How to run really effective one to one meetings 

In our last blog, we spoke about the benefits of holding regular one-to-one meetings and in particular how they help improve the line-manager-direct-report relationship, correct/boost performance and provide professional development; all of which aid your talent retention.  

Your 1:1 meetings need structure  

The structure of your one-to-ones ensures that they are conversations with a purpose and that various criteria are satisfied. Maintaining the same structure every time helps manage your direct report’s expectations of what will be discussed and helps focus you both to cover everything that matters. 

Here’s our recommended 1:1 structure: 

  1. Check-in: “How are you?” and small talk, catching up with things outside of work agenda including wellbeing 
  2. Agree your 1:1 meeting agenda 
  3. Ask big picture sentiment questions about work: “What’s been going well for you?”/”What hasn’t?” 
  4. Review last 1:1 meeting’s focal points/goals/actions 
  5. Review recent work since last 1:1, including direct report’s performance metrics, team interactions and behaviours.  
  6. Set new focal points/goals/actions 
  7. Zoom out to bigger picture: Take a strategic lens and share appropriate organisation/division/team information & communicate key messages 
  8. Take an interest in direct report’s professional development 
  9. Invite upwards feedback; how to manage better, how to work better together, what new approach ideas, etc. 
  10. State take-aways; summarise insights, focal points and actions. Get your direct report to share first, then you wrap up. 
  11. Give words of encouragement 

Whilst structure is fundamental, it’s only part of your meeting’s success. You also have to set these meetings up in a way that instils confidence in the process. Here are the five key considerations: 

1. Get your timing/rhythm of 1:1s right 

There should be a rhythm to your one-to-ones; e.g. allocating one hour a month to each of your direct reports. You may find that only one scheduled formal meeting per month is too infrequent, so you may choose to have an informal check-in weekly or fortnightly too. 

Having a routine to your formal one-to-one meetings creates structure and professionalism. It conveys the positive message that you place great importance on these meetings with this individual. 

2. Get the venue right 

Ensure that your meetings are held in a quiet and safe space. If it’s in person, book a meeting room. It it’s a virtual meeting, ensure that you are both in a private space where you can talk candidly and freely, without being overheard by others in your team. 

This also goes a long way to sending the right message that these meetings are important.  

3. Get the scope right 

Your one-to-ones must cover a number of things and it’s good to have a standard order in which to address the various items on your agenda. But firstly, before you tell you direct report what’s on your agenda, check what they have on their agenda and incorporate it into yours. 

We recommended a scope above, but you may wish to adapt it to suit your team’s way of working better.

4. Get the tone right 

The encouraging vibe of these meetings ensures that the employee feels supported and leaves the meeting feeling uplifted. 

1:1 meetings are an opportunity to strengthen your line-manager-direct-report rapport. For this to be successful, a conversational, relaxed tone is key and this is set right from the offset of your meeting. It helps sustain good psychological safety in general and specifically for these one-to-ones. Aim for a ratio of 50:50 in terms of sharing the airtime between yourself and your direct report. 

These meetings are a chance to check in with your direct report individually and to take an interest in them as a whole person, not just as a team member. As soon as you begin your conversation, find out how they are and focus on small-talk for a few minutes. Don’t avoid this part! Small talk paves the way for more focussed, intense conversations later into the meeting. 

In order to ensure that your tone is the right one, set an intent for yourself before you begin your one-to-one. This should always be that there is a win-win outcome to the meeting and that the direct report feels uplifted by the end of the meeting; even when you have to deliver some tough messages. This may seem impossible, but isn’t. By establishing an adult-to-adult, professional ambiance for the meeting, you can frame your message in a way that tells your direct report that you believe in them and their capability. 

Most managers default towards a directive style when engaging with their direct reports. However, adopting a coaching style of questioning some of the time can be beneficial to both parties. In simple terms, this means asking open questions instead of closed. e.g. 

“Did you correct the problem?” (closed) 

“How are you getting on with regards to correcting the problem?” (open)  

The result of taking on more of a coaching style is that the direct report gets to talk more and takes more ownership of their thinking and actions and that you, as line manager, glean insight into their mindset and way of thinking. Once you understand your direct report’s typical approach better over time, you’re better equipped to know what style of motivation suits the direct report best. 

The tone of your 1:1s is clearly indicated by the top right quadrant of The Blake Mouton Grid, entitled “Team Management”. It’s when you get the balance right between having high concern for your direct report (and the rest of your team) as well as high concern for results. 

5. Get the outcomes right

When the above four criteria are well-considered, you should be set up for a positive one-to-one that is conducive to achieving a positive outcome of your meeting. But are you clear on the outcomes you’re wanting to achieve? It’s a worthwhile exercise to list these before you begin your meeting. Keep it to three outcomes max. 


My outcomes for this 1:1 with Alan are:- 

  • to query what’s getting in his way of meeting the Project X timeline milestones 
  • to check his motivation levels and to give him a boost 
  • to ensure he feels adequately supported by me, as manager 

By the end of your one-to-one, your direct report and you should have a shared understanding and clarity for the way ahead. The direct report should be very clear on their Starts-Stops-Continues i.e. What they can start doing to improve their performance, what they can stop doing that’s detracting from their performance, and what they should continue doing that’s working well. 

If you would like a workshop on how to improve the quality of 1:1s in your organisation, please email: 

And look out for our next blog: How organisations succeed at establishing quality 1:1 meetings as part of their culture 

Your one to one meetings as a retention strategy 

If you’re concerned about your organisation’s churn rate, it’s worth assessing the rhythm and quality of your one-to-one meetings. These meetings should be recurring calendar entries at all levels through the organisation, which provide an opportunity for line managers and direct reports to spend focused time together. Done well, they develop employees’ confidence, performance and sense of belonging to your organisation, which in turn drives employee engagement and commitment. 

Too often, line managers postpone or cancel their one-to-one time with direct reports because they have ‘more important’ or more pressing things on their plate. Even when they’ve been told that holding regular one-to-ones with their team is the single most important success criteria for their organisation, they may hear other contending messages like “Make the sale!” or “The client always comes first”. Indeed, these are important, but when one-to-one time is postponed, the direct report hears the message that these meetings aren’t important or – worse still – that they, as an individual, don’t matter.  

Over time, if one-to-ones are let slip by managers, it results in a culture of postponed commitments to employees and an un-nurturing environment, causing employees to be lured by opportunities at other organisations that promise a greater focus on employee development.  

You’ve heard the expression, “Employees leave their boss, not the organisation.” Focusing effort on developing good quality 1:1s throughout your organisation strengthens the line-manager-direct-report relationship and helps retain your top talent. Therefore, these meetings come under the heading of “Crucial Conversations”. 

It’s true that your managers may feel inundated by meetings and, therefore, view their one-to-ones with direct reports as burdensome or inconvenient. But when a rhythm is established for one-to-ones, the benefits to line manager, direct report and your organisation are many. 

For example: 

  • Rapport-building 

The ideal tone of one-to-ones should be relaxed and conversational. It’s not just an opportunity to review work but also to build trust and connection between managers and direct reports. Part of the one-to-one should be dedicated to taking an interest in and checking in with their direct report as a whole person. What do they do with their spare time? How’s their family? How’s their health? etc. 

  • Performance enhancement 

Importantly, one-to-ones review recent performance. In the planning stage for a line manager’s one-to-one, they should prepare their direct report’s recent performance metrics in a shareable format. This forms a core element of the one-to-one, creates transparency and means that feedback conversations (the positive and the developmental) are evidence-based. 

  • Priority-setting 

One-to-ones ensure that direct reports get a few key areas to focus on that both their line manager and they have agreed on and that will be reviewed in their next one-to-one. 

  • Time optimisation 

“Not taking the time at the front end to effectively manage your direct reports leads to a lot of wasted time on the back end,” says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, in HBR article “Cancelling one-on-one Meetings Destroys Your Productivity” (March 2015). If a direct report is unsure of what they are to focus on or how they are doing, their line manager risks them continuing to work inefficiently. Alternatively, the line manager may find that they’re receiving a stream of emails/messages from their reports or they may see them hovering outside their office in an attempt to catch their boss as he/she moves between meetings. This is distracting and the manager may well feel a sense of being out of control.  

Hence, booking in time for a one-to-one means that the line manager and the direct report make sure that they are both clear on how work should proceed and provides an opportunity for queries to be raised ahead of time. 

  • Confidence-building  

The intention of quality one-to-ones is to encourage the direct report and to make them feel supported in their current role as well as in their career aspirations. When run well, direct reports should leave their one-to-ones feeling uplifted. They should feel like this time spent with their boss was time well-spent.  

A consistent routine and healthy, candid tone for these meetings establishes positive expectations, builds trust and results in a sense of progress for both the line manager and their team members. 

Steven Rogelberg, author of “Glad We Met: The Art & Science of 1:1 Meetings” writes that 1:1 meetings are “foundational to being a manager”. He says that they are “arguably one of the most critical meeting types for the success of team members, managers, teams and organisations.” 

If you would like a workshop on how to improve the quality of 1:1s in your organisation, please email: 

And look out for our next blog: How to structure quality 1:1 meetings