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4 easy ways to make one-on-one meetings more meaningful

January 11, 2022 - 20 min read


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What are 1-on-1 meetings — and why are they important?

3 ways to prepare for your 1-on-1 meetings

4 ways to improve how you run your 1-on-1s

6 topics to talk about in your 1-on-1s

Download this 1-on-1 template — and get started

You might feel like your workday is on meeting overload. Regular one-on-one meetings with your teams may be the first to clear up some extra time.

But here’s why you shouldn’t: it can make your teams — and your business — more successful.

Whether you’re an individual contributor or a team leader, you can create impactful one-on-one meetings. With a little structure and guidance, your one-on-one (or 1-on-1) meetings can go a long way.

With preparation and a collaborative agenda, your regular meetings can be effective. Encourage your employees to have regular 1-on-1s. It'll leave employees feeling energized, engaged, and better equipped to do their jobs well.

What are one-on-one meetings — and why are they important?

But beyond work duties, regular 1-on-1s can help provide useful insight into the employee experience. One-on-one meetings can be used to get a pulse on your employees’ well-being and experience at the company. They’re also important to utilize for career and professional development opportunities.

The purpose of one-on-one meetings

There’s a lot of reasons behind the purpose of one on one meetings. One-on-one meetings create open and meaningful communication between managers and their employees.

In regular face-to-face meetings, you can:

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The benefits of one-on-one meetings 

While sometimes it can feel time-consuming, the return on investment is huge. Both employees and managers benefit from one on one meetings. Here’s how.

  • For managers, it can help develop coaching and leadership skills. One-on-one meetings are also a perfect opportunity for your managers to develop their coaching skills. Coaching and development skills are something that is increasingly sought after.

    Managers should learn to actively listen to their team members and provide guidance and feedback along the way. By doing so, they are applying and practicing a coaching mentality. By becoming better coaches, managers can better support employee performance.
  • It helps build trust between employees and their managers. Through regular conversations, managers can develop trusting work relationships.

    A trusting relationship in the workplace solidifies teams and creates a safe environment for people. You might find your relationship develops more candor and trust over time.
  • It can improve your employees’ productivity and performance. According to Gallup, employee engagement and regular one-on-one meetings are connected. Employees who have regular 1-on-1s with their managers are 3x more likely to be engaged. Increased employee engagement leads to increased productivity and performance.
  • It can help make connections to your organization’s purpose and mission. It’s easy for the day-to-day duties to feel disconnected from the company’s purpose and mission. One-on-one meetings are a great place to help draw connections between the day-to-day work and its contributions.

    If you’re a manager, ask your employees how their work connects to the company goals. If you’re an employee, probe your manager on how your team’s work contributes to the organization’s purpose. Together, you can foster meaningful dialogue and draw important connections.


3 ways to prepare for your 1-on-1 meetings

It’s simpler than you think. When it comes to preparing for these weekly meetings, consider three factors to help ensure you and your employees are set up for success.

Have the right mindset

Don't overthink the meeting, as it’s meant to be a discussion. As a manager, your role is to coach and support while ensuring your employees remain the focus of the conversation. The conversation should be flexible enough to accommodate topics that are top of mind for both sides.

It can be useful to have a shared collaborative space to keep track of upcoming topics to discuss. This will help both managers and their direct reports better prepare for a more effective conversation. It's also helpful to build in open-ended questions to foster discussion.

To help keep it informal, you could go on a walking meeting, have a coffee, or meet for breakfast — just remember to take your discussion points with you. This might be helpful when discussing topics like constructive feedback or professional goals.

Set a recurring schedule

For 1-on-1s to be effective, they need to happen regularly. For some managers, this means weekly meetings. But bi-weekly meetings are also a good option.

Once you’ve agreed to a cadence, schedule your one-on-ones. Make sure to add a recurring meeting to the calendar. This is a subtle but clear way for managers to show that they are invested. It helps to show the commitment to consistently make time for the individual.

Things come up and schedules change. But instead of canceling or trying to cover off in Slack, do your best to reschedule. Canceling can send the message that the meeting isn’t important, when in fact, it’s the cornerstone of your relationship with your direct report.

Keep it flexible

1-on-1 agendas should be collaborative. Managers should encourage direct reports to share what they would like to discuss. Common topics can include current goals, feedback, recognition, career aspirations, and more. It can be valuable to provide the tools to make it easy to have regular and valuable meetings week after week.

4 easy ways to improve how you run your 1-on-1 meetings

What is said in the 1-on-1 should stay between the manager and their direct report. The manager should focus on asking questions and listening to understand the feedback. They may want to prepare some questions, but in general, stay open to whichever direction the conversation goes in.

Also, keep in mind that if the employee is working remotely, virtual Zoom 1:1s become even more important. The topics you discuss might need to include how the employee feels about working from a distance.

As a manager, you should ask about any needed additional support in this work environment. Later, we'll provide an agenda template to help guide you.

1. Listen actively

Listening is an important skill for managers to develop, even more so for effective 1-on-1s. Listen carefully to what is being shared and the feedback received. Remember, you’re not just listening to be polite, but rather to support your direct report in the best way possible.

As managers, show recognition and respect for the other person's context and opinion. By doing so, managers are more likely to build a stronger relationship with their team.

2. Get personal

Sometimes it’s helpful to share some personal anecdotes or experiences in the context of the 1-on-1. It’s natural to want to unblock a project for your direct report by providing the solution.

By sharing your personal experience, you provide guidance and support to help the individual more sustainably. By getting personal, you also encourage direct reports to open up and share any problems they aren’t sure how to tackle.

3. Be open-minded

Managers need to set the example in 1-on-1s by showing they are open to upwards feedback on their performance and development. You might consider running a leadership review after a few months of running 1-on-1s to gather feedback from team members.

Answers from a leadership review can then be incorporated into a formal performance review process. It is important to a manager's success (and that of the company) to know what their team thinks of them and their management style. Once you have a clear sense of what’s working and not working with the team you can define the next steps to keep iterating and improving your process. 

4. Be prepared

1-on-1s can be about almost anything. If you’re not sure what to cover, there are tools available that can integrate into your wider performance management processes.

By setting a meeting agenda in advance, you can allow your employees to provide input. Make sure to review the agenda (and input from your employees) ahead of time to best prepare.

If you're an individual contributor, give your manager enough notice on topics you'd like to discuss. They will be better prepared to help answer any questions for you if you're giving them a heads up.


6 topics to talk about in your 1-on-1s

To make certain you’re never short of topics to cover we’ve gathered some of the most common 1-on-1 questions and conversation starters below.

Work habits and employee performance

  • Which time of day do you feel most productive?
  • What changes could be made so you can optimize your day?
  • What are your biggest time wasters right now?
  • Are you encountering any roadblocks and if so, what are they?

Team collaboration

  • Who inspires you in the team? Why?
  • Would you like to receive more feedback from other team members?
  • Do you feel comfortable giving feedback to others?
  • Do you have any suggestions for improvement in the way we work together?

Levels of employee engagement

  • What in particular do you enjoy about working here?
  • What do you least prefer doing and why?
  • What keeps you engaged and inspired at work?
  • Do you have any concerns when it comes to your role or career opportunities? 

Short and long-term performance goals

  • How are you progressing on your goals? Do you need any help?
  • Are you facing any bottlenecks? What might help remove them?
  • How have you determined your longer-term goals?
  • Which part of your job do you feel is the most relevant to your long-term goals?

Professional development goals and plan

  • How do you like to learn?
  • What are some skills you would like to develop?
  • What are some experiences you would like to gain?
  • What do you enjoy most and least about your job?
  • What projects have you enjoyed working on recently, and why?
  • Would you benefit from coaching?

Manager improvement

  • How can I better support you in your job?
  • Do you find my communication clear and easy to understand, or is there something I can do to improve?
  • Do I clearly communicate our company’s vision and mission to you?
  • Are our team vision and goals clear to you?
  • Do you feel empowered in your role?
  • Do you feel supported in your career development?

Make sure to wrap up the talking points and if relevant, set up an action plan to be carried out by the next meeting. Managers and direct reports should take meeting notes so they can keep track of topics. This is helpful when adding additional context on topics discussed for a future review.

Where possible try not to delete topics once they’ve been discussed. That way when you encounter similar challenges in the future you can look back on past notes and start from there.


One-on-one meeting agenda template

Starting from square one can feel daunting. But luckily, there are agenda templates (and meeting templates) to help you. We’ve put together key topics to factor into your agenda template.

Consider these prompt questions underneath each topic to help frame your conversation. You might consider having your employee fill this out before your 1:1 so that you can anticipate areas of focus.

Download this one-on-one meeting agenda to start using with your team. Of course, make the agenda your own with edits and changes. You might find you focus on different topics week-to-week.

1. Well-being check-in

2. Progress on priorities

  • What’s happened since we last connected?
  • What are your highest priorities this week?
  • What priorities have you put on the backburner?

3. Upcoming goals

  • What are your top goals this week?
  • How is your career progressing towards meeting your goals?
  • Is there anything I can do to help support you in these goals?

4. Challenges

  • What clarity can I provide?
  • What blockers have you come across?
  • Is there anything in your work at risk right now that I should know about?

5. Gratitude

6. Company pulse check

  • How confident do you feel with where the company is going?
  • How aligned do you feel with where the company is going?
  • How well do you understand how your work connects to larger company goals?

Start meeting with purpose

One-on-one meetings are a great tool for enabling conversations between managers and their teams. As you evolve your one-on-one meetings, keep in mind these takeaways:

  • Regular 1-on-1s can happen between managers, coaches, mentors, and peers. Nurturing impactful relationships can take time. Whether it’s a manager, coach, mentor, or one of their peers, it’s important for participants to regularly collaborate.

    Make sure to prepare for 1:1s from a dedicated shared space to help improve communication and collaboration with the people they work with most. Consider what relationships might benefit from regular one-on-one meetings.
  • These meetings lead to higher performing and more engaged teams. Empower managers to check in on their employees’ productivity, morale, and wellness. Once managers learn to conduct them properly, their team members will feel more engaged and valued as a result. In the end, this builds more engaged and high-performing teams.
  • Dedicated one-on-one meetings help managers and employees grow in their careers. Whether it’s improving a manager’s coaching skills or furthering an employee’s development, one-on-one meetings are a useful tool. Use this space to foster growth and development. The more learning opportunities for your employees, the more likely they’ll stay with your organization.

Start meeting with purpose — and create meetings that matter. 

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Published January 11, 2022

Madeline Miles

Madeline is a writer, communicator, and storyteller who is passionate about using words to help drive positive change. She holds a bachelor's in English Creative Writing and Communication Studies and lives in Denver, Colorado. In her spare time, she's usually somewhere outside (preferably in the mountains) — and enjoys poetry and fiction.

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