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 

25th October 2023

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