How to have successful 1-1s with your staff

I have mentioned in a number of articles the importance of having 1 to 1’s with staff as they are a great way to really get know your staff well and discuss work, progress, issues etc. If they are done properly, they can help motivation, pick issues up early, demonstrate you care and develop your people management skills. Without a proper framework, agenda and mindset, however, the 1 to 1 can become just another meeting in your busy schedule. So in this article I’ve tried to set out some thoughts and ideas on how to make the most of your 1 to 1’s.

  1. What is a 1 to 1? – I suppose I should try and answer this question first.  A 1 to 1 should be a dedicated space on the calendar and in your mind, for an open-ended and anticipated conversation between a manager and an employee. Unlike status reports or tactical meetings, the 1 to 1 meeting is a place for coaching, mentorship, giving context, or even letting off steam. The 1 to 1 goes beyond an open door policy and dedicates time on a regular and consistent basis for staff and managers to connect and communicate. A 1 to 1 is not micromanagement, you telling staff what to do or an opportunity to give them a rollicking.
  2. Make time in your calendar – 1 to 1s are a time to make sure you and your staff are aligned. Regular check-ins stop larger issues from festering, allow for immediate and regular feedback and promote open communication. But you are busy, clients to see, sales to make, networking to do, emails, phones, accounts etc so you are often inundated with meetings and general “stuff” so it can be difficult to find a dedicated time and space for the 1 to 1. To ensure you stick to a schedule, set aside 30 to 60 minutes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis with each of your team members. Don’t feel confined to a meeting room: suggest getting out of the office for a walk or grabbing a coffee. It should be informal to help create an atmosphere for an open two-way dialogue.

Some people may prefer to have a day dedicated to 1 to 1s while others sprinkle their meetings throughout the week to ensure maximum mental presence. A benefit of having meetings on the same day is setting you up to find linkages between what is going on with your team. Figure out which works best for you and build out your schedule to give back the most to your staff.

  1.  Making your 1 to 1’s productive – There’s no one way to organise a 1 to 1. In fact, many factors dictate the best way to structure your meetings for success; including the emotional needs of those your staff, your relationship and the staff’s experience level. The most important element in a successful 1 to 1 is creating a space where individuals feel comfortable to discuss the issues and concerns on their mind. These meetings are primarily for the employee and their participation is vital. Pre-populating the agenda ensures you cover priority topics. Make a shared agenda to not only provide context prior to the meeting but allow both parties to take ownership. Put a time on 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 gets to the things that really matter.


  1. Conducting the meeting – Begin with an open-ended question. This allows the most important and top of mind topics to surface. Questions like:
  • How are you feeling?
  • What is on your mind?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What are you most worried about?

Most importantly, listen to what’s being said. 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 to do their best work. This can be hard and takes skill and practice. Be prepared to learn about yourself and make changes if need be.

  1. Long term v short term goals – Strike a balance between discussing long term and short term goals. Maybe discuss long term goals every few weeks with the majority of sessions on short term goals. Find a balance that works for you and your staff.

There are endless benefits to the continuous and honest feedback given in a 1 to 1 both for a manager and staff. Bringing out the best in your employees, eliminating unnecessary tension, improving workflow, increasing 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 1 to 1 if you’re in a leadership role. As an individual team member, the 1 to 1 serves as a place to share open and honest feedback with a manager to develop your career.

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