8 minute readPublished on July 14, 2018
Joseph Garvey

Joseph Garvey

Marketing Analyst

A Guide to the Perfect One-on-One Meeting

Guidance for managers on how to conduct effective one-to-one meetings, what to discuss and how to plan.

Communication nowadays tends to exist via text, phone, email and other messaging services. Regardless, one-on-one meetings are still an important feature in management. One-on-one meetings are a forum for communication from supervisor to employee, as well as from employee to supervisor. In today’s professional society there has been an organisational shift to ongoing performance management. This means managers and employees alike need to get better at these meetings.

Unfortunately, very few organisations give guidance on how to conduct (and improve on) these meetings. In this blog we’re going to offer a guide on how best to conduct one-on-ones from the perspective of manager and employee.

For managers one-on-one meetings serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, they are where you can ask strategic questions to gain insight. Additionally, they allow you to gain a rapport with your employees and show to them that they are valued. For employees they offer a platform to gain a better understanding of your manager’s expectations, air out any concerns or conflicts and get extra advice or coaching.

Make time and plan the meeting

The frequency with which you have one-on-one meetings will vary dependent on the size of the team, the size of the organisation, how experienced employees are, and where managers sit in the organisational hierarchy. Nonetheless it is important to schedule a time to meet. To be late - or worse, to cancel without reason - is a cardinal sin. For the manager, it looks as if you don’t care about the employee’s development or engagement. For the employee, it appears that you are not only unconcerned about your own personal development but that you are also unbothered about the organisation's growth.

As the old adage goes: ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’, and this rings true for planning one-on-ones. Devising an agenda prior to the meeting is an understated but particularly important part of constructing the best one-on-one. In an ideal world, managers and colleagues would collaborate on an agenda before the meeting. However, due to time constraints and work pressures this is rarely possible. A more realistic approach may be to devise a rough agenda prior to the meeting similar to the one below:

  • Talk about what’s going well currently.
  • Acknowledge any changes that the employee has made as a result of previous feedback.
  • Review progress towards each performance goal.
  • Discuss the outcome of any recent training and development activity and ensure it is being put into practice.
  • Discover any issues that the employee is facing.
  • Discuss a rudimentary goal plan for the foreseeable future.
  • Provide advice and/or coaching for any development or performance needs.
  • Discuss organisation goals and ensure the employee knows how they are contributing to them.
  • How am I doing?
  • What could I be doing better?
  • Where do I go from here?

The meetings don’t need to be formal nor template driven. A less structured and more amiable approach may be to simply ask the employee one or two questions the day before the meeting:

  • What would you like to discuss in our next one-on-one meeting?
  • What are you finding difficult currently? / What challenges are you facing?

A caveat for managers prior to the meeting is to acknowledge the situational context. One-on-one meetings are a space for personal growth and managers must meet their employees whether things are going well or going badly. When things are going poorly, managers must get ready for a tough conversation. When things are going well, make sure to appreciate the employee’s accomplishments.

The Meeting

One-on-ones need not be boring or repetitive, but they should contain some repeated key elements. Here are 5 topics that should be covered in some way when conducting a one-on-one meeting.

  • Check-In
  • Brief review
  • Updates on objectives, discuss challenges, set consequences
  • Build a relationship
  • Look to the future

Gauge the atmosphere. How are you both feeling?

This shouldn’t constitute a large portion of the meeting but it is useful for getting the manager and employee back up to speed on how the employee is performing since their last meeting. It even may aid the employee’s development of self-awareness skills. Possible questions that the manager could use in this section of the meeting are:

  • What sort of progress have you made on the next steps we discussed last time?
  • What have you done exceptionally well since our last meeting?
  • What, if anything, would you have done differently?

In this section managers should update the employee on any new projects or company goals that impact directly (or indirectly) on the employee’s work. One key driver behind employee engagement is bridging the gap between work and company goals, this is a perfect opportunity. In terms of individual goals, managers should talk to employees about progress and challenges that the employee may be facing. Managers here may be able to offer advice or alternatively direct employees to training or coaching in a given area. Managers should also set out clear expectations and deadlines. Managers may wish to conclude this section by creating clear action timelines, allowing employees to work alongside them.

  • What do you think has gone well? What do you think you could have done better?
  • What, if anything, would you like to do, but haven't been able to?
  • How might I make this project more challenging or interesting for you?
  • What ideas can you bring in from past successes?
  • What additional resources from me would be helpful for you as you solve this problem?

The one-on-one meeting is an opportunity to engage employees and develop a positive working environment. Managers and employees can discuss performance in the context of company culture. Performance isn’t solely driven by numbers, but also by employee engagement and development. Managers should ask how employees view their role within the company:

  • Imagine it’s two years from now, and things have gone well: What has been your role in that? What does your role look like?
  • If we could improve in any way as an organisation, how would we do it?

One of the most important parts of a one-on-one meeting is to recognise achievements and contributions. Recognition has multiple benefits. It can boost employee motivation, lighten a difficult performance contribution and it's beneficial at an organisational level. Pertinently, Gallup found that 28% of the most memorable recognition comes from an employee’s manager.

Managers should provide coaching notes for employees to refer to when they face similar challenges in the future. Managers may also wish to take personal notes so that they can analyse the path of employee development. Before concluding the meeting, both parties should review any items that may carry over to the next meeting, these include: employee goals, challenges, deadlines and key tactics for achievement.

Finally, make sure to follow-up! One-on-ones only work when they are held regularly and consistently.

  • What actions will you take before our next 1-1 to make progress on X?
  • What development areas do you want to work on in the coming weeks?
  • What additional resources can I provide for you between now and the next time we meet?


One-on-ones are imperative to an organisation's growth. The perfect one-on-one is relaxed but allows both parties to extract valuable information. By the end of the one-one-one meetings manager and employees should both be able to answer three basic questions:

  • How am I doing?
  • What could I be doing better?
  • Where do I go from here?

The most important aspect of a one-on-one meeting is consistency. Even if there are no specific issues, it is important to keep meeting so that both parties can be heard and your relationship can develop.

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Our references for further reading:

Gallup - Employee Recognition: Low Cost, High Impact