A guide to 1:1 meetings
How regular one-on-one meetings help forge strong manager-employee
relationships, and how to make them work
What is a 1:1 meeting?
A 1:1 meeting (pronounced one-on-one or one-to-one meeting) is a regular check-in between two people in an organization – typically a manager and an employee. It’s used to give feedback, keep each other in the loop, resolve issues, and help the participants grow in their roles.
The free-form, employee-focused nature that goes beyond status updates is what makes the 1:1 special. It’s often considered the most important meeting you can have because it lays the foundation for a trusting and productive work relationship.
1:1 meetings can also be held between employees and their mentors, their boss’s boss (skip-level 1:1), or wherever it makes sense. In this guide, however, we’ll focus mostly on the typical manager-employee check-in that’s part of an ongoing performance management process.
Benefits of 1:1 meetings
Benefits for employees
As an employee, 1:1 meetings help you get the feedback and guidance you need to be successful in your role and advance in your career. By listening to you and giving timely guidance, your manager becomes a partner for your success.
1:1 meetings give you the safety of always knowing where you stand based on constant feedback from your manager. If you need to correct course, you will know about it and hopefully be able to fix it in time. 1:1s also create a space for you to bring up things that are difficult to bring up during busy work days.
A study of 38,000 employees found that people with partner-like superiors, as opposed to traditional bosses, are likely to report much greater life satisfaction.
Benefits for managers
As a manager, 1:1s help you guide your team members’ development, resolve issues early on, and improve employee retention.
To unleash the potential of the people you manage, you must engage and bond with each individual. There is no shortcut for building real connections. Dedicated one-on-one conversations create the space and trust to ensure you know what’s on your team members’ minds – and take actions to keep them happy and productive.
Gallup has found that when managers provide weekly (vs. annual) feedback, team members are much more motivated to do outstanding work and are generally more engaged.
1:1 meetings are also a great way to get timely upward feedback that help you become a better manager. By asking your team members how you can better support them, you get useful information on what’s expected from you as a manager and how you can improve in your role.
Benefits for the business
Company success stands and falls with the effort managers put into connecting with their team members. So a healthy 1:1 meeting culture is not only great for individuals, but it can also affect the bottom line of your business.
Google’s Project Oxygen research shows that managers who have frequent 1:1 meetings with their reports tend to score higher in performance than managers who don’t have these check-ins. So the more often 1:1s happen in an organization, the better the performance of the average manager.
Besides the connection between manager success and business success, regular 1:1 meetings are a great tool to increase engagement. When each employee has the chance to ask their manager for information on where the organization is headed and how their work fits into the bigger picture, they’re much more invested in your organization. And engagement is a known indicator of retention and productivity.
1:1 meeting tips for participants
Frequency: how often to meet
Many managers ask themselves: how often should I have 1:1 meetings with my reports? Is once a month enough, or does it have to be weekly? The answer is simple. Getting into a habit of having 1:1s in the first place is what really matters. Best practices aside, you need to find a cadence that works for you and your team members. Still, there are some rules of thumb you can consider.
The sweet spot of 1:1 meeting frequency is to meet every week or two for 30 to 60 minutes. Google re:Work, Radical Candor author Kim Scott, and many others promote this range.
Weekly 1:1s should be the default. But depending on the depth of collaboration and number of reports, you may reduce the frequency of 1:1 meetings. If you and your reports collaborate closely and can chat all day every day, consider having bi-weekly meetings. With more than five team members, it’s fine to meet every other week, too.
Monthly 1:1s should be the exception because a lot of things can happen in a month, and you risk losing touch with your people.
Logistics: where and how to meet
Face-to-face conversations offer the richest form of communication. So whenever possible, meet in person. If you can’t make it in person, rather than canceling the meeting, move to the next-richest medium: video.
When you are both in the same office, a small conference room is often the most convenient and quiet space. Once you have a solid 1:1 routine, consider adding some spice by leaving the office every now and then. Head outside for a walk, go to a café, be creative. But no matter where you meet, pick a place where you and your report feel comfortable speaking openly.
In a remote environment, try to get as close to a face-to-face conversation as possible. The 100% distributed team at Zapier does 1:1s through video chat, as their CFO Jenny Bloom told us. Nonverbal cues are essential for communication, so video chat and in-person meetings are superior to text and calls. A solid tech stack is a requirement for effective remote 1:1s. Invest in stable internet as well as high-quality video and audio for each participant – it will pay off.
Preparing for a 1:1 meeting
Preparing for a 1:1 meeting ensures that nothing important falls through the cracks, and you are making the best use of both participants’ time. Don’t rush through a rigid agenda, just write down some talking points you want to bring up during the meeting.
Thinking about topics to discuss in advance also allows you to be concise and specific during the meeting. It helps you appear more confident and focused. You may also share your talking points, so the other person can better prepare for the upcoming meeting.
Want to make 1:1 meetings employee-driven? Sharing talking points with the manager prior to the meeting “allows the employee to guide the conversation in the way that they want,” says Katelin Holloway, VP of People and Culture at Reddit.
1:1 meeting notes
Creating a summary of the key outcomes and sharing them with the other participant – either during or after the meeting – helps eliminate misunderstandings. It also makes it easier to follow up on things you talked about. In addition, you can take private notes to keep a personal record of how the 1:1 went and capture key takeaways for future reference.
1:1 meetings are valuable with or without taking notes, so do whatever works best for you to get into the habit of meeting regularly. But acknowledge that a few minutes of note-taking can go a long way.
1:1 meeting tools
As with any other meeting, there are several ways to manage your 1:1s.
The most bare-bones solution is to have a recurring calendar event and take notes in a physical notebook or the note-taking app of your choice.
If you want to take it to the next level, 1:1 meeting software can help you collaborate on agendas and follow up on your discussions. Some features that these tool might offer:
- Share talking points with each other in advance and add shared notes afterwards.
- Create private talking points and notes if you have thoughts that you don’t want to immediately share with the other person.
- Customize 1:1 templates for regular check-ins and specific topics like goal setting or career development.
If the 1:1 meeting tool is part of performance management software, you may also be able to easily prepare for 1:1 meetings by reviewing the other person’s goals, feedback they’ve received, and any notes you’ve taken previously.
1:1 meeting tips for HR
Get everyone on board
A successful 1:1 culture is only possible if you have everyone, managers and team members, on board. People have to want to do it because they see that they’re useful.
Explaining to people what’s in for them is usually not enough to make them form a habit and invest time in something they haven’t done before. They need to experience the benefits of regular 1:1 meetings firsthand. So there needs to be commitment from the beginning.
That’s where HR and leadership come into play. Establishing a 1:1 culture has to be a top-down initiative led by management. For HR, that often means getting leadership’s buy-in first, and then helping communicate the new approach to the entire organization.
Most leaders love data, so be prepared to share results from engagement surveys, exit interviews, 360 reviews, etc. to back up our recommendations. If the data reveals, for example, a lack of trust between managers and their reports, or managers frequently get told they don’t provide enough guidance and feedback, it will make your case for 1:1 meetings much stronger.
HR software for 1:1 meetings
Software can help a lot in driving the adoption of 1:1s and making them more effective. It also helps provide a consistent employee experience across teams and departments.
A tool for ongoing performance management makes it easy to reference recent events and activities during a 1:1 meeting. Managers can follow up on the last performance review, get an overview of the feedback the team members have received from their colleagues, and look at goal progress. That’s the big benefit of having all feedback and performance data in one place.
Recording ongoing feedback conversations in one place also helps counteract recency bias in performance reviews while making preparing for the review or self-assessment much simpler.
In some of these tools, you can even use 1:1 meeting templates with predefined talking points to give meeting participants direction on what to discuss. You can customize existing templates or create your own templates to guide your team to more productive conversations.
Using HR or performance management software for 1:1 meetings also gives you valuable insights. Are managers having enough 1:1 meetings with their reports? Who needs a little nudge? 1:1 adoption data allows you to step in if managers and employees don’t talk often enough.
Questions to ask in 1:1 meetings
You will probably want to ask different questions depending on who you are meeting with and the goals of the meeting. Here are some recommended questions for common types of 1:1 meetings.
1:1 meeting agenda templates
Develop a trusting relationship, celebrate wins, and resolve issues early on.
- How are you doing? How did the past week/month go?
- What would you like to talk about today?
- What are you proud of? Anything blocking you?
- Do you need any support? How can I help you?
- Anything else you’d like to talk about today?
First 1:1 with a new team member
Lay the groundwork for a trusting relationship and worthwhile 1:1s.
- Tell me about yourself – what attracted you to this role?
- What are your aspirations – professionally and personally?
- What gives you energy, and what drains it?
- What’s your role and what do you expect from me?
- Let’s talk about our team and how we work together.
- Let’s talk about why and how we’ll do 1:1 meetings.
- Anything else you’d like to talk about today?
Skip-level meeting template
Bridge the gap between hierarchy levels and get more insights into your organization.
- What are you proud of?
- What ideas do you have for your team and the company?
- How do you feel about the vision and priorities of our company?
- What can your manager do better to support you in your role?
- Is anything blocking you?
Make objective setting an informed and collaborative exercise.
- Let’s quickly recap why and how we set objectives.
- How did previous objectives go?
- Let’s look at the company and team priorities.
- Let’s discuss current objectives and personal development goals.
- Let’s agree on next steps.
Help individuals reflect and identify growth areas.
- Based on the feedback you received lately, are there areas you would like to develop further?
- What next steps could you be taking towards those goals?
- What part of your job are you enjoying the most? What’s inspiring, motivating, and energizing?
- What part of your job are you enjoying the least? What is frustrating or boring you? What is the one task you would love to stop doing if it was possible?
- Where do you see yourself in 2 years?
Performance review debrief
Bring a performance review to a good conclusion and share learnings.
- How do you feel after this performance review?
- What did you think while reading my feedback and the feedback you got from your peers?
- Is there anything you need clarification about?
- Was anything surprising?
- What’s your main takeaway from this review?
- Any feedback regarding the way I communicated my feedback?
Performance improvement meeting
Understand and overcome performance issues.
- Are you clear on what is expected of you? Do you think those expectations are realistic?
- Do you realize how your role fits into the bigger picture/why your work is important?
- Do you receive enough feedback? If not, why do you think you don’t receive it? How could we ensure you get more feedback?
- Do you feel comfortable asking for support when needed?
- What got in the way of you having more impact? (e.g. internal processes, time management issues, lack of resources or information)
- What are action items and/or objectives we can agree on?
Free guide: Human-friendly performance management
Healthy workplace relationships are crucial to a happier, more engaged workforce. In this guide, employee engagement expert Jason Lauritsen shares how to make goal-tracking, performance reviews, 360° feedback, 1:1 meetings, and ongoing feedback more human-friendly.
Master the one-on-one meeting (Harvard Business School)
Julia B. Austin, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, explains best practices for getting the most out of the 1:1.
Tool: Hold effective 1:1 meetings (Google re:Work)
Google's collection of practices, research and ideas about work includes tips from some of their best managers on how to have effective 1:1 meetings.
Radical Candor by Kim Scott
This book that made its way onto countless managers' bookshelves. In Radical Candor, Kim Scott shares her approach to managing people – and how managers can use 1:1s to build trust.