1-on-1 meetings are an opportunity for managers to build strong rapport with their teams and increase effectiveness and understanding. Equally, 1-on-1 meetings are critical to the professional growth of each team member.

But it’s easy for 1-on-1 meetings to fall by the wayside. We’re all busy, and time for these personal interactions often gets cut short, especially when we’re not disciplined. That’s a big mistake.

In my years as a people manager, I’ve seen the impact that effective meetings have when it comes to scaling your team, and this is especially true of 1-on-1s. So, here’s my tip #0actually have 1-on-1 meetings consistently. (Weekly or fortnightly.)

Soak up these next seven tips, then have a chat with your team (or manager) about putting them to use and making the most of your time together.

1. Share the agenda

There are competing schools of thought as to whether 1-on-1 meetings are primarily for the benefit of the manager or the team member. While it’s important for both parties to feel like the 1-on-1 is a legitimate use of their time, I think team members should get priority here.

I suggest letting the team member drive 75% of the agenda and the manager 25%. Take a minute to agree on the points you’ll cover at the beginning of the meeting. (Or, if you’re really organized, beforehand.) Team members: with 75% of the power comes 75% of the responsibility! Think of topics ahead of time and be sure to come prepared.

Each member of my team and I share a Trello board where we can add agenda items as they pop into our heads, track what we’ve discussed, and assign ourselves follow-up actions.

Pro tip: Copy this Trello board template and customize it for your 1-on-1 meeting agendas. (And find more creative uses for Trello boards here.)

An example 1-on-1 meeting agenda template

2. Don’t use 1-on-1 meetings for status updates

Status updates are necessary between managers and team members. Plus, they’re a comfortable, familiar topic. For these reasons, they can easily become the focal point of 1-on-1s. Don’t let this happen!

Managers are always being advised to give feedback to their reports and talk about career goals frequently instead of saving it all for the annual review. Guess what? 1-on-1s are a perfect time to have those conversations.

Project updates should (ideally) happen via some non-meeting alternative: email, Jira issues, chat, or a good old-fashioned desk drive-by. If there’s something meaty to discuss, like pivots or important decisions, make it the last topic on your 1-on-1 agenda so it doesn’t accidentally overtake the entire meeting.

3. Encourage candor

1-on-1 meetings will only be effective if both manager and team member trust that they’re in a safe space to speak openly. Creating that environment requires effort from both parties.

For their part, managers should get into the habit of providing frequent feedback with specific examples. Aim for a 50/50 fuel-air mixture of praise and constructive criticism. Also, be candid about challenges the team is facing so your team members feel deeply connected with the team’s mission. You might even inspire them to contribute at a higher level.

Team members, be open about where you’re struggling and need help. Your manager is there to support you. If the conversation doesn’t get a little awkward, you’re not digging into the important stuff.

4. Take notes

Keeping notes helps you remember the discussion, forms the basis for next steps, and signals that you’re committed to the growth of both the team member and the team. Personally, I find it hard to keep up with taking notes as we go. Nor do I love having one (or both) of us pecking away on our laptops instead of being fully engaged in active listening.

To keep “technology” from becoming disruptive, try dedicating the last 5 minutes of your 1-on-1 meetings to recapping and taking notes. Or spend 5 minutes jotting down notes right after the meeting while it’s still fresh. If you must type notes as you go, at least mute noisy notifications like email and chat programs.

5. Get out of the conference room

Varying the location of your 1-on-1 meetings is a great way to change your patterns of interaction. The truth is, you don’t really know how your sit-across-the-table routine comes across in terms of power dynamics.

Mix it up! Get a coffee. Lunch and chat. Do a walk-and-talk, which is good for creative thinking and building rapport. It could also save your life. Be sure to consider the kinds of conversations that are appropriate for these different environments.

1-on-1 meetings are a great excuse to get out of the office

6. Clarify what you want from the conversation

With each topic, be clear about what you want out of the discussion. Team members: are you asking your manager to take some specific action, or asking for input on how you yourself should take action? Managers: ask your team member whether they’d like you to get involved in solving a problem, or if they’re simply making you aware of a sticky situation they’re working through.

7. Recap and set expectations

We often start our 1-on-1 conversations with the most important topics and end with the least important ones. This has the effect of normalizing the priority of things in the minds of both manager and team member.

At the end of the meeting, make a conscious effort to recap the most important topic(s) and tasks using questions like:

  • What are the expectations of each other this week?
  • What were the most important actions we were going to take this week?

Then check in against these next time so you both feel like your 1-on-1 meetings have some forward momentum from week to week.

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Before you go, browse our collection of articles and learn how to make your meetings more enjoyable and effective.

More about meetings

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