Holding Effective 1-on-1 Meetings

Let’s get real. As a manager, you’re likely going to have to hold a number of 1-on-1 meetings with your employees. In fact, you might as well pick out a favorite conference room chair now. And meeting one-on-one means you won’t have the luxury of zoning out or passing the buck; the onus lies with you to make sure it’s productive. Fortunately, having an effective meeting is easy as long as you plan accordingly. And lucky for you we’ve broken down what you need to do before, during and after each meeting.


If we’ve learned anything from inspirational quotes (and sadly we have), it’s that preparation is integral to success. Don’t assume your due diligence is done after simply scheduling a meeting; you’re apt to have a rambling discussion that accidentally misses key points. Instead, work together with your direct report to craft an agenda. You might even create a shared document that includes a record of your previous meetings. This will enable both of you to gauge your progress more clearly and ensure nothing gets dropped.  

It’s especially important to prep if you know you’re going to have to address some difficult topics. For these situations, we recommend drafting a handful of talking points and questions ahead of time. This will keep the discussion flowing and give equal weight to your employee’s thoughts and feelings. If you’re still a little anxious or unsure of how to proceed, books such as Radical Candor and Difficult Conversations offer good advice.

The Actual Meeting

It can be surprisingly difficult to kick off a meeting. You could always begin by reenacting your favorite cold open from SNL. Or you could attempt some three-card monte. However, we prefer the suggestion Michael Bungay Stanier proffers in his book The Coaching Habit. He advises starting with the question, “What’s on your mind?” It’s somewhat open-ended yet also provides a bit of framework. And it gives your employee the opportunity to express his or her thoughts.

Of course, no matter how you start, make sure you come ready to listen. Yes, you might have arranged the meeting to help monitor and mentor your employees. But feedback is a two-way street. Their responses and concerns can help you tweak your own performance, allowing you to grow as a leader. Additionally, regardless of content or context, it’s a good idea to celebrate wins and temper defenses.

Finally, remember to take notes on any action decided upon. It’s good practice for your penmanship. Perhaps more importantly, this means you won’t forget what was discussed. Towards the end of the meeting, circle back and confirm shared goals, directives and your timeframe for follow-up. After all, it’s always smart to reaffirm and clarify next steps. Bonus points if you’re able to callback that SNL sketch.

Reflection and 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, we urge you to resist the impulse and take a few minutes to reflect on your meeting processes instead. In fact, ask yourself these (incredibly scintillating) questions:

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?

Think about these questions in earnest and truly take your answers to heart. This is guaranteed to help make your subsequent meetings more effective. In turn, this will fuel the growth of the individuals you supervise. And isn’t that what your one-on-ones are really all about (aside from proving that you belong on SNL of course)?