8 Ways to Improve Your 1-on-1 Meetings

1-on-1 meetings are crucial to the success of your company.

Sound exaggerated? Think about it. 1-on-1 meetings are a tool used to help your employees succeed, which directly impacts how well your company performs. Without these meetings, you’d have directionless, disengaged employees — which isn’t good for team morale or accomplishing goals.

The purpose of 1-on-1s is to have managers meet with their direct report to build rapport, discuss performance, coach them toward goals, and listen to them, amongst other things.

As with any human interaction, there are rules of engagement when it comes to 1-on-1s. In this article, we’ll cover 8 ways your managers can start improving their meetings with direct reports right away.


1. Don’t skip the 1-on-1

Rule number one of 1-on-1s: never skip them. It doesn’t matter how busy your management team gets — a 1-on-1 that’s regularly skipped or rescheduled indicates to the employee that they’re not a priority — and that fosters feelings of indifference, which can cause disengagement.

Reschedule meetings if needed, but even then, have managers hold themselves accountable for tracking how many meetings they’ve rescheduled. If neither party can attend a recurring meeting, reschedule it all together for a different day or time.

Not meeting with direct reports can run the risk of them deciding on a big project without the manager’s awareness. That can cause severe consequences that the company will have to deal with eventually — costing everyone precious time, effort, and money — a problem that can be avoided through proper communication between managers and their reports.

2. Prepare beforehand

There is nothing worse than attending a meeting no one gave any thought to until it starts. Some people can operate on the fly, but many aren’t wired that way and need a one-on-one meeting template to organize their thoughts.

On top of that, it’s obvious to an employee when their manager is unprepared for a meeting, and that reflects poorly on the entire company. It makes an employee feel like their manager doesn’t care, which is a dangerous realm to enter.

What’s the best way to prepare for a meeting, then? We recommend using performance management software to plan, document, and organize meetings for managers and direct reports.

Performance management software provides a shared space that only managers and their employees can see. It allows both of them to write down questions or feedback throughout the week leading up to the 1-on-1. That way, each party is aware of what will be discussed in the meeting, and there aren’t any surprises. It holds both parties accountable for being thoughtful about their allotted meeting time.

What’s more — performance management software can help managers address minor questions before a 1-on-1 to save time during their meetings.

3. Practice relationship building

We highly recommend spending at least the first five minutes of the meeting on relationship building. Get to know your report as a person; ignore the urge to jump right into business. This rapport is important for two reasons: it humanizes the manager, and it shows that they value their employees.

Don’t fall into the trap of small talk, though. It’s easy to settle for the “How are you?” “Good.” routine. Dig deeper. Have managers ask them if they have any personal goals they’re working toward, or about their weekend.

If they are reticent to open up, managers can show a little vulnerability first to encourage them. Be people first, colleagues second.

4. Actively listen

Listening is a skill not everyone has, but managers must practice it in their 1-on-1s. The 1-on-1 is all about the employee, so give them a chance to speak.

Start the meeting by asking how the employee is doing. This question helps managers understand what they need to focus on during the meeting and gives them a quick sketch of what the employee is thinking or feeling. Don’t stop the employee when they’re talking. Instead, actively listen to them. Close your laptop, and take notes if applicable. Managers also need to be aware of their body language — sit up straight, nod, and meet their eyes.

All of these things may seem small, but together they are powerful and meaningful to the employee.

5. Provide feedback

Giving feedback is an obvious but often overlooked part of 1-on-1s — don’t forget these meetings are a chance to provide honest and constructive feedback. Before giving feedback, get a progress report on daily tasks and goals. General updates like these can act as springboards to giving feedback.

“I like how you did this last week” or “This week, let’s focus on improving in this area” are ways you can dive in.

Make sure the managers give feedback that is specific, timely, and actionable. It might seem scary to deliver at first, but in reality, most people are hungry for feedback. Without it, areas of improvement are difficult to pinpoint.

Learn how to give effective employee feedback →

6. Ask for feedback

Feedback is a two-way street. Encourage employees to give managers essential feedback. Asking for feedback opens the door for employees to say something they may have been hesitant to bring up.

Everyone can grow and improve, so have managers welcome and encourage constructive feedback on their management style. Accepting feedback will not only help managers succeed, but it will also strengthen their trust and respect with their direct reports.

And remember, don’t just accept the feedback — act on it to set an example.

7. Coaching

After going over the progress update, spend the rest of the time coaching. In order to do this correctly, it’s important for managers to understand their report’s motivations and long-term goals. That way managers can offer relevant advice and guide them in the right direction.

One important thing to keep in mind when coaching is making sure to ask open-ended questions so employees are mentally engaged. Don’t talk at them; that is not how anyone learns. Challenge them to think critically and solve the problem first before you offer a solution.

Learn about a manager’s role in the employee experience →

There are two ways to coach:

The first and most obvious is choosing a skill the employee currently struggles with, and brainstorming different pathways to success.

Open-ended questions for this type of coaching can include:

  • What do you think you could improve on?
  • Why do you think you struggle with this?
  • What did you try last week that didn’t work as expected?
  • How are you going to approach the problem this week?
  • How are you going to accomplish this by the deadline?

The second is choosing a skill they already excel at and pushing them to take it to the next level. Questions to ask here are:

  • How can you use this skill to improve your workflow?
  • How can you use this skill to help the team overall?
  • What is the next step now that you have mastered this?

These open-ended questions encourage them to take ownership of their work and careers. Besides, they may come up with an idea or solution the manager would’ve never thought of on their own.

8. Keep track of what’s discussed

Here’s where performance management software comes in handy again.

Managers can use performance management software to document what they discussed in 1-on-1s and update goals, as well as progress. It holds both parties accountable and, at the most basic level, can be great if managers are forgetful or have a lot going on.

Also, use performance management software to list action items from the meeting. Managers can use notes from previous 1-on-1s to lead their next ones. Taking the time to document the process can streamline the next few meetings, saving everyone time, and encouraging productive actions.

Take your 1-on-1s to the next level

Spending time on direct reports, no matter how well they appear to be doing, is always worth the effort. Kazoo’s all-in-one Employee Experience Platform streamlines the 1-on-1 process to make the effort easier to obtain.

With Kazoo’s performance management software, managers can thoughtfully prepare for meetings, encourage a candid, feedback-rich conversation, get to know employees personally, and coach them to become better professionals. The more managers practice these methods of holding a 1-on-1, the more natural and effortless it will feel.

Plus, managers can receive excellent feedback on the platform that helps them improve and succeed, as well. It’s a win-win situation.

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About the author

Holly is a team lead on the content marketing team with a focus on editorial. An avid reader and writer, Holly graduated from the University of Missouri with a dual major in Journalism and English.