A manager's guide to one-on-one meeting

Welcome! Thanks for taking the first step to a more productive workplace!

This guide will show you what is one-on-one meeting and how to conduct them effectively. After you have a good understanding, you can follow these step-by-step guides to kick start your meetings. Let’s start.

What is a one-on-one meeting?

For many first-time managers, they don’t know where to start leading their team. Naturally, they get each employee into a private meeting. They ask questions about their background, personality, how they feel about the team, and many other things. Little do they know, they have already started their first one-on-one meeting.

In its simplest form, a one-on-one meeting is just a private meeting between the manager and the employee. However, to get the maximum benefit out of one-on-one meetings, you need to have it consistently.

Simply put, one-on-one meetings are a practice of using consistent, recurring private meetings for managers and employees to support each other. It provides a dedicated space for in-depth questions and discussions, exchange feedback, and coaching - which they wouldn't be able to do in public meetings.

You can discuss any topic in one-on-one meetings, but it is more productive to set a theme for each one-on-one meeting, which we will explore later in the section.

Why are one-on-one meetings important?

There is a common saying that “Employees don’t leave the companies; they leave managers.” Many people rarely receive support from their managers. When they have decided to leave the company, it is already too late to follow up.

One-on-one meetings are essential for employees to receive continuous support from their manager. Managers that practice it see higher engagement and productivity. Adobe reduced voluntary turnover by 30%, and GE improved productivity by 500%.

As a manager, one-on-one meetings are crucial for you to maintain team visibility and support. During the meeting, you can get direct information from the employee to keep you in the loop. You will also discover various issues that prevent people from getting their job done. So that you can fix them on time before it becomes a full-blown problem.

When you have feedback for your employees, one-on-one meetings give you the private space to provide it. Since it happens regularly, you can exchange feedback more frequently, and corrective actions are faster to implement. You can also follow up on subsequent meetings to ensure it is being addressed.

With consistent meetings, you can follow up on topics that need long-term discussion. An important topic is career development. Managers that follow up regularly saw consistent growth in their employees, and personal development is one of the key drivers in employee retention.

In a nutshell: Good one-on-one meetings allow you to grow your employees and multiply their output, as Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel, stated in High Output Management:

“Ninety minutes of your time can enhance the quality of your employee’s work for two weeks, or for some eighty-plus hours.”.

How to conduct a one-on-one meeting

Decide how often to meet.

You’ll get the best result out of consistent one-on-one meetings. When some managers heard about this, they are skeptical about spending too much time. Actually, you don’t have to meet with all employees every week.

Suppose you have employees new to the team or have low performance in doing their job. They will need more guidance and check-in from you. You’ll want to meet with them every week to have more opportunities for coaching and guidance. As they grow in their job, you can then start to meet with them less often.

For others, we recommend you start with a two-week cadence. As you understand their needs better, you can adjust it to more frequent (weekly) or less frequent (monthly). Some employees might benefit from meeting often, and some might prefer to be on auto-pilot.

At the very least, you’ll want to meet with each employee every month. We recommend this to every manager for maintaining great relationships and team visibility.

Onboard the team

Before you start adding the meetings to the calendar. You’ll want to convince them of the reasons behind those meetings. Not everyone sees the benefits of one-on-one meetings. We've prepared a email template that you can use to send out the invitation.

One-on-one meeting invitation

Hi [Name],

I am going to schedule a recurring one-on-one meeting with you. We’ll be spending the time to discuss anything you would like to bring up. It can be issues that are bothering you, challenges in work, your career development, or more.

I’ve scheduled the first meeting on [Date] at [Time]. For this meeting, you don’t have to prepare anything yet. We’ll be doing a quick touch base in this meeting. I am looking forward to knowing more about you, your works, and how to better support you.

For future meetings, as these are for you, I’ll be expecting you to prepare the topics and send them to me before the meeting. If you’re unsure of how to prepare for the meeting, here is a useful guide for you:

Let me know if you’ve any questions, and if the time works for you.


[Your name]

Please let me know if you’ve any questions.



The first meeting

The first meeting is the time for you to set the tone for your future one-on-one meetings. It is different from the typical one-on-one meeting because you’ll the one that driving the topics and conversations.

We will cover the first meeting in our meeting templates section. Let’s first focus our attention on learning how to conduct one-on-one meetings.

Before the meeting

Preparation is the key to successful one-on-one meetings. Without it, your meetings will feel sluggish and time-wasting.

Ask your employees to prepare the topics and send them to you before the meeting. You can then review the topics on hand, add in more topics you would like to cover, and decide which topic to talk about.

If the meeting includes topics that required deep thinking, such as career development. You can ask them to prepare the meeting even a week before. The meeting will be more productive because they have already thought about it. You can then focus on helping them to get the details right.

Do bring your note or a piece of pen and paper before entering the next meeting. This is an important tool during the meeting.

During the meeting

Start by connecting with each other

Good relationships are fuel to successful leadership, and a one-on-one meeting is a perfect time for you to build it by personally know each other. You can start the meeting by greeting them and have some small talk. A simple question such as “How is your day?” can mean a lot, it shows that you’re not just a functional leader, but also someone who cares for them. But do watch your time and limit the conversation to 5 or 10 minutes.

Go through the meeting agenda

You can start by asking what topic they want to discuss first before going into your topics. As you’re going through the topic, there are few common scenarios in a typical one-on-one meeting.

The topic is a question. It is very common for employees to ask you for information, such as the company’s direction or the next team goal. In this case, your job is just to provide them with the answer. If you’re not sure about it, you can write down the question and follow up with them later.

The topic is about a problem. Instead of giving them the answer. You can walk them through your problem-solving process. It will teach them how to better deal with it next time. They are also more committed to the solution as you involved them in the process.

The topic is an issue or concern. You’ll want to hear them out first, start by listening to them. Ask further questions to understand their context and how they feel about it. If it is possible, come up with a resolution together. There will be times where you won’t be able to address it, and that’s ok, what’s important is that you stayed and listened.

Practice active listening

Active listening can make employees feel heard and encourage them to speak up. If you’re not sure about how to do it, you can follow these simple steps.

  • Start by giving them your undivided attention. It means dropping your phone or computers and look at them when they are talking. If you’re taking notes using paper or a computer, tell them beforehand, so that they know you’re not distracted.
  • Show that you’re listening. When they are talking, you can encourage them to go on by nodding your head and using affirmative verbal cues such as “yes”, “ok” and “oh huh”.
  • Paraphrase what they are saying. After they finish talking, summarize their points with “what you are saying is…”, or “Am I right to understand that …”. This practice shows that you’re really trying to listen and understand what they were saying.
  • Ask further questions. Questions such as “Can you tell me more about…”, “What do you mean when you say…” are tried and true. The questions help you to dig deeper into the core issue and get a better context on where they are coming from.

Make the meeting actionable

To drive results in the meetings, you need to focus on generating decisions and action items. Action items are tasks assigned to a specific person as a result of the discussion. These are crucial for you to have progressive meetings.

As you go through the topics, these questions can help you to identify potential decision or action items:

  • What would be our decision?
  • What can we do about it?
  • What would be our immediate next step?

Keep track by taking note

If you come through an important discussion point, such as a question that you need to follow up on later, a decision, or an action item, record it down. Recording helps you to remember so that you can follow it up in future one-on-one meetings.

But don’t be bogged down into note-taking and neglect the conversation. You don’t have to write everything down, just note down a few points to help you recall the important items discussed in the meeting.

Conclude the meeting

At the end of the meeting, check with your employee if you’ve got the note right. Then agree on the immediate next step, and any topic you would like to follow up on the next one-on-one.

During the next meeting, you can set aside some time to follow up on the action items that were decided in this meeting. This creates a culture of high accountability to help each other to complete their tasks.

Next step

Now that you learned how to conduct one-on-one meetings, we hope that doing one-on-one will help you to amplify your leadership. There are few resources you can check out to further improve your one-on-one meeting.

If you prefer to have more structural one-on-one meetings, we have prepared few templates for you to get started:

  • Check-in meetings
  • Goal settings
  • Career conversations
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