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Teaming's Guide to Running Effective 1:1 Meetings
Teaming's Guide to Running Effective 1:1 Meetings
Stephen Franklin avatar
Written by Stephen Franklin
Updated over a week ago

No matter what you call them (One-on-Ones, 1:1s, One-to-Ones, Check-ins, etc), the practice of meeting individually with each of your team members on a regular basis is one of the most important and effective tools at your disposal as a manager. As a team manager, one of your primary responsibilities is to build and develop a team that delivers the greatest value and positive impact for the organization over its lifespan. A critical factor for achieving this is the ongoing growth and development of individual team members and to do that, you will need to build meaningful and impactful relationships while providing an effective mix of coaching and guidance, productive feedback, direction and motivation, and support. One-on-Ones provide the perfect environment for these activities and are why they are such a critical tool for building amazing teams and becoming a great manager.

What makes a One-on-One effective?

As with so many aspects of management, there is no magic formula or one-size-fits-all answer. Every team and individual is unique and operates in an environment of constant change which means that your one-on-ones, to be effective, need to be tailored for each situation and also be flexible to adapt as conditions evolve. Fortunately, there are some common principles that provide the solid foundation for effective one-on-ones. Adhering to these principles will create a reliable framework for your one-on-ones while also providing the flexibility to adapt to individual needs and preferences and changing situations.

Guiding Principles for Effective One-on-Ones

Here are four guiding principles that provide the foundation for effective one-on-ones.

Effective One-on-Ones always:

Begin with trust and safety

This doesn't mean that "Trust and Safety" should be the first agenda item. What it does mean is that trust and psychological safety must be established in order to have effective one-on-ones and that a loss of trust and an environment of safety will mark the end of any effective one-on-ones you've established. Establishing trust and safety should be your first objective when working with new team members, and the only thing you focus on when trust or safety has been lost or diminished with existing team members.

Serve the team member, first

The main purpose of one-on-ones is to provide value and benefit to your team members by providing the guidance, coaching, and support they need to be their best selves and team member. Remember, "effective" means effective for them, not you. Your one-on-ones should be designed and executed around this mindset. Sure, there are plenty of benefits that managers should get from their one-on-ones, but these should always remain secondary effects. If you ever sense that you are getting the majority of the benefits from your one-on-ones, it's time to reexamine them.

Command your full focus and attention

To provide the greatest value and benefit, your one-on-ones need your complete mental and emotional engagement. Allowing distractions to diminish your focus and attention effectively turns your one-on-ones into "one-on-nones" greatly decreasing their value and signaling to your team members that they are unimportant and far down on your priority list. Conversely, being fully present and engaged enables you to maximize the opportunity and demonstrate the respect and care you have toward your team members.

Remain private and confidential

One-on-one meetings offer you the best opportunity to get to know your teammates on a more personal level, discover how best to support them in reaching their full potential, and obtain accurate insights into their circumstances as well as the condition of the team. None of these are possible if team members don't feel safe enough to be completely open and honest. This is why it's critical that your one-on-ones occur in a private setting and that things shared in confidence will always remain confidential.

Why have regular One-on-Ones with your team members?

One-on-Ones are an essential component of effective leadership and are key to getting great results from those you lead. They are the one of most direct and personal ways for you to connect with your team members about pressing issues, develop strong relationships, monitor their well-being, and ensure individual growth and performance. Without regular, dedicated times for one-to-one conversations, it's impossible to stay in the loop on what's impacting your team members and how it's affecting them. If you aren't up to date with the current circumstances and conditions within your team, your ability to lead them effectively will be diminished and eventually result in declining performance and disengagement by team members.

What's the best structure for effective One-on-Ones?

Actually, there's no single "right" way to structure your one-on-one that guarantees their effectiveness. Given the countless differences between teams, individuals, and leadership styles - it is impossible to find a single structure that works in every situation. The best approach is to pick a starting point that incorporates the core principles of effective one-on-ones and then continuously learn and adapt based on what is working and what is not. You might find that one-on-one meetings evolve differently for each team member as you uncover what works best for the two of you, based on your unique needs and circumstances. Continuously gather feedback about each of your one-on-ones and utilize those insights to help guide improvements efforts. Experiment with small changes and make sure you capture the learnings so that they can be considered for future improvements.

Tip: Teaming's integrated Work Style Analysis provides a head start on understanding team members' tendancies and preferences and should be an essential tool for guiding the continuous improvements of your one-on-ones.

Major structural elements of a One-on-One:

Below are some of the main elements to consider when evaluating the structure of your one-on-ones. If you are new to running one-on-ones, don't let yourself get bogged down trying to find the perfect option for each of these. It's best to choose a reasonable starting point for each of these elements and then evolve your one-on-ones as you discover what works and what doesn't. If you are looking to improve your existing one-on-ones, avoid making sudden, sweeping changes right from the start. Instead, start by collecting feedback on the effectiveness of your current structure and use those insights to guide the changes you make. The Feedback Questions for each section provide examples of ways to ask for feedback that offer more in-depth insights than standard yes/no and ratings-style surveys.

Frequency and Duration

Determining the frequency and duration of their one-on-ones is an area that managers often struggle with and spend a lot of energy trying to figure out. Should they meet with their team members weekly, bi-weekly, or maybe event monthly? Should it be for 30 minutes, an hour, or more? In truth, there isn't a right answer for every situation and there are often constraining factors, such as the size of your team, that may limit the available options. Just remember that one-on-ones are one of your most important tools for ensuring team member growth and development which has a major impact on the overall performance of the team. This is also your opportunity to strengthen your relationship and ensure the well-being of team members. Make sure you are dedicating enough time, frequently enough, so that you aren't limiting these benefits and preventing your team and team members from reaching their full potential.

Suggested Feedback Questions:

  • Is our One-on-One time sufficient to cover the topics that are important to you? What are some examples of topics or subjects we aren't covering?

  • Do you ever feel our conversations are rushed due to time constraints? In what ways does that impact the value of our conversations?

  • Do you ever feel that our conversations stretch out or we talk about unimportant things just to fill the allotted time? Do you view this as a positive or negative? Why?

  • If you had to choose, would you prefer to meet more frequently for shorter durations or less frequently for longer durations? Why?

  • Do you feel that so much activity occurs between our One-on-Ones that it makes it difficult to remember all the things you wanted to discuss?


Managers must also take into consideration the timing of their one-on-ones. Is it best to schedule one-on-ones together on one day or spread them throughout the week? Should they be at the beginning or end of the week? Are mornings or afternoons better for one-on-ones? Again, there is no perfect answer to this. It's a matter of finding a suitable balance between your own preferences and those of team members within the existing constraints of everyone's schedule and workload. Unless you lead a very small team, it's improbable that you'll find a perfect balance but using small experiments and frequent feedback will help you evolve to a solution that is acceptable to everyone.

Suggested Feedback Questions:

  • What part of the day (morning, mid-day, or afternoon) do you feel most productive and prefer to have focus time to concentrate on your tasks?

  • Do you prefer to have meetings grouped together to maximize focus time during the day or more evenly spaced to provide recovery between high-concentration activities?

  • Are there times of the day or parts of the week that you feel more receptive to person-to-person interactions? Why do you think that is?

Setting and Location

The setting and location of your one-on-ones can have a major impact on their effectiveness. When feasible, it's always best to meet face-to-face. Select a setting and location that limits potential distractions and most importantly, ensures privacy. When either of you is constantly losing focus or holding back for fear of being overheard, the benefits of your one-on-ones are greatly diminished. When it's not possible to meet face-to-face, always try to use video conferencing and set the expectation that both of you will have cameras on. This allows you to demonstrate that they have your undivided attention and enables each of you to better pick up on non-verbal queues.

Suggested Feedback Questions:

  • Does the setting and location of our One-on-Ones allow you to feel comfortable? What types of settings and locations do you feel most comfortable in?

  • Do you feel that our One-on-One conversations are sufficiently private? Do you ever hold back thoughts for fear of being overheard or observed?

  • Do you prefer meeting at a consistent location or do you like using a variety of different settings?

  • During our one-on-ones, do you feel you have my undivided attention? What behaviors do I have that cause you to believe that I'm distracted?


Deciding on a one-on-one format (what to discuss and how to discuss it) can be another significant challenge for any manager. This often leads managers, particularly new managers, to start with third-party meeting templates that provide a predefined format and topics. While templates are a great starting point, make sure that you don't ingrain the habit of using the same format for every meeting and for every team member. To be effective over the long term, your one-on-ones will need to cover a wide variety of subjects and issues, far more than can be covered in each meeting. Therefore, you will need to rotate different topics into each meeting to make sure that you are exploring all the areas necessary to help your team member develop and perform. An excellent strategy to help you with this is to list the different themes to cover (ex. Professional Development, Team Culture, Work-life Balance, etc) and determine how frequently you need to discuss each of these for them to be meaningful. Use this to help guide the topics you introduce across your one-on-ones. Use team member feedback to understand what they feel is important and adjust the frequency accordingly to ensure that their primary needs are addressed.

Suggested Feedback Questions:

  • [Presenting your list of one-on-one themes] Of these broad themes, which of these are most important to you? Which are least important?

  • What areas of your work and career would you like the most help with? Which do you think I can provide valuable assistance?

  • Are there high-level subjects or topics that we aren't covering in our one-on-ones that you wish we would? Are there topics that we do cover that feel unimportant?

  • [If they are adding topics to the one-on-ones]. Are we spending sufficient time on the topics you are bringing to our one-on-ones? Can you describe some recent examples so that I know what to look for?

  • [If they are not adding topics to the one-on-ones]. Do you have topics that you wish to discuss but don't feel comfortable adding them? What do you feel would make you more comfortable?


The tone or mood of your one-on-ones is another structural element that requires consideration. For many managers, the tone of the meeting often gets little attention even though it is a critical factor impacting the effectiveness of one-on-ones. Once again, there isn't a perfect answer when it comes to establishing your meeting's tone but there are some best practice guidelines that you should follow. Most importantly, your one-on-ones cannot feel tense or uncomfortable for your team members. One-on-ones should be a time for open, honest conversations that deeply explore the discussion topics. To enable this, you need to establish an atmosphere that encourages team members to open up and be themselves, where there isn't a constant sense of a "power gap" hindering efforts to work together and get to know each other better. A great tactic for establishing a relaxed, comfortable environment is to start each of your one-on-ones with an Ice Breaker question. These should be light-hearted, non-work-related questions that create an opportunity to discover interesting (and sometimes silly) aspects of each other's personalities and experiences. Not only will this lighten the mood and get conversations flowing but it also shows your willingness to be vulnerable, which is a key part of building trust.

Another best practice for ensuring a productive tone is to create separation between your one-on-ones and formal performance review-related activities and discussions. You may choose to create a completely separate meeting series for these activities or explicitly dedicate instances of your one-on-one cadences (ex. every 4th one-on-one) to focus specifically on review-type activities. The main goal is to ensure that team members don't equate your one-on-ones with more formal review and performance improvement processes used for determining career advancement, compensation, etc. By constantly or randomly intermixing these activities within your one-on-ones, team members won't know what to expect and will naturally enter each one-on-one with greater stress. This doesn't mean that one-on-ones shouldn't incorporate coaching, guidance, and feedback throughout. These are critical aspects for team member growth and development and should be a consistent part of your one-on-ones.

Suggested Feedback Questions:

  • Do you feel that you are able to be yourself during our one-on-ones? Why do you think that is?

  • Is there any behavior of mine that prevents you from feeling comfortable during our one-on-ones? What are some ideas on how I could improve these?

  • Do you feel that you are able to be completely forthcoming during our one-on-ones? Why?

  • Do you ever feel anxiety or stress before our one-on-ones? What are some things we/I could do to help you avoid those feelings?

How do I know if my one-on-ones are effective?

The best way to know is to simply ask your team. Hopefully, you've established enough trust and a safe environment where team members are able to share their thoughts openly and honestly. Even with these forthcoming assessments, it's a good habit to frequently step back and do some of your own analysis of your one-on-ones. Below are some ideas for framing your own evaluations.

6 ways great managers use One-on-Ones

Great managers recognize the important opportunities provided by effective one-on-ones. Here are some common ways that these managers maximize their benefit for themselves, individual team members, and their team as a whole.

  1. Building trust and strengthening relationships with team members

  2. Ensuring the well-being of their team members and demonstrating care for them as individuals

  3. Providing coaching, guidance, and direction that enables team member growth and development

  4. Discovering hidden issues and improvement opportunities within the team

  5. Providing recognition, encouragement, and motivation to ensure continued team member engagement

  6. Getting important feedback from team members on how to improve their own performance and effectiveness

6 warning signs that you may be doing One-on-Ones wrong

Even great one-on-ones can veer off-track over their lifespan. From time to time, take a step back and test whether your one-on-ones are starting to show any of these signs.

  1. Much of the time is spent getting status updates from team members

  2. You use your one-on-ones primarily as performance reviews

  3. You consistently end up talking more than they do

  4. You repeatedly ask for information they've already provided

  5. You're constantly canceling or rescheduling your One-on-Ones

  6. Your team members never bring topics for discussion or rarely have anything to say

Useful One-on-One Checklists

The following are some practical checklists that can help you build the healthy habits necessary for running effective one-on-ones. Starting off, set up some helpful reminders to review and check off the applicable items for each of your one-on-ones. As you go, adapt the lists to best suit your specific situation and needs. Repeat the process for each round of one-on-ones until you're confident they've become intuitive habits. Periodically go back and review your lists to make sure you haven't inadvertently deviated from these healthy practices over time.

Getting Started Checklist

Use this checklist to guide you as you establish any new one-on-ones or when you're wanting to revamp your existing one-on-ones. Don't get stuck overthinking every decision. Remember, you're selecting reasonable starting points that you will adjust as you discover what is working and what isn't.

◻︎ One-on-One meeting logistics

◻︎ Frequency (ex. weekly, bi-weekly, monthly).

◻︎ Duration (ex. 30, 45, 60 minutes).

◻︎ Time/day of week

◻︎ Location

◻︎ One-on-One meeting coordination

◻︎ Recurring meeting series created in my calendar

◻︎ Team member invited and accepted

◻︎ Location / Video Conference info included

◻︎ Link to Teaming One-on-One agenda included

◻︎ Teaming setup

◻︎ 1:1 Relationship created with my team member

◻︎ My workstyle assessment completed

◻︎ Team member workstyle assessment completed

◻︎ Shared understanding and clear expectations for one-on-one

◻︎ One-on-one purpose and objectives communicated

◻︎ Team member understands their responsibilities for one-on-ones

◻︎ Team member understands my responsibilities for one-on-ones

Pre-meeting Prep Checklist

Use this checklist as you prepare for your next one-on-one meeting to ensure that you and your team member are getting the greatest benefit from your time together.

◻︎ Agenda preparation

◻︎ Pick Icebreaker question (optional)

◻︎ Include recurring topics

◻︎ Select and include rotating topics

◻︎ Review the list of one-on-one topic categories

◻︎ Select the appropriate categories and include related topics

◻︎ Ensure team member topics added

◻︎ Prompt team members to add their topics (if necessary)

◻︎ Recent progress updates

◻︎ Update current goal and key results progress

◻︎ Update outstanding action items progress

◻︎ Remind team member to update progress

◻︎ Cognitive recall

◻︎ Review team member workstyle and profile

◻︎ Review prior meeting notes

◻︎ Review relevant private notes

◻︎ Study relevant situational guidance (ex. Delivering feedback effectively)

◻︎ Focus and attention preparation

◻︎ Switch all devices and services to Do Not Disturb

◻︎ Close all non-essential applications and other distractions

◻︎ Take a few minutes to clear my mind and establish focus

Meeting Wrap-up Checklist

Use this checklist as you wrap up your one-on-one meetings to make sure that all the benefits and value gained from the meeting don't fall through the cracks and get lost.

◻︎ All action items have been captured and assigned

◻︎ All important discussion notes and decisions are documented

◻︎ Any deferred or new topics have been added to future meetings

◻︎ Resulting announcements or communications are not violating confidentiality

◻︎ Relevant improvement feedback has been collected and documented

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