9 Tips to Nail One-on-One Meetings


Did you know that some long-haul truck drivers use the “rubber band trick” to keep themselves awake during long hours on the road? They put a rubber band around their wrist, clench it between their teeth and extend the elastic until it’s just short of breaking, then hold it there. If they start to nod off, their jaw relaxes and SNAP. Awake!

A poorly planned one-on-one meeting can feel like a long-haul journey, but don’t stock up on rubber bands just yet. Here are some tips to help you hold effective one-on-one meetings with direct reports. And who knows? You might enjoy them.  


1. Get Personal

Most articles offering advice for improving one-on-one meetings start by advising you to create a schedule. That’s important, and we’ll get to it soon, but the biggest differentiator between a lame meeting and a really great session is engagement – from both parties. To get there, reserve time at the beginning of each 1:1 meeting to chat about non-work activities. Invest in connecting with your direct report on a personal level so that, when it’s time to talk business, you’ll have a more productive discussion.


2. Create a Schedule and Keep It

You knew it was coming, so here it is. Create a schedule and stick with it. Meeting once a week is a good cadence, but plan to meet more regularly with new hires or employees on a performance review plan.

Demonstrate your commitment to these meetings by leaving buffer time before and after so you can be on time and stay until the end. If plans change and you need to cancel, reschedule your one-on-one sometime within the same week.


3. Be Clear About Why 1:1 Meetings Are Important

Let your direct report know that these meetings are meant to provide guidance, direction, support, and coaching. They’re an opportunity to build rapport, leading to stronger working relationships.



4. Determine Who Will Kick Off the Meeting

You may think that management should lead one-on-one meetings, but allowing the direct report to kick off the discussion can provide insight into what tasks they are enjoying and areas where they may be struggling. It also shows them that their concerns are a top priority for you.


5. Structure the Meeting

Let your direct report express their needs first, then gradually shift to your agenda later in the meeting. Ensure that both parties have equal time and leave room to discuss topics outside of work. Reserve the final five minutes to recap action items and create a timeline for getting them done.


6. Ask How Employees Feel About the Job

Is your direct report happy and engaged at work? Are they getting the support they need? Are there any issues preventing them from completing their work? Ask these questions at every meeting and develop strategies for employee engagement and retention.


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7. Celebrate Big Wins

A great way to begin or end a one-on-one meeting is to celebrate big wins. You might not have them every week, but when you do, make sure to show your gratitude in a personal setting. Doing so will help build trust and rapport between you and your direct report.


8. Focus on Goals

Check in on existing and aspirational goals in one-on-one meetings and develop plans to reach them.  Be transparent about your own goals. Share any challenges you may have had and how you overcame them. Mentor your direct report and set them on a path to success.


9. Don’t Allow Status Updates

You lose a valuable opportunity to connect if you spend time during one-on-one meetings giving status updates. Save them for morning scrums, track progress in a project management tool, or have your direct report write out tasks in a weekly email. Whatever option you choose, reserve face time for addressing challenges, brainstorming new projects, laying out goals, and other growth-focused discussions.

You can tweak your strategy to create the most effective one-on-one meetings with direct reports but remember that they should always be a tool for building strong relationships and not a “to-do” on your calendar. The connections you make will lead to improved performance and a better working environment for everyone.

By Jason Harless | April 23, 2021