The Best and Worst Ways To Have A One-On-One Meeting

By David Mizne

Every week I am asked this question, “What do you want to discuss in our next one-on-one meeting?”

Suddenly I am given an opportunity to reflect on what is bothering me most, or on any challenges that I may be having. I am comforted by the fact that in a couple of days, I will be able to sit down with my boss and have exclusive access to his attention, experience and expertise.

I know that not every manager or employee sees the importance of one-on-ones in their performance management strategy, so I have put together this handy-dandy blog post to explain the why and how of this critical business practice. Or check-out the slideshare below:

Don’t skip ‘em

Most managers are responsible for their own goals for work as well as supporting several team members to achieve team objectives. When the pressure is on, it might seem like a good idea to cancel a one-on-one meeting to free up time to meet deadlines for those personal projects.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. According to this Harvard Business Review piece by Elizabeth Saunders, unresolved employee performance issues won’t just go away. While you are ignoring your team to put the finishing touches on your power-point, disaster looms:

– A cancelled 15-30 minute conversation with an employee to provide performance feedback can lead to a flooded inbox. Emails back and forth are inefficient and can end up costing managers even more time than the one-on-one.

– Not answering the emails could lead to employees lingering outside your door, waiting to ambush you during your walk to the bathroom. Constant distractions like these make it difficult to stay in flow and complete your work objectives.

– Employees that give-up and decide to move forward without adequate guidance may cause a problem in the workplace that has to be cleaned up later – leading to more wasted time.

– You are sending the message that the employee is not a priority and not worth taking the time to provide performance feedback, which can deteriorate the relationship and team morale.

Come prepared

Ok, so one-on-ones are indispensable for employee performance management. How can they be handled most efficiently?

Looking for a simple tool to plan and execute quick, effective one- on-one meetings with every employee on your team? Click Here.

According to Saunders, managers can “request that tracking documents are updated in advance of your meetings and reports on action items are sent in advance for you to review quickly.” That way the meeting can be spent resolving problems in the workplace, instead of just getting up to speed.

When employees share relevant information and answer important feedback questions before the meeting, both they and their manager are prepared for the discussion.

Another great feedback question to ask employees prior to a meeting is, What challenges are you facing? As inventor Charles Kettering said, “A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.” Not only is the employee priming their manager to think about how to help, he or she will also begin the process of helping themselves through self review.

Create the space

More excellent advice on meeting prep comes from Anese Cavanaugh, who describes how managers can proactively set the container for each meeting so that people can show up with their best thinking and best performance.

In her book, Contagious Culture, Anese advises that managers be fully present and “be aware of, and responsible for, your impact. Hold [the employee] as magnificent. Intend for them to shine. And they will step into that.”

Listen, then speak

About a month ago, I was feeling a lack of work motivation. I was getting bogged-down in the minor details of my job instead of feeling like I was working in my Zone of Genius at my optimal employee performance level. That is the unique quality that everyone brings to the table, for me it’s my writing.

Instead of making assumptions or providing his reflections on my employee performance, my manager began by asking me what was going on for me. He was genuinely curious about my experience. After I shared, he explained how he really wanted me to be working in my ZOG, and even explained how that would serve the greater company key objectives. We brainstormed ways that I could get back to this level of employee performance as soon as possible.

I left the meeting feeling seen, and feeling deeply supported in my success at the company. And knowing that my efforts were helping the company to grow, revitalized my sense of fulfillment. In about 20 minutes, we got on the same page, clarified what I should be working on that was most high-leverage, and strengthened our relationship.

Of course, a broad feedback question like “how’s it going?”, may not be best suited to all employees. If the person is either reluctant to share anything at all, or offers waaay too much information, ask more pointed feedback questions to get to the heart of the matter. This is when asking what they want to discuss ahead of time in the one-on-one really pays off.


So much people management can be accomplished over email, or via communication software and company-wide or team meetings. But one-on-ones have a particular potency that can’t be replaced. They have 3 basic purposes; build the relationship, answer the most pressing challenges, and re-align the employee with team or company goals.

Unless you are completely devoid of personal skills or are unwilling to listen, you can’t really mess up a one-on-one. In fact, the most common mistake that managers make with these types of meetings is not holding them at all.

David Mizne is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. David’s articles have appeared on The Next Web & TalentCulture. Follow him @davidmizne.

Image Credit: Guillermo Viciano


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