6 Tips for Training Managers to Lead Effective 1-on-1 Meetings

Weekly 1-on-1 meetings are an essential part of an ongoing feedback model. When done right, they improve manager-employee alignment, promote two-way communication, increase productivity, and improve employee job satisfaction.

Unfortunately, weekly 1-on-1 meetings are often treated more as an opportunity to run through to-do lists than a time to meaningfully connect with employees. 

That’s why it’s so crucial for L&D teams to train their managers on the importance of 1-on-1 meetings and how to lead them effectively.

Here’s your guide to instructing managers on what they should do before, during, and after each 1-on-1 meeting to ensure it’s a success:

1. Review Topics of Discussion

As an L&D lead, you need to train your managers how to take full advantage of their time with their direct reports. These ongoing informal conversations are the perfect time not only to discuss current projects and progress to goals but also to get to know employees more personally. Remind managers these weekly meetings aren’t just to run through outstanding tasks and to-do lists. Instead, they should aim to:

  • Discuss professional growth opportunities and career goals
  • Address any personal issues
  • Escalate and resolve any project roadblocks
  • Give and receive feedback
  • Prioritize tasks
  • Align on expectations
  • And, get to know their employee

Now, all that can be a lot to discuss in a 30-minute 1-on-1 meeting and managers shouldn’t feel pressure to fit that all into every meeting. In fact, they should co-own the meeting agenda with their employee and be sure to touch on topics that both parties want or need to discuss. Even so, it’s important to regularly address every item listed above to ensure your direct reports know their growth, happiness, and success is a top priority at your company. 

2. Share How to Craft a 1-on-1 Meeting Agenda

If we’ve learned anything from inspirational quotes (and sadly we have), it’s that preparation is integral to success. Remind your managers that their due diligence is not done after scheduling a meeting. Without a proper agenda, your team is apt to have a rambling discussion that accidentally misses key points.

Instead, encourage your managers to craft a meeting agenda with the help of their direct report. You might even suggest they create a shared document that includes a record of all previous meetings to hold everyone accountable ad ensure nothing slips between the cracks. It’s especially important to prepare if your managers know they’re going to have to address some difficult topics.

A manager and her employee having an effective 1-on-1 meeting

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unpslash

3. Review How to Lead an Effective 1-on-1 Meeting

It can be surprisingly difficult to kick off a 1-on-1 meeting. To keep your managers from kicking off a meeting by reenacting their favorite cold open from SNL or attempting some three-card monte, teach them a reliable way to begin their discussions with employees. We prefer the suggestion Michael Bungay Stanier offers in his book, “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever.” 

He advises starting with the question, “What’s on your mind?”

The above question is somewhat open-ended, while also providing a hint of directional framework. Plus, it gives your employee the opportunity to express his or her thoughts.

Of course, no matter how your managers start, make sure they have the skills they need to ask powerful questions and come ready to listen. Additionally, regardless of content or context, it’s a good idea to celebrate wins, share a compliment, or acknowledge hard work.

nt communication, management, and feedback styles with their teams.

4. Review How to Give Feedback

One-on-one meetings can’t all be chit-chat and catching up. They’re your manager’s first line of communication when something goes wrong or when employee behavior or performance needs to be addressed. That’s why, as an L&D lead, you need to ensure your managers know how to deliver difficult feedback effectively.

For these situations, we recommend instructing managers to draft talking points and questions ahead of time, as well as reviewing our guide on how to give effective feedback. This will keep the discussion flowing and give equal weight to your employee’s thoughts and feelings.

If your managers want further education and tips on how to have difficult conversations little anxious or unsure of how to proceed, books such as “Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity” and “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most offer good advice.

It’s also crucial to instill in your managers that feedback is a two-way street. During 1-on-1s, managers should also ask employees how they can best support them, what they should do more or less of, and what suggestions they have for the team. Your managers need to be open-minded to their responses and concerns and use them to tweak their own performance, empowering them to grow as a leader.

How to Give Feedback that Lands

5. Encourage Managers to Follow Up

Finally, train managers to take notes and follow through on any actions that came out of their 1-on-1 meetings. This ensures they won’t forget what was discussed.

Instruct them to circle back at the end of a meeting to confirm shared goals, directives, and a timeframe for follow-up. 

A manager reflecting on a recent 1-on-1 meeting with a direct report
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

6. Reflect and Take Action

We know how tempting it is to rush back to your desk after a meeting and check email (or Instagram or [insert your favorite site here]). However, urge managers to resist the impulse and take a few minutes to reflect on their meeting processes instead. You can even suggest they ask themselves these questions to become a better manager:

On a scale of 1-5, how would I rate my own engagement in that meeting?

What did I sense about the employee during the meeting?

What did I hear from the employee?

How can I better prepare for this employee next time?

What did I say I would do? How will I remember to do those things?

Encourage them to think about these questions in earnest and truly take their answers to heart. This is guaranteed to help make their subsequent meetings more effective. In turn, this will fuel the growth of the individuals you supervise. And isn’t that what one-on-ones are really all about?

Want to train your team on how to lead effective 1-on-1s? Click here to get a 14-day free trial with Hone and enroll in our live online classes on essential manager skills, like leading 1-on-1s, giving and receiving feedback, coaching employees, managing remote teams, and more.