward: regular meetings to discuss professional development, engagement, progress, and feedback. Although it can seem like a lot of time to commit, the return on investment for 1-on-1s is well worth it. Having face-to-face time with every team-member is vital for any leader or manager to build a trusting relationship with every member of their team.

1-on-1s help to build rapport and open up a line of communication leading to increased effectiveness at work and better understanding within the team. Creating an environment during 1-on-1 meetings that foster open communication and creates a safe space to speak candidly is crucial to getting the most out of the meeting for both parties involved. Without dedicated 1-on-1 time with their manager/coach/mentor, employees will miss out on opportunities for individual growth, and subsequently, the wider team and company are also impacted.

1-on-1s should always be the following 3 things:

  1. A discussion
  2. Flexible
  3. Personal

Manager and employee 1-on-1 meetings shouldn’t be for presenting ideas or for status updates. They should be a discussion between 2 people. And when 2 people are having a discussion, there’s no need for a rigid structure, hence they should be flexible. If a topic requires more time, give it more time. Likewise, if there is something you planned to cover that no longer seems appropriate once in the meeting.

The meetings should also be personal. The biggest benefit of 1-on-1s is the connections and the rapport they foster. So keep it personal, both parties should capitalize on this time to get to know each other.

How to Prepare

This is not the type of meeting that required a lot of pre-planning. The best thing to do is to not over-think it too much as this may interfere with the organic flow that the conversation should be able to follow.

Set up a recurring meeting

To get the most out of 1-on-1s they need to be happening regularly. Whether it’s fortnightly or monthly, once you’ve agreed on a cadence, set up a recurring calendar invite.

If you encounter scheduling conflicts, it’s vital to try and reschedule. Not doing so can make it seem like the meeting is not important and can have a detrimental effect on the relationship between both parties.

Have a simple agenda

1-on-1 agendas should be simple, flexible, and collaborative. Commonplace topics include things like feedback, recognition, self-development goals and progress, and long-term career focus.

Direct reports should be encouraged to steer the conversation and discuss what is most valuable to them.

Set expectations

Some meetings may involve conversation around professional development and career aspirations. If you do plan to bring this up it’s important to notify the employee and set that expectation as this type of conversation will be much more valuable if they are ready for it.

It takes reflection and thought to properly engage on this topic and if an employee is put on the spot, the outcome will most likely not be useful for either party.

During the Meeting

Get rid of all distractions

Make sure your attention is focused on the other person. Having only 2 people involved means that it’s very obvious when the other party checks their phone or reads something on their computer. This can be very off-putting and will make the other person feel unimportant.

To be able to get the most of the meeting it’s crucial to silence mobile phones and put laptops away. Sometimes this might be more difficult to do when meeting remotely, as you will still be looking at a screen, if that is the case, turn off notifications if you can or at least silence them and ignore them until after the meeting. Giving all your attention to the other person will mean that you can truly listen to what they have to say and this will ensure you get the most benefit out of having the meeting in the first place. This meeting is a “precious moment of connection”.


1-on-1s should be a place where really important information is shared. If a direct report is providing feedback to a manager, listening to be polite is not good enough. This is the best opportunity for managers to show support and recognition to their team members, and truly listening and understanding their point of view will go a long way in building a relationship and a strong team.

Take notes

Of course, all meetings should include note-taking. But because of the discussion format of 1-on-1s, this is often something that falls by the wayside. It’s a great idea to keep an online document that is shared between the 2 parties where you can keep a tab of what topics are coming up in the meetings, and what action items you agree on. Without notes, it’s very difficult to keep track of the value you’re getting out of the meetings.

The notes will also be a great tool when preparing for performance reviews as they will paint a picture of the goals and progress that have been made as well as the reflection of milestones achieved. If taking notes during the meeting is tedious or distracting, a good solution is to spend a few minutes at the end of the meeting to recap and write down the notes. This also re-iterates the information shared and is a great way to show engagement from both parties.

Kick-off on a positive note

Starting with a positive focus, even if you need to discuss some more difficult topics will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. It’s great for a manager to start by giving recognition to the direct report or by sharing a win that they or the team have accomplished. This creates positive energy and fosters engagement.

Ditch the meeting room

The logistics of a 1-on-1 need very little attention. There’s no need for whiteboards, fancy tech, or big conference room tables. Getting out of the office and taking a walk, having or coffee, or making it lunch is a great way to engage.

There’s research that suggests that the walk-and-talk approach is the best format for building a shared purpose and getting to know another person more deeply. Of course, you should consider which setting is the most appropriate for the type of conversation that the meeting is intending to cover. For example, it would not be a good idea to have a performance review in a busy coffee shop where the employee might feel vulnerable as the conversation would not be private.


1-on-1s are a great tool to allow managers to get to know their people. Regular meetings will go a long way towards building more engaged and high performing teams where employers feel valued listened to and empowered. Keep them flexible, start on a positive note, and get out for a walk. Whatever you do, don’t skip out on 1-on-1s, the return on investment is huge when they are done right.