12 Highly Effective Strategies to Lead Manager One on One Meetings Like a Pro

If you are a manager and you can’t remember that last time you had a one on one meeting, you should be concerned.  Why you might ask?  Because one on ones are crucial if you want to build a high-performing team. When you keep lines of communication open, you have more of chance to notice warning signs and opportunities to remedy issues before they come to a head. Follow the strategies below to ensure productive one on one meetings with your direct reports.

Schedule regular, reoccurring time for your one on ones.

Have each direct report schedule time on the calendar for regular one on one time. If you have a small team, weekly or bi-weekly meetings are a good idea.  For larger team, meeting weekly may not be realistic but you will have to cover more ground when you do connect. Avoid going over 30 days without checking in with each person on your team individually.

Everyone doesn’t demand the same amount of support.

Make extra time to guide newly hired, recently promoted, or those placed in a new role. They need extra support to learn the ropes and opportunities to ask questions.  You may have someone else giving them onboarding attention but remember this is your opportunity to ensure they are aligned to the department and company vision.

Carve out the time to engage and support.

If you meet weekly, 30 minutes might be just enough time. When your check-ins are spaced out over weeks, you should set aside a full hour to connect to ensure you can fully engage in listening and offering support.

Set expectations for one on one meetings.

Make it clear what your goals are for your one on one meetings and how they will work.  At the heart, one on one meetings are about improving communication.  Let them know that the meeting is to discuss whatever is on their minds. Additionally, it is an opportunity for coaching, career development discussions, and feedback both ways.

Don’t just book time on the calendar.  Plan for a meaningful discussion.

Reserving time on the calendar for a one on one is a great start but it isn’t enough.  You also have to plan how you are going to use that time if you want to reap the benefits of meeting up with each of your direct reports. You and your direct report should plan what you want to discuss in advance.  A best practices is to let them know you are comfortable if they drive the agenda.  If you focus on the issues that preoccupy and concern you team member, you can make sure what type of support they need and make one on one as productive as possible. It doesn’t hurt to ask them to send you an outline of what they want to discuss.  It keeps the conversation focused and gives you time to prepare to coach and support them.

If you have to cancel, make sure you reschedule.

Life happens.  So, cancelling a one on one meeting might be inevitable but make sure you reschedule.  Frequent cancellations without rescheduling builds distrust between you and the direct report. It can defeat the purpose the meetings were set in the first place which is to build up trust and communications.

One on ones meetings should be private.

A cubicle drive by is not a one on one meeting.  A proper one on one takes place in a private area between you and the direct report.  Head to a conference room, go for a walk together, visit a coffee shop, go for lunch, have a private phone call. 

Share praise and specific feedback.

Employees want to know what they are doing.  Use the one on one time to share feedback.  Find areas that you praise.  If you want positive behavior to be repeated, you have to include specifics in your feedback.  Give specifics on the type of behavior you want to see change and what you would like to see more of.

Discuss career growth and development.

Fear of the career development conversation will undermine your ability to help others grow. Asking career development questions demonstrates that you respect and value your team members. Weave in thoughtful and well-timed questions during your one on one meetings. Start off with asking simple questions. Pick one of the 3 questions below and see where it leads your team member.

  1. What do you like about your role most?
  2. How can your talents/strengths be used best in your role?
  3. What skills would you like to develop?

You get rewarded when you care about their growth. This form of acceptance motivates people to be better, try harder, and do what is right.  If they are not ready, don’t push it but revisit this discussion from time to time.

Take notes.

Take notes to ensure you don’t forget important comments discussed in the one on one. It can help you spot patterns in your discussions and determine if situations are getting better, worse, or staying the say. Each time you have a new meeting, review your notes from the last meeting and build upon topics discussed at the last meeting in the new meeting, if it makes sense.

Suggest next moves and end on a high note.

End with a positive close even if it was a difficult conversation.  Express confidence on the direct report’s ability to do good work and move forward. Wrap up with actionable next steps, if you discussed solutions to issues.  This reinforces in the team member that when you come together around a problem, something gets done.  That is a huge part of building trust as a manager. 

Nurture accountability with follow up.

Make sure you follow up in with action items in writing.  It clarifies next steps and ensures you and your team member are accountable on the matters you discuss.

Done well, these suggestions will make it easier for you to provide constructive feedback and address issues before they become critical.  In the long run, you’ll be glad you did!


Are there any one on one meeting strategies that you would like to add?  We would love to hear your ideas.  Share your thoughts below.

6 Leadership Lessons They Didn’t Teach in Your MBA Program

While the MBA arms you with education and opportunities, it doesn’t always prepare you for the day-to-day realities of being a leader in the workplace.  You miss out on lessons on how to handle workplace conversations, how to leverage your new role and how to inspire others for continued commitment. With the MBA, you are navigating the work with a few more letters after your name but it doesn’t always help you with expectations and pressures that come with being in a leadership role.  If that is your experience and you want to enhance your leadership know-how read the following leadership best practices.

A leader’s role is to develop and grow people.  If you are not helping people develop, you are not management material. Regular short career conversations help employees to refine their goals and better align their interests with company and/or department goals. With this type of dialogue, you and your employees are in a better position to spot developmental opportunities and sustain company loyalty.

Don’t make the mistake of avoiding growth and development conversations with your direct reports. Reports show employees want these type of conversations but are not getting them. A good starter question can spark the dialogue. During your next one-on-one conversation, try the following questions:

What work are you doing here that you feel is most aligned with your long term goals?

Do you feel like you are making progress on your big goals here? Why or why not?

Mindful conversations are the key to building team relationships. Inspiring individual and team engagement is really about conversations.  The quality of the conversation is what makes the difference and leads to a highly productive team. So, show up authentically and intentionally. Mindfully select your choice of words, tone, and direction. If you want to be the hero, mindfully select your choice of words and tone. Choice of words and tone carry a lot of weight in how a conversation ends up.

Never forget to explain what is in it for them. Team commitment to action has a huge part to do with how you explain what’s in it for them (WIFT). As you prepare for individual and team conversations, make sure you figure out how you are going to share the WIFT with your people. You have to also make sure the WIFT is something they value. So, figure out what they value first before you pitch the WIFT.

Great leaders understand the power of communicating in more than one language. If global expansion is on your company’s radar, or if you want to develop better team engagement across countries, this could be a development area for you to explore. Learning a few simple words and phrases could even improve your stakeholder relationships if you are a leader in sales, marketing, or customer service. Getting started doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Check out a free language learning platform I discovered called Duolingo.

Find our own peace so you can share it with others.  Too often as leaders, we tend to forget that our frustrations can have a negative impact on how we skillfully engage challenges. When you let them go, you have a better ability to drop adversarial mindsets and self-regulate emotions during conflict. Place time aside regularly to allow yourself to become very still, relaxed, and alert. And then focus your attention only on one productive thought. When done regularly, this will help you find your peace and keep it.

Information isn’t power if it is not shared.    When you hold on to information, you prevent yourself from learning something new and others from contributing.  In the long run, you are actively hurting the team and yourself. Instead of hiding your knowledge in a secret box, share it. Teach other people how to do the things you have learned to do.  Other people, in turn, will teach it forward. You’ll be free to move on to the next skill that you want to learn. Management will be able to promote you to new and challenging opportunities. You will be seen as a grower and not an inhibitor. Trust me.  Your power won’t diminish if you share. There is always more knowledge to attain and of course, give away.

If you’ve have a leadership story – want to chat – have something to say about what you wish you learned in your MBA program, reach out to me! I would love to hear from you!

10 Things Higher Education Doesn’t Teach You about Being a Manager

There is more to being a leader or managing a team than what you “thought” you knew. Follow along as  the most impactful leadership and management lessons learned by many along the way are described. Hopefully, they will help you transition into a leadership and management role in a more authentic way.

  1. It is impossible to know it all. You don’t have to know all the answers because that is not your job. As a manager, it’s your job to guide your team on how to come up with solutions and provide them with the support and resources they need when they run into a jam. If you don’t have the answer, be the one who can point them in the right direction. That will get you more credibility than pretending to know something when you really don’t.
  2. You need guts, grits, and technique if you want to enable change. There is a certain level of risk in store if you want to challenge the status quo as a new leader. Do yourself a favor and make changes slowly with a well thought out plan. Understand the business landscape, assess the personalities involved, and align change with what the business wants not with what “you think” they need. Without this, it will be hard for you to gain change supporters and adopters.
  3. You are the leader and you are there to serve people. Sitting behind your desk may get some work done but it doesn’t boost your overall leader credibility. People want to see you and talk to you. Even if you are an introvert, there are ways you can incorporate time to be present and available for those you lead. You’d be surprised how many leaders in the workplace take for granted greeting team members in their everyday interactions. Generate credibility points daily by walking over to someone on your team, say “Hello” and get some insight on what makes their professional world move or crash.
  4. Stay humble and never get too comfortable in any given role. You heard the adage what goes up must come down. Well the same is true in the workplace. Nothing stays the same forever. Those in leadership positions get demoted and those in lower rank positions get promoted. Avoid the stress of change and always be ready for the next chapter.
  5. Stay involved without micromanaging. If you are a leader that prefers to hone in on details, being cc’ed on emails, and is rarely satisfied with your team’s work, say to yourself right now – “My name is <enter your name> and I am a micro manager.” The inability to delegate decisions makes employees feel that you don’t trust them. Give team members the freedom to make decisions, as well as make mistakes. When you feel the results are consistently disappointing, or the stakes are too high for making mistakes, shift your approach. For starters, spend your time making sure team members are clear on the desired “outcomes” and provide debrief opportunities with staff to foster learning and accountability.
  6. Work diligently to understand the demographics of your team and how they work best. Consider how you can minimize group think and improve inclusion to foster innovation and overall team excellence. Nurture a diversity mindset but also encourage and reinforce meaningful diversity actions.
  7. Once you are responsible for a team of people, it is no longer about what you can do on your own but what you can accomplish through people. You are tasked to prove how well you can support a team and guide them towards the finish line collectively. You are not trying to create replicas of you but nurturing individuals to capitalize on the strengths of each other to become better individually and collectively.
  8. Build rapport with each individual team member but don’t stop there. Assess each one’s strengths and weaknesses and build experiences where they can grow individually and as a whole. Teach them how to be accountable. Support their day-to-day activities but also help them understand the big picture. Push them to break through status quo and provide brainstorming moments where they can share new ideas while you listen. This will not happen consistently if you wait for it to happen. You will have to create the opportunities for them to develop and soar.
  9. Busy does not mean better. Many managers scurry in the workplace giving off a perception that they are working on important matters. But if we peel back the curtain, they are “doing” a lot with no meaningful outcomes. Sometimes caught up in a collage of tactics that aren’t anchored to a solid strategy. What are you busy doing? Is the busy aligned to your highest goals? Does you busy get you anywhere meaningful? If not, think about it and shift accordingly.
  10. Don’t pretend that mistakes don’t happen to you, if you are the leader. Managers don’t walk on water. They make mistakes. Own up to errors and show your human side. People respect that and tend to trust those who don’t hide behind the superman or superwoman illusion. The best you can do is to learn from your mistakes and hope it doesn’t happen too often. Embrace it. Learn from it. Grow from it. Team trust is built up by it.