Effective one-on-one meetings: Free template and agenda

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15 febbraio 2024
9 minuti di lettura
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Both managers and employees sometimes view one-on-one meetings with trepidation. Managers worry about the correct format and handling tough discussions, while employees might dread criticism or question the meetings' usefulness. But when effectively organized and focused on open communication, the one-on-one meeting is a key driver of team productivity, morale, and engagement, benefiting all involved.

The one-on-one meeting is ubiquitous at many startups, including ours. But there’s a good reason we prioritize them on our calendars (despite our best attempts to mitigate meetings). The one-on-one is the best way for managers and those who report to them to connect on pressing issues, develop a strong relationship, and ensure that employees feel like they’re working toward their goals—at work and otherwise. Without a proper framework, agenda, and mindset, however, the one-on-one meeting can become just another meeting in your day. Here’s our tactical game plan for making the one-on-one meeting your most important meeting, whether you’re a manager or individual contributor.

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What is a one-on-one meeting?

A one-on-one is a dedicated space on the calendar and in your mental map for open-ended and anticipated conversation between a manager and an employee. Unlike status reports or tactical meetings, the one-on-one meeting is a place for coaching, mentorship, giving context, or even venting. The one-on-one goes beyond an open door policy and dedicates time on a regular cadence for teammates and leaders to connect and communicate.

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Investi così tanto tempo nel cercare persone fantastiche, che vale la pena aiutarle a crescere affinché realizzino tutto il loro potenziale.”
Justin Rosenstein, cofondatore di Asana

What’s the purpose of a one-on-one meeting?

One-on-one meetings serve as a cornerstone for direct, open communication between managers and their team members. These meetings help build trust and are pivotal for understanding personal goals, addressing concerns, and fostering a culture of trust and transparency within the team. 

For instance, a project manager might use a one-on-one meeting to provide personalized feedback to an employee, helping them navigate their career path and align their personal objectives with the company's goals. In order to make sure every team member feels supported and appreciated, this time is set aside for the advancement of each individual as well as any challenges they may be facing.

Benefits of one-on-one meetings

One-to-one meetings offer distinct advantages over team meetings. They focus on individual employee performance and career development goals, as well as offering an opportunity to address specific roadblocks and achievements. 

Unlike team meetings, where discussion points are broad and aimed at group objectives, one-on-one meetings strengthen work relationships and allow a private space to discuss day-to-day challenges and successes. This face-to-face format is ideal for giving constructive feedback and aligning individual efforts with team performance.

Improving employee engagement

One-on-one meetings significantly boost employee engagement by showing team members that their opinions and contributions are valued. Regular, dedicated discussions about their work and career aspirations make employees feel more connected and committed to their roles and the organization.

Personalized feedback and development

These in-person recurring meetings offer a unique opportunity for individualized feedback and professional development. Managers can focus on a team member's strengths and areas for improvement, set clear expectations, and determine personalized growth plans. This strategy improves employee wellbeing while also advancing professional development.

Improved performance tracking

One-on-one meetings facilitate the ongoing assessment of an employee's performance against their goals. This continuous feedback loop allows for real-time adjustments in strategies or focus to ensure that team members remain on track to meet or exceed their objectives.

Building rapport between managers and employees

Regular one-on-one interactions help build a stronger, more trusting relationship between managers and their direct reports. These meetings create a safe space for open dialogue where employees can share ideas, voice concerns, and seek guidance without fear of judgment. One-on-one conversations often lead to a more cohesive and supportive team environment.

Read: 5 tips for leading more effective meetings

How to conduct a one-on-one meeting

An organized approach can make all the difference in hosting effective one-on-ones. Here's a step-by-step guide that details how to conduct a one-on-one meeting so it's both productive and meaningful.

Step 1: Prepare in advance

Preparing a one-on-one meeting agenda is key. Both parties should come with topics to discuss, questions, and updates on previous action items. If this is your first one-on-one meeting, consider setting a welcoming tone that encourages open dialogue and mutual respect. Otherwise, review meeting notes from the past week to identify progress on action items and ensure a focused and productive discussion.

For example, an HR manager might review the employee's latest performance metrics, note any areas for discussion, and encourage people to think about their recent challenges and achievements.

Step 2: Create a comfortable environment

The setting of your meeting can significantly impact its effectiveness. Choose a quiet, private space to ensure confidentiality and minimize interruptions. 

For example, a supervisor could schedule a conference room or recommend taking a stroll outside to establish a safe environment for candid communication.

Step 3: Discuss and listen

Begin with a review of the agenda, then dive into the talking points. Encourage open communication by asking open-ended questions and actively listening to the responses. 

An example would be a manager asking, "What support do you need to achieve your current goals?" This fosters a two-way conversation and shows genuine interest in the employee's perspective.

Step 4: Agree on action items and follow up

Conclude the meeting with a recap of the discussion, agree on next steps, and set deadlines for any action items. 

For example, if an employee expresses interest in professional development opportunities, the manager could assign them to research potential courses, with a follow-up discussion scheduled for the next meeting to decide on enrollment.

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One-on-one meeting agenda

A well-structured agenda is essential for maximizing the effectiveness of your one-on-one meetings. It ensures that both parties are prepared and that the conversation remains focused. 

Read: How to plan and write meeting agendas, with examples

Here are essential elements to include in your one-on-one meeting agenda:

  • Review of previous action items: Start by assessing the progress on tasks and goals set during the past week or last meeting.

  • Discussion of current projects and tasks: Examine the employee's current workload, any difficulties they may be having, and the assistance they require.

  • Feedback and recognition: Allocate time for both parties to share feedback. Acknowledge achievements and address areas for improvement.

  • Career development and goals: Discuss the employee's career aspirations and plan steps for growth and development.

  • Next steps and action items: Recap the meeting's key points, agree on action items, and set goals for the next meeting.

One-on-one meeting questions for managers and employees

Effective one-on-one meetings hinge on asking the right questions. These questions can unlock valuable real-time feedback, foster open communication, and help both managers and employees create high performing teams. 

Read: 110+ Icebreaker questions for team building

To help start fruitful in-person conversations, we've included some specific one-on-one meeting questions.

Questions for managers

In your role as a manager, enhancing the employee experience through one-on-one meetings involves more than offering guidance—it's about employing a management style that prioritizes active listening to your direct reports. 

These questions are designed to assess employee needs and satisfaction, identify any concerns, and nurture a positive atmosphere:

  • "How do you feel about your current projects? Are there any areas where you're facing challenges?"

  • "In what ways can I better support you in achieving your goals?"

  •  "Are there any skills you'd like to develop or opportunities you're interested in exploring?"

  • "How do you prefer to receive feedback, and how often would you like to receive it?"

  • "What accomplishments are you most proud of since our last meeting?"

  • "Have you encountered any obstacles recently that have hindered your work, and how can we address them together?"

  • "Is there feedback or recognition you feel you're missing in your role?"

  • "How do you see your role evolving in the team, and what can we do to facilitate that growth?"

  • "Are there any team dynamics or processes you think we can improve on?"

  • "What's one thing we can change about our one-on-one meetings to make them more valuable for you?"

Questions for employees

As an employee, one-on-one meetings are your chance to take charge of your career development and communicate directly with your manager about your needs and aspirations. Consider asking these questions to make the most of these recurring meetings:

  • "What are the key priorities for our team this quarter, and how can I align my work to support these goals?"

  • "Based on my recent performance, what are the areas where I can improve?"

  • "Can you provide examples of behaviors or actions that would help me progress towards my career objectives?"

  • "Are there any upcoming projects or roles that you believe would be a good fit for my skills and career goals?"

  • "How do you assess my contribution to the team in comparison to the set expectations?"

  • "What are the biggest challenges our team is currently facing, and how can I contribute to solving them?"

  • "Can you share any feedback from colleagues on my recent work or projects?"

  • "What are the most important qualities you look for in someone advancing to the next level in my role?"

  • "Are there any company resources or training you recommend to help me develop my skills further?"

  • "How can I better align my work with the company's broader goals or initiatives?"

Read: 25 professional goals to advance your career

Asking these questions can help employees gain valuable feedback, clarify expectations, and align their efforts with the team's objectives and their personal career goals.

Best practices for effective one-on-one meetings

Many managers find one-to-one meetings challenging, often struggling to make these sessions impactful. These best practices offer straightforward strategies to turn one-on-ones into key moments for team engagement and individual growth. 

Read: 9 tips to take better meeting notes

With clear, actionable tips, managers and employees can transform these conversations into opportunities for open dialogue, goal alignment, and improved productivity.

Make time in your calendar

One-on-ones are a time to make sure you and your team are aligned. Regular check-ins stop larger issues from festering, allow for immediate and regular feedback, and promote open communication. But manager schedules are often inundated with meetings so it can be difficult to find a dedicated time and space for the one-on-one.

Effective performance management requires a regular check-in rhythm with your team members, yet the optimal frequency might vary. While bi-weekly meetings could be overwhelming for some, a monthly recurring meeting often strikes the right balance between staying informed and respecting everyone's workload. 

Setting a one-on-one schedule for the first time? Commit to it firmly—avoiding the temptation to reschedule underscores the importance you place on these interactions. 

Opting for an environment outside the traditional meeting room can also encourage more natural, productive one-on-one conversations. Decide whether to block a day for back-to-back one-on-ones for a holistic view of team dynamics or to disperse them throughout the month.

Be flexible about structure

There’s no single way to organize a one-on-one. In fact, many factors dictate the best way to structure your meetings for success; including the emotional needs of those you manage, your relationship, and the team member’s experience level.

The most important element in a successful one-on-one meeting is creating a space where individuals feel comfortable discussing the issues and concerns on their minds. These meetings are primarily for the employee and their participation is vital.

Asana tip

Make a private project dedicated to your 1:1. Contribute tasks and topics to discuss. Add sections titled: Goals, Discuss this week, Revisit later.

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Pre-populating the agenda ensures you cover priority topics. Make a shared agenda to not only provide context prior to the meeting but also allow both parties to take ownership of the meeting. Timebox the topics you know you need to cover.

Preparing for the meeting ahead of time allows you to eliminate spending time on background information and immediately get to the things that really matter.

Ask the right questions

Begin your one-on-one with an open-ended question. This allows the most important and top of mind topics to surface. Here are some questions you might try:

  • How are you feeling?

  • What is on your mind?

  • What are you most excited about?

  • What are you most worried about?

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The key challenge of the coach is to listen without a filter. A filter is a certain attitude or bias the listener takes on that inhibits his or her ability to be present with the authentic experience of the speaker.”
Conscious Leadership Group

Most importantly, practice active listening. An important aspect of being a manager is to make sure your employees feel heard, safe, and empowered. Once you’ve fully heard them, help be a facilitator of solutions. Uncover what they’re excited about, how you can mentor them to be successful, and unblock them from doing their best work. Here are some tactics to ensure you create a space of trust:

  • Affirm their perspective first

  • Disclose your weaknesses, places where you’ve stumbled

  • Be unconditionally on their side/team, even (and especially) when giving them blunt feedback about opportunities for growth

  • Respect them as a person, not just a performer of tasks; treat them as a peer

Check in with your reports and yourself every few weeks to see how your one-on-ones are going. Do you feel you’re successfully progressing through these blocks of time? If not, iterate your process as needed.

How employees can get the most out of their first one-on-one meeting

One-on-ones are your time to express to your manager what’s on your mind, brainstorm ideas, and communicate your future goals. Use your time wisely:

  • Set aside time prior to your meeting to organize which topics you’d like to discuss and add those to the meeting agenda.

  • Feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, blocked, or excited? Think about why you feel this way and outline any specific potential solutions you’d like to work through with your manager.

  • Remain open to discussing what’s really going well and where you need your manager’s support.

  • Ask for what you want in layman’s terms. Remember, no one can read your mind. Is it more responsibility? An opportunity to manage a junior team member? Discuss these things in specifics.

Long term vs. short term goals

If you find yourself unable to get out of the weeds during your one-on-one, schedule a separate meeting to discuss tactical issues or status updates. Or, try to alternate meetings that cover tactical questions and long-term topics.

Every few weeks, prioritize time to cover long-term goals outside of your regular review systems in place to address performance. The one-on-one should focus on long-term goals and ambitions. It should also ensure that nothing in a performance review comes as a surprise.

Here are a few topic buckets you should cover and some effective one-on-one meeting questions you might ask:

Role questions:

  • What’s your pie chart of what you are working on? What do you want it to be?

  • How do you view yourself in your role?

Career reflection:

  • If you were having the best work day ever in your ideal role, what would your schedule look like?

  • Where do you get your job satisfaction from?

  • Where have you been most successful in the past?

Long-term goals:

  • What are your long-term goals? What skills do you need to achieve them?

  • What obstacles will you need to overcome to achieve these goals?

There are endless benefits to the continuous and honest feedback given in a one-on-one both for a manager and team members. Bringing out the best in your employees, eliminating unnecessary tension, improving workflow, pulsing your team’s energy level and making your employees feel valued are just a few reasons to find the time on your calendar for your next one-on-one conversation if you’re in a leadership role. As an individual team member, one-on-ones serve as a place to share open and honest feedback with a manager to build your dream career.

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