If there’s any workplace ritual that could be described as an “underdog,” it’s the humble 1-on-1 meeting.

It’s the sit-down on your calendar that’s easy to push off, reschedule, or even skip entirely without shame. Where you can fly by the seat of your pants without any preparation. 

Well, it’s high time we give the seemingly unassuming 1-on-1 meeting the props and the focus it deserves. When it’s hosted with care and intention, this type of meeting makes all the difference for managers and their direct reports.

6 types of meetings that are worth your time (and 3 that aren’t)

If you’re working on a distributed team, check out this presentation on better hybrid 1:1 meetings from Leah Ryder, Head of Marketing for Trello.

What is a 1-on-1 meeting?

1-on-1 meetings are designated conversations for managers to connect with their direct reports about their workloads, priorities, goals, challenges, feedback, and more. In general, these meetings:

  • Occur on a regular, predictable schedule (ideally, weekly)
  • Include only the manager and one direct report
  • Happen in real-time (an async meeting isn’t the best choice here)

In terms of the format, you can host 1-on-1 meetings remotely or in-person. If you go the remote route, it’s best to opt for a video call to allow for a more personal connection and the chance to interpret nonverbal cues.

Why bother having 1-on-1 meetings?

Because these meetings are typically pretty informal and don’t include a large group of attendees, they’re often overlooked and underestimated.

For managers, they’re easy to deprioritize, reschedule, or cancel altogether. And for individual contributors, these conversations can feel like redundant or unnecessary check-ins — or, even worse, like an opportunity for more scrutiny from their supervisor.

In reality, when these meetings are done well (that’s key here), they offer several notable benefits. 

1. Boost engagement

1-on-1 meetings allow employees to connect with their manager, get the support they need, and benefit from valuable feedback. All of that goes a long way in helping them feel more engaged with their roles and their organizations.

Research from Gallup found that employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are three times as likely to be engaged than employees whose managers skip these conversations. The research also found that employees who feel like their manager is invested in them as people are more likely to be engaged.

2. Build stronger relationships (and trust)

Alarmingly, only 24% of employees believe their organization cares about their well-being. While a regular 1-on-1 might not be the panacea for that level of skepticism, it certainly can’t hurt.

These conversations allow for more transparency, particularly when managers provide visibility into company goals and strategies, leadership’s decision-making process, or other important updates that might have otherwise been out of reach. 

But these meetings aren’t only about broadcasting information. Employees can engage in candid, honest, and vulnerable conversations about their own goals or challenges. When the manager approaches those types of discussions with openness, support, and respect, it fosters a stronger and more trusting bond

3. Prioritize career development

Employees are hungry for career growth, with an impressive 67% of individual contributors saying they want to advance their careers. Yet, 46% of employees say their manager doesn’t know how to help them with career development.

This is another powerful use case for regular 1-on-1 meetings. They provide an opportunity for the manager and individual contributor to connect on career goals, action plans, and how the organization can better support those ambitions.

7 tips for better 1-on-1 meetings

Eager to reap the above benefits? It takes more than waltzing into a conference room or hopping on a Zoom call and asking, “So…how’s it going?” If you want to make the most of them, your 1-on-1 meetings require prior thought and preparation — just like any other meeting you attend.

Use these seven tips to transform your 1-on-1 meetings from glorified catch-ups to catalysts for growth.

1. Stick to a regular cadence

Continually rescheduling an employee’s 1-on-1 is a surefire way to make them feel unimportant. So, do your best to stick to the schedule you’ve both agreed to. If your 1-on-1 is set for every Tuesday at 2 p.m., honor that commitment and show up prepared and ready to engage.

In a recent survey, employees who said they have 1-on-1 meetings at least once a week reported feeling better about those meetings than employees who have them less frequently. That predictable cadence makes them feel less anxious about those conversations and also helps them feel more successful at their jobs.

Of course, things come up. So, whether you’re the manager or the direct report, do the following when you do need to reschedule:

  • Reiterate the importance: Don’t just wipe it off the calendar with no recognition or explanation. Even a quick note that says something like, “My daughter has a dentist appointment — can we push this to Thursday?” helps people feel valued, even if you can’t meet right then and there.
  • Pick a new time immediately: On the topic of rescheduling, follow through on selecting a new date and time right away. It reiterates that the meeting is important to you. 

If you notice rescheduling is becoming more of the rule than the exception, connect to pick a new time that will work better for both of your schedules moving forward.

2. Create a shared agenda

How to write an effective team meeting agenda (with templates!)

A whopping 80% of workers feel anxious about attending meetings. For people to connect and open up in your 1-on-1 conversations, they can’t feel on edge.

Ease some concerns by ensuring that everybody is on the same page about the point of these meetings. What’s the goal? What indicates a successful conversation? How much prep work should people do ahead of time?

One of the best ways to provide this level of transparency is with a shared meeting agenda that the manager and the direct report can contribute to throughout the week. Here are a few templates you can use:

Commit to dropping notes on your agenda as things come up. That way, when the meeting rolls around, both parties are aligned on the main talking points and can head into the conversation knowing what to expect.

3. Prepare thoughtful questions

Your shared agenda will provide some fodder and conversation starters for your meeting, but it’s also smart to show up with a few prepared questions — especially if there are topics you know you want to dig into.

There’s no set template or formula to follow here. After all, the point of these meetings is for managers and individual contributors to get the information that’s most pertinent for them.

But if you need some inspiration for what you can ask about during a 1-on-1 meeting, here are a few great questions: 

Questions managers can ask their reports

  • How are you feeling about your current workload and projects?
  • How do you feel you’re progressing toward [career goal]?
  • What else can I and the team do to support you?
  • How is your work-life balance?
  • Do you have any feedback to share with me?

Questions individual contributors can ask their managers

  • Can you give me more insight into why the [company/team/etc.] did [thing]?
  • Which of my current tasks would you like me to place as my top priority?
  • What’s your highest priority right now?
  • Is there an aspect of my role you’d like more visibility into?
  • Do you have any feedback for me?

4. Manage distractions

It’s not always possible to go device-free, especially if you’re hosting the meeting remotely or need to refer to documents, your project management software, or other resources during the conversation.

But because your devices are nearby, you need to be mindful of not letting distractions sidetrack your conversation. Turn your phone on “do not disturb,” set yourself to “away” on your instant messaging platform, and close out your inbox.

Without relentless pings, you can commit to active listening and give the other person the focus and attention they deserve.

5. Encourage candor

What does psychological safety mean, anyway?

1-on-1 meetings are most effective when there’s a high degree of psychological safety — when people trust that they’re in a safe space to speak openly. Creating that sort of environment requires effort from both parties.

For their part, managers should be candid about the challenges the team or company is facing. That connects team members to the overall mission and can inspire them to contribute at a higher level, while also demonstrating the degree of vulnerability required in these conversations.

Team members, too, should be open and honest about where they’re frustrated, struggling, and need help. The point of these conversations is to get the support you need, and that won’t happen if you expect your manager to read your mind. 

6. Invest in feedback

Everybody is hungry for feedback, and fortunately, one-on-one meetings are the perfect outlet for recognition and constructive criticism that helps people improve.

Managers should seize the opportunity to applaud good work while also offering insight into the employee’s development areas. While it might feel nerve-racking in the moment, it’s worth it. According to Gallup research, 80% of employees who say they’ve received feedback in the past week are fully engaged.

And while it’s easy to think of this meeting as focused exclusively on the direct report’s performance, it’s not about improving one person — it’s about improving your relationship. Individual contributors can use this meeting to provide upward or manager feedback too, especially when it helps them (or the entire team) work more effectively. 

7. Recap and determine action items

Meetings are only valuable if they produce something. Yet, our own research found that 54% of workers frequently leave meetings without a clear idea of the next steps. Dedicate the last five minutes of your 1-on-1 meetings to: 

  • Summarizing what you discussed to confirm understanding
  • Detailing next steps and action items
  • Aligning on timelines and necessary resources

Add those to your ongoing agenda or another shared document so you can follow through — and follow up on them in your next meeting.

Transform your 1-on-1 meetings from inconsequential to indispensable

The humble 1-on-1 meeting has been overlooked and underestimated long enough.

When they’re done right, these conversations aren’t informal, time-wasting status updates that can easily slip off the calendar. They’re unmissable opportunities to align your expectations, strengthen your relationship, and work together more effectively.

So, it’s time for managers and individual contributors to give this underdog meeting the credit (and focus) it deserves. 

7 tips for better 1-on-1 meetings