As a manager, 1-on-1 meetings with your employees should be a key item in your toolbox. These meetings are essential for the growth and development of you, your team, and the company as a whole.
When done properly, they identify a myriad of problems before they escalate, and let you work together on an individual basis to correct these things — whether they are habits you want to discourage employees from developing, or overall problems in your workflow that may be impeding progress.
Keep reading to learn more about the value of these meetings. We’ll show you how effective they can be, and how to design 1-on-1s with meeting questions and action items that keep you productive.
Do it well, and 1-on-1 meetings might just become a favorite among your employees. When great managers give employees a private space to express themselves safely, it can do wonders — you never know what talking points they would like to bring to the table. It’s a process that builds trust, rapport, and employee engagement. Unlike the stereotypical performance review (which has a pretty bad reputation), these 1-on-1 meetings should help employees feel valued and supported.
Research by Gallup highlights why this type of meeting is becoming so important. They report that 59% of millennials, who currently make up the majority of the workforce, prioritize opportunities to learn and grow when they apply to new jobs. This contrasts sharply with Gen X, of whom only 44% say the same thing. Only 41% of Baby Boomers report that growth and development opportunities were important to them.
How do these statistics tie into 1-on-1 meetings? These meetings should be part of a holistic management system that seeks to improve everyone’s experience so that as a team, you’re all better equipped to pursue your goals. They’re rife with opportunities for growth and development for everyone involved.
One-on-one meetings are also a valuable way to build and strengthen team culture. Often, people view a good culture as a “perk” — not something that is inherently necessary, but something that is nice to have. The truth is that a great team culture is absolutely essential. Without it, you risk managing a toxic work environment. When environments are toxic, productivity declines, errors abound, and morale plummets.
Team culture isn’t just about employee retreats or Family Fun Days. In fact, with so many teams now working remotely and from all over the world, these types of culture-building experiences are becoming harder to facilitate.
While it may seem like team culture is created through team activities, you may be surprised to learn that team culture starts on the individual level. Using 1-on-1 meetings, you can find out what your team’s pain points are and learn how you can foster an environment where everyone can thrive. Remember: A rising tide lifts all boats.
Building a culture that employees are proud to be a part of all starts with 1-on-1 meetings. Now let’s learn how to design them. Below, we’ll discuss some of the most valuable discussion topics you can focus on during these meetings.
So, what exactly should you talk about during 1-on-1 meetings? It all depends on your team and the type of culture you want to create — plus how often you plan to hold these meetings. Weekly meetings are common, but you can also do daily, bi-weekly, or monthly, too.
Here are a few things to consider for your meeting agenda template:
Open with something informal. Ask about the employee’s family, or talk about their weekend plans. Break the ice with something casual, unrelated to work. It can be helpful to take notes during each call so you can ask about relevant personal topics.
There are also a couple of subjects you want to avoid during your 1-on-1:
To make your 1-on-1 as successful as possible, there are a few best practices to keep in mind:
Create the right environment: Stay present throughout the meeting. These days, it’s so easy to be distracted by the relentless buzzing of endless phone notifications. However, your meeting is a time for you and your employees to focus on the topics at hand — no distractions. If your team is remote, consider asking your teammate if they prefer a video or phone call for regular 1-on-1s.
Keep things positive: Deliver criticism gently when it needs to happen, and don’t forget to celebrate wins. Recognize employees for hard work. A simple, “I know how much effort went into this, and I love how it turned out” will go a long way toward establishing rapport and creating a strong relationship.
Prioritize psychological safety: Psychological safety deals with how willing people are to discuss potentially uncomfortable subjects. In the workplace, uncomfortable topics can range from issues that employees experience with their peers or with you, their manager. In some workplaces, it can feel unsafe to ask questions, bring up concerns, point out mistakes, or share ideas and opinions, for fear of potential repercussions.
Remember that ideas won’t flow when managers roll their eyes or ignore proposals from employees. It’s on you to create an environment of psychological safety where people feel free to broach difficult topics. One-on-one meetings are a great way to help with this. They give you and your employees a private space to discuss topics of all kinds. It’s on you to be open, accepting, and encouraging when a sticky topic comes up.
As you can see, there is so much you can accomplish at 1-on-1 meetings — and it can do a lot for your team’s morale and cohesiveness. Next, let’s dig into how to design these meetings so that everyone can get the most out of them.
Making 1-on-1 meetings a regular routine for all of your direct reports is beneficial in so many ways. They’re the perfect time to foster professional relationships, establish trust, work out solutions to problems, and celebrate successes.
When a new hire joins your team, incorporating 1-on-1s from their very first weeks of employment can help build good habits right out of the gate. They also provide continuity, so that you and your staff can delve into various topics that evolve from one week to the next.
But how often should you schedule these meetings? It’s all about finding the right balance for productivity. While you should do daily check-ins, daily meetings with every single team member might be a bit much — for you and them. However, waiting a month between meetings usually breaks any continuity that you’ve developed, since most projects will evolve on a faster timescale than that.
Weekly is a sweet spot that allows you and your staff to stay in sync without spending too much time in meetings. Remember, you want to spend more time working on projects than talking about them. Consider scheduling more frequent meetings with more junior teammates who may need additional support.
Next, let’s talk about scheduling. Apps like Range that are designed to facilitate team communications are perfect for this, because they include the weekly 1-on-1 templates you need to set up meetings, send out the invites, and do it all on a recurring basis. This way, you don’t have to worry about building brand new schedules week after week.
When you’re putting the calendar invite together, you’ll need to put the following items together:
The calendar invite should include spaces for all of the above, plus a space for you to write a customized message. It’s always in good taste to include a message with your calendar invite. This is a communication opportunity — make the most of it!
Write a short message expressing that you’re looking forward to the meeting. You should also mention the anticipated length of the meeting so that your employee can block out enough time without interfering with other tasks. Keep it simple and relaxed:
“Hello, ____! Looking forward to chatting with you on Thursday — let’s plan for 30 minutes. Let me know if this time works for you. Thanks!”
Finally, include a brief agenda, and encourage the employee to bring their own agenda. Here, it’s important to note that you won’t be discussing status updates, since these will be handled in a different setting. Instead, keep it focused on celebrating successes, achieving goals, and solving issues that may be getting in the way of achieving those goals.
Your first 1-on-1 team meeting with a new employee is unique because it’s what sets the tone and provides the groundwork for all subsequent meetings. A large portion of this meeting will be devoted to getting to know one another. It’s a crucial time for both of you to learn how the other communicates, which lays the foundation for effective communication throughout the rest of your working relationship.
There are two major types of questions that are most useful during the first 1-on-1: “getting to know you” questions, and “lay of the land” questions.
“Getting to know you” questions are self-explanatory: they focus on eliciting details about the employee themselves. “Lay of the land” questions allow the employee to speak freely about the work environment.
Both types of questions are important to incorporate into your initial 1-on-1. If you only ask “getting to know you” questions, the interaction comes across as interrogative, while only asking “lay of the land” questions can come off as cold and impersonal. If you need guidance with selecting productive questions for your initial 1-on-1, we’ll cover a good mix below.
Important questions to ask during your first 1-on-1 meeting
Ready to get the ball rolling in your first 1-on-1 meeting? The following questions are great icebreakers to help you and your employee get to know each other and start building a framework for a future working relationship.
Consistency is the antithesis of disorganization. To keep your 1-on-1 meetings smooth and productive, build good habits by establishing a consistent format and sticking to it.
Range can help with that. Our 1-on-1 templates are designed to not only help you schedule meetings but to set the tone so that you can keep recurring meetings effective and productive. Here’s how:
We offer three free 1-on-1 meeting templates that you can use as a guide for your own meetings:
Recurring 1-on-1 meetings are crucial to keeping teams working smoothly. They’re a place to identify problems and find their solutions. They also help you build a rapport with each team member, giving both of you a forum in which to communicate — and perhaps more importantly, learn how to best communicate with each other.
It's all part of building great relationships. Once you’ve formed those relationships, you and your team will work together like a well-oiled machine, achieving goals and celebrating successes.
The templates that Range offers are all customizable. Feel free to make your recurring 1-on-1s in your own style so that they’re as effective as possible.
Need some ideas? We included some sample questions that you can include, or tweak to make your own.
These are the basics. They let you express concern, show that you care, and get the meeting off to a productive start by getting right to the point:
Use these questions to steer the conversation in a productive direction, or to start a new discussion:
These questions are designed to gauge progress, learn more about goals achieved (and yet to be achieved), and any challenges or new information encountered along the way:
Use these questions to build trust and to solidify relationships with your team members:
These questions will help you help employees build skills and achieve career goals:
Next step questions
Last, these questions set the pace for the days ahead of your next meeting — and they’ll help set the agenda for your next meeting, too:
Ready to start running amazing meetings with your team members? Range has the tools you need to simplify the process and make it smoother for you and your staff. Our templates let you set up recurring meetings with ease, and everything is customizable — you can share notes, create agendas, facilitate inclusivity, and keep everyone on your team in the loop.
Get started here for free and see how Range can help take your 1-on-1 meetings to the next level.