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.

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