Establishing a rhythm of one to one meetings as part of your growth culture

Establishing a strong and positive organisational culture is crucial for the success and sustainability of your growing business. There are several aspects to creating your org culture, like articulating your mission, communicating your vision, defining your core values, leading by example (demonstrating the desired behaviours), etc. Some elements of culture can be deliberately established through repeated practice e.g. as a founder, you may consciously choose to talk about your vision at every opportunity. Other elements evolve from behaviours that establish themselves as the ‘unwritten rules’ (the way that things are done around here).

The speed of culture formation

Your culture is established quickly. So it’s essential to make sure that it’s the culture you want.

The early days of a business typically see a fluid approach to people management and culture forming. But sooner rather than later, discipline is needed and it’s way easier to establish this discipline whilst the organisation is relatively new. It also means that a core few can decide how one to ones should be run in terms of frequency, tone and content. These key people can model the style to their own direct reports who, in turn and in time, will cascade best practice to their direct reports. And thus the discipline gathers momentum.

In the early days, it’s also easy but dangerous to assume that everyone is on the same page. Typically entrepreneurs employ an initial team of like-minded individuals. Harmony reigns and the thinking is that an informal arrangement for checking performance and direction is a good thing.

But is it really? Just as diversity of thinking and healthy conflict are better for business in the long run, it’s also crucial to systematize people performance early on. People respond well to an established way of doing things. It helps manage their expectations, ensures they don’t get paralysed by uncertainty or don’t deviate off-track.

One key way to consciously shape your culture is by holding regular one to one meetings

However amazing the product or service offering that you’re launching, how you lead and manage your people is also core to your success. The most valuable practice that fosters communication, collaboration, professional development and relationship-building is the one to one meeting. Done well, one to ones are a microcosm of your organisation’s commitment to a culture of learning, caring and high performance.

The existence of regular one to ones signals discipline, mature business practice and modelling of best practice. In these meetings, you are able to establish confident communication, monitor performance (and correct it if necessary), set goals, talk about learning and development, check-in on wellbeing and track employee sentiment. 

The outcome of having quality one to one meetings

Stratton HR highly recommends the early establishment of one to ones as a key part of any organisation’s communication and performance management processes. They are a must-have for high-performing organisations and a simple way to begin to establish the culture you want. 

By encouraging them, your organisation will be:

  • Driving home the importance of two-way line-manager-direct-report communication and connection
  • Emphasizing the importance of KPIs and performance management
  • Establishing the importance of having a feedback culture
  • Inviting vital upwards feedback
  • Retaining talent more easily
  • Showing itself to be a listening and caring organisation
  • Making time for a focus on employee learning and development
  • Etc

If you’d like more information on one to one best practice, see other blogs in this series:

  • “Your one to one meetings as a retention strategy”
  • “How to run really effective one to one meetings”

For more information about the support that Stratton HR can provide your organisation, contact

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 

L&D Programmes: Choosing between in-person and virtual

When you’re designing Organisational Learning and Development Programmes, you’ve probably found yourself in the dilemma situation of wondering whether you should plan for in-person or virtual delivery. 

Here are the pros and cons of each:

In-person: Pros and cons

In-person deliveries are what people are most familiar with. They offer the opportunity to get together with colleagues, to build relationships, to network across departments by being in one physical room and by having informal conversations at break times and over lunch. In this way, they’re more personable and socially spontaneous. This is the prime reason that certain clients still insist on getting together in a room, to learn together.

The learning subject matters when you’re deciding between in-person or virtual. If it’s a physical skills session such as Presentation Skills or Personal Impact, you’d most definitely want to be in person. But some other topics (listed below) may be more conducive to online learning.

Learning is more sticky when it’s experiential. Whilst some types of experiential exercise can be done virtually, there’s way more scope to run such exercises when you’re in-person. Getting people on their feet and moving around the room or even outdoors can shift participants’ flagging energy and make the learning more memorable. For example, you can lay out a giant two-by-two matrix on the floor and have participants walk the quadrants, discussing the characteristics and behaviours of each quadrant. This works well for participants with visual as well as kinaesthetic learning preferences, anchoring the learning as they go. Or you can have participants visit different stations in the room, to solve a puzzle, to create something or to capture their group thinking.

In-person means that your participants can self-organise for ‘mingling’ exercises, whereby they share information with one person, then another, then another as they work the room.

As the learning facilitator, you can more easily keep your eye on whether the participants are staying focused when you’re in a physical room. When you’ve designed an exercise for them to do in smaller groups, you’re able to quickly see whether they’re getting distracted or going off-piste rather than following the exercise instructions correctly.

The downside of in-person is of course the cost. If you don’t have in-house space, you’ll be having to pay for venue hire and perhaps also covering participants’ travel and accommodation costs if they’re coming from far afield. If your organisation covers several locations or you’re a multinational, the chances of freeing people up to travel to attend a programme far away diminishes.

Virtual: Pros and cons

The great advantage of virtual learning is its convenience. Participants can be in the office or on a work-from-home day and log on to their learning programme. This of course means that there’s no commute or travel (and accommodation) required for the learner, and no venue or catering required by the provider. Not needing to organise the physical logistics means that virtual learning is much quicker on administrative time too.

In order to successfully run a virtual session, each participant would need to be on their individual computer with webcam access. So, it really is only an option when everyone has the technology and when participants are confident to be seen on-camera. It goes wrong when participants are camera-shy or in busy offices where they might be distracted or needed by colleagues. And it doesn’t work when you’re asking them to share something personal about themselves or to work on sensitive topics, when they’re within earshot of colleagues.

Ideally, virtual participants will have a quiet space to themselves where they’re able to talk freely and to not feel inhibited about the information they’re sharing or when participating in an exercise / role-playing. 

If the learning topic is a psychology or behavioural one, such as Creating Psychological Safety or Developing Emotional Intelligence, or an intellectual subject, such as Strategic Decision-Making, then virtual learning usually works well for the reasons listed above. 

Online also works well for communication skills topics such as Having Difficult Conversations or Giving Feedback, as the breakout rooms mean that the practising small groups have focused, private online space to create a safe learning environment (provided that their computer is also in a quiet, private room). It means that their conversations are not overheard by other groups, and it means that the facilitator can easily assign co-facilitators to observe a breakout room activity or else pop in and out of rooms themselves.

The biggest challenge for the facilitator is to keep online participants sufficiently engaged that they are not tempted to be drawn into work emails/messages or to be texting on their phones. The bigger the group, the more likely that participants are less engaged and less disciplined to be solely focused on their learning.

Because of its convenience, bite-sized learning can be delivered online in shorter time windows, more frequently. 

Virtual apps are ever-evolving, offering many of the regular features that are doable in person; slide sharing, whiteboard, breakout rooms, and more. And they can be used in combination with other apps to add extra features and workspaces for collaboration, e.g. Miro, Mentimeter, Jamboard, etc. These work best of course when the facilitator is confident with the various apps and functions, but it’s also important that the participants are not overwhelmed or anxious about their own ability to navigate them.

Beware the hybrid option!

Clients often ask if they can create a hybrid learning set-up with a mix of virtual and in-person. In short, the answer is, “No!”. Virtual works best when all fellow participants are also virtual. 

Hybrid sessions where some people are in a room together and others are on Zoom/Teams/etc. tend to be disappointing. It restricts participation in exercises and conversations, especially when participants are working in smaller groups. 

The work-around would be to have the small in-person group to have a portable laptop and just one virtual participant working with them (a ‘head in a box’), but it’s just not the same as everyone sitting in a circle together or everyone being in an online breakout room together.

For multi-module programmes, consider a mix

When you’re designing a programme that comprises various modules, consider which modules would be best suited to being in-person. Your first module could be in-person, for example, so that people have the opportunity to get to know one another quicker. Subsequent modules might be online and you then round off the programme in-person too, to help boost the sense of achievement and to provide more of a celebration.

Decision-making questions to consider

  • What’s the size of your group? Would everyone fit on one laptop screen?
  • How well do participants know one another? Do they need the opportunity to get to know one another in a real room?
  • How far would people need to travel to get together? What are the time, admin and cost implications?
  • Which topics are more effective facilitated in person?
  • Which topics are more effective facilitated online?
  • How effective would online learning be compared to in-person?
  • Does your limited budget mean that you can offer more learning scope to participants online than in-person? Or have two co-facilitators instead of one?
In-person – prosVirtual – pros
More sociable spontaneityMore convenience; no travel
More relationship-buildingReduced cost e.g. no venue hire & training budget stretches further
More dynamic experientialLess admin/logistics arrangements
Easier overview of participantsQuick transition to breakout rooms
Easier energy tracking & managementAvailability of online tools/functions
Less e-distractionsHandouts in e-version; less printing
More of a memorable experience (e.g. reward in the form of off-site learning)Apt for shorter learning bites and more frequent modules
Break from screen time 

In the early days of participants experiencing online learning, feedback from many was that they enjoyed the experience at least as much as they would have done in-person and that they also learnt as much. They were quite surprised! Now that online learning has become more accepted and has been run for a few years, survey results are telling us that participants appreciate the accessibility and convenience of online. Client organisations in turn enjoy their L&D budgets stretching further.

But there are some downsides to be aware of:

In-person – consVirtual – cons
Cost of venue, travel, catering, etc.Not so much social spontaneity
Less convenienceLess networking
Time investment for admin/logistics arrangementsAdds screen-time
Transition to and back from breakout rooms can be lengthyTypes of experiential exercises more limited
Handouts may require printingRequires individual computers with functioning audio & webcam, and app familiarity 
 Requires willingness to be on-camera
 E-distractions may affect true presence
 Energy tracking & management more tricky
 May require booking meeting room for each participant

To discuss your learning requirements and for more information about Stratton HR’s Learning & Development Programmes portfolio, please contact

Is the cost of living affecting your learning & development spend?

The cost of living is on everyone’s mind. Perhaps even more so for business leaders as employees look to them for support. As a business, you might be looking for ways to offset cost of living initiatives you’ve introduced to support your people and aid retention. One of those considerations might be reducing or cutting your learning & development spend. 

Is cutting your learning & development spend short sighted?

Cost of living initiatives may meet immediate needs, but it’s highly unlikely these things alone will keep people happy and engaged for long. Salary is a big pull factor, but the reality is, your star performers and top talent won’t just be leaving just for the money and though salary may sometimes be a contributing factor, it is often not the main or sole reason employees leave a job. To add the icing on the cake in the case for sustaining investment in learning & development, according to a Forbes survey ‘76% of employees say they’re more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training’.

It’s no coincidence that many of the companies that stand out in the ‘Best Companies’ survey (celebrating the very best in workplace engagement, Best Companies | For a better workplace)  invest continually in their people development. This didn’t stop during the pandemic, so why would it be of benefit to stop it now? Companies that have won the special award for learning & development (to reflect their outstanding commitment to the personal goals and ambitions of their people), have, despite challenging circumstances, maintained a focus on personal and professional development as core to their people proposition and business success. For example, Energize Group (digital and IT recruitment specialists) are fiercely committed to personal and professional development, the company marries ambitions with a tailored bespoke internal development programme and regular input from industry experts. The group predicts business growth, forecasts revenues of £16m this year with continued expansion across its brands (SAP, Digital, Tech and Data) and locations (Best Companies | Energize Group Company Profile).

How can Stratton HR help?

We’re experts in working with growing SMEs to support the learning & development of their team. Our most popular offering is our management and leadership development programmes.

We work with our clients to make sure that the programmes we deliver are contextually relevant, practical, and focus on building capability and confidence, delivering behavioural change as a result.  

We work closely with the relevant leaders and stakeholders at the scoping stage to understand what you want to achieve through a development programme, for the individuals involved personally, but also for your business and what challenges you’re trying to overcome. This is translated into our delivery of modules, where we’re able to translate theoretical models into real life practical scenarios in your business – hence enabling the individual to feel like they can apply their learning outside of the training room.

‘It was the first training session I’ve had where I was able to stay locked in and interested as the subject matter was relevant to me and I had the opportunity to start debate and conversation about it’

Our work doesn’t just begin and end there though, we can help you right across your learning & development needs. Whether you are looking to change mindset, develop new skills or equip people with flexible learning and tools, our range of solutions can support across all levels of your workforce – think graduate programmes, apprenticeship schemes, upskilling your star performers, coaching your future leaders or widening your wellbeing offering. We can meet all those needs.

If you’re need help working out how to continue a commitment to your people and their development through a recession, or you’re interested in hearing more about the programmes we’ve delivered and the impact they’ve had then get in touch!

Get the most out of virtual working

Virtual working and virtual teams are becoming increasingly popular and common-place. Extended flexible working rights, improved technology and social change have enabled employees to carry out their roles from home while still remaining linked to colleagues and office systems.  

Home working can be hugely beneficial to growing SMEs as it delays, or even removes, the need for larger premises. It can also be viewed as a real perk depending on circumstance and as such serves to engender loyalty and commitment from those that value the flexibility it delivers. But before you send all your staff home with their laptops, take the time to ensure that this way of working is going to deliver value not only for your people but for your business too. 

It’s not for everyone 

Not everyone is suited to working on their own without day-to-day management, and it is vital that employers consider this when recruiting. Here are a few pointers when considering individuals for virtual working: 

  • Unsurprisingly, self-motivation is the most important of all the skills required. The ability to switch from home to work mode, and organise and complete tasks without constant direction and feedback, is vital for anyone to work from home successfully.
  • Resourcefulness is really important as there is no one on hand to talk through every problem or issue as it occurs. Ensure you have confidence in their ability to problem-solve and make good decisions.
  • Working from home suits more introverted personality types who don’t need the companionship, discussion and energy that an office environment provides. Take the time to explore whether potential candidates are introverts or extroverts and which working environment they are best suited to and create that environment to allow them to thrive. You may end up with a hybrid model where you have some flexible office space to facilitate collaboration and team work when required as well as virtual working capability
  • You may think that good communication skills are important in an office environment but they are even more important when working as a virtual team. They will need to use their judgement on when to communicate and when to just get on with it. There is a balance strike. Virtual workers can have a tendency to just knuckle down and become very self-reliant and self-sufficient. Whilst these are positive traits, they can also at times lose sight of the value collaboration and consultation with team members can add. Watch out for virtual workers hiding behind the email rather than building productive working relationships with colleagues through verbal communication. Whilst being able to articulate non-verbally is critical, you will often get a better and quicker result if you just pick up the phone. 

It’s up to you to make it work 

Having got the right people working virtually it can be very easy to think of them as separate from any office-based staff, but this is where it can all go wrong. 

  • Location is irrelevant, your team are your team. And as a manager, it’s your job to ensure that’s how it works in reality. Just because you are not physically together doesn’t exclude you from exerting normal management disciplines and holding the team to account when it comes to delivery.
  • Get the right tech in place. Whether it’s the ability to video conference, print remotely or collaboratively review and edit documents, working from home should be as easy as working in the office.
  • Whatever the culture of your business, make sure it extends beyond the office to all employees. Ensure all staff know each other and new employees are introduced wherever they are based.
  • And make the effort to get together proactively on a reasonably regular basis. Don’t let splendid isolation set in.