8 Best Practices for Effective Employee One on One Meeting

By:   |   Updated: 2021-07-21   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Management


Did you know that Gallup's State of the American Manager reported that only 30% of U.S. employees are engaged at work, and an even lower 13% worldwide are engaged? If these statistics surprise and concern you, you are not alone. How can we, as managers and leaders, drive engagement? How do we ensure that our employees are getting the appropriate feedback/coaching/mentoring/training/recognition and other attention needed to be both successful and committed to their work and the organization? One critical management action is to ensure regular and effective 1 on 1 conversations that communicate something very vital to your people, i.e. that they are one of your top priorities and they matter to you.

As a manager/leader, how do you know if your 1 on 1s are effective? Do you know the benefits of having effective 1on1s? As an employee, do you have/have you had a manager that struggled with meaningful 1 on 1s? How do you handle that situation? Productive 1 on 1s are important for not only managers and leaders to take seriously, but for employees to ensure they're getting the most out of them. It truly is shared ownership for management and employees. And now that many of us are virtual for these conversations, it's even more important to be engaged, be an active listener, prioritize topics that matter to them, and ensure your employees are feeling fulfilled and purpose driven.


If there was ever a time to ramp up 1on1 efforts, it's the present. Especially if you're in a remote work situation, you and many of your employees may be feeling more isolated, disengaged, unmotivated and/or unappreciated. You can change that by incorporating some of these recommendations!

  1. Understand the benefits, get bought in yourself, and ensure you're making your team members a consistent priority. What's a top reason good people leave an organization? Their relationships, or lack thereof, with their boss. Another top reason is lack of appreciation. Both of these issues can be minimized considerably through quality 1 on 1s. It's hard to get bought into most things, and find time to prioritize them, without truly recognizing the benefits. What are some of the key benefits of effective 1 on 1s? The list is long, but some of the top ones include: building trust and rapport, setting and clarifying expectations to drive better performance, igniting motivation, getting suggestions for overall team performance and culture, and identifying any "flight risks" and the concerns behind what could be contributing to their dissatisfaction.
  1. Have a regular cadence. Whether it's weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, consistency is key! Also, asking your employee/s what they need and want, which changes regularly based on their tenure and current workload/projects. Early on, we've found it's helpful to start with a more frequent cadence if possible, like a weekly call. As time goes on, and they learn their new role, team, project and stakeholders, timing can be adjusted to bi-weekly or monthly. Again, asking for employee input around their preferred cadence is helpful!
  1. Give thought to your agenda, and try not to overdo it. Success is often the result of strong planning, and this applies to your best conversations too. In our experience, however, we have found most Managers do not give much thought into their 1 on 1s until a few minutes before the call, if even that. Take time to really outline the core things you'd like to cover during that particular conversation. Remember that our minds can really only process four things at a time, so we recommend focusing on your top 2-4 topics during a 1 on 1!

Best practice: keep a running document of your employee 1 on 1s, organized by date and topics discussed. This will make preparing for future ones easier, remind you of action items and other topics that need follow up, and save you time in the end!

  1. Have employee set the agenda or contribute to it. One of our VPs says the best thing he ever started doing for his 1 on 1s was to have the employee periodically bring the agenda they wanted to focus on. You can choose to have them own the discussion every few 1 on 1s, or ask them to bring part of the agenda to each 1 on 1. Encouraging your employees to bring agenda items encourages buy-in, not to mention gives them the opportunity to discuss any pressing matters on their mind, ideas or topics of interest. In one of my co-worker's 1 on 1s, which she does weekly, she and her employee split the time evenly, both bringing two topics to discuss.
  1. Provide meaningful and specific feedback. What is the top request we get from our technology consultants? Feedback on their performance! Employees want to know how they're doing, and they want to know more frequently than in an annual performance review. Be extra diligent in providing feedback, encouragement, and recognition that validates they're meeting or exceeding expectations and provide specific examples around their contributions and the difference they're making, as well as anything else you appreciate about them and their work. We are big advocates of real-time feedback and catching folks "doing the right thing". I often like to reiterate a job well done in employee 1 on 1s. There are, of course, times where you need to give constructive feedback and provide additional coaching and mentoring opportunities. 1 on 1s are a great avenue to continue have such conversations or even expand upon previous coaching discussions.
  1. Ensure there is full engagement on both sides. Nothing is worse than having a conversation with someone and knowing that they are not paying attention to you. If you are someone that is tempted to multitask and answer emails or look at your phone during a 1 on 1, shut your computer screen off, set your status as 'Do Not Disturb', and/or close email so you are minimizing any distracting pings/alerts. Alternatively, if you are unable to do your 1 on 1s in person, change your phone meeting to a Teams/Zoom/WebEx/etc. Your employee deserves your full attention, as do you deserve theirs. Ask questions, garner feedback, and make it as interactive as possible.
  1. Avoid rescheduling at all costs. We recently met with one of our Consultants who is a Program Manager for a major financial services firm. Their Manager, a key client of ours, has had nothing but glowing feedback on her and the contributions and impact she's made in the 4+ months she's been on her team, helping turn around key initiatives that weren't going well when she took over! However, our Consultant shared several frustrations, the main one being she had not been able to speak to her Manager in over 3 weeks about a critical resource issue. While they have weekly 1 on 1s on the calendar, the last 3 had been canceled. Sadly, this isn't a one-time occurrence; we hear this feedback more frequently than we like.

Nothing says "you're not a priority" like constant rescheduling or when it's clear to the other person that you're not paying attention and/or truly listening to them. Having quality 1 on 1s shows your employees that you care and you are invested in their success. Do your best to avoid rescheduling, and if it's unavoidable, explain that and ensure you actually do reschedule sooner rather than later!

  1. Give forum to ask questions, welcome concerns or seek other input. Do your employees feel there is an "open door policy" during your 1 on 1s, where they can freely share any concerns and pose questions? The best Managers set the precedent that they want to hear constructive feedback, concerns and ideas during 1 on 1s. You can pose questions like "What's the top item on your task list that's causing you concern or stress?" or "What's the one thing you'd change about how we are ______?" to help solicit any ideas or concerns. Especially early on in your professional relationship as their Manager, solicit feedback on how else you could be supporting them, suggested format or timing of your 1 on 1s, or other suggestions.
Next Steps
  • We understand that everyone is busy, but it is critical that we as managers / leaders take time to talk to our direct reports on a regular basis. Employees crave feedback and they want an opportunity to speak to their manager 1 on 1. If we want to build great teams, help them deliver their best work, and retain them, the foundation always starts with trust, respect, and open lines of communication with their Manager. How can you build trust with someone if you rarely talk to them or miss the opportunity to get to know them?
  • If you are a manager / leader and are looking for more information on specific topics for your 1 on 1s, check out this earlier Tip around suggested Topics for Effective 1 on 1s.

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Cate Murray Cate Murray is responsible for managing the nationally-based talent acquisition strategies of the Apex Systems PMO and Business Analysis Practice and holds her PMP certification from PMI.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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Article Last Updated: 2021-07-21

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