What are one-on-one meetings? (With benefits and tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

An effective meeting between two people can be one of the most powerful tools to do your best work. They have the power to improve communication between the two of you and help you reach your goals. If you're not experienced with one-on-one meetings, there are some steps you can take to create a better environment for communication and success. In this article, we discuss what one-on-one meetings are and give tips on how to make the most of them.

What are one-on-one meetings?

One-on-one meetings are personal interactions between two people. At work, they're often used as a tool for a supervisor to give feedback or talk through an employee's goals with them. While a one-on-one meeting is useful in many circumstances, it can be difficult to get into a good rhythm if you and your team haven't built up a rapport beforehand. The tips below can help you establish that trust with your team and make those meetings more effective.

Related: Types of business meetings (with tips and benefits)

How you can benefit from a one-on-one meeting

On top of being effective managerial tools, one-on-ones can also be valuable networking opportunities. Knowing how and when to conduct a one-on-one meeting can help you get more out of your relationships at work. It can be a great time to focus on strengthening existing professional relationships and forming new ones. Your goal for each one of these meetings may be to learn something about them, whether it's through asking questions or listening intently.

One-to-ones offer value by opening a line of communication between colleagues and giving feedback or helping someone solve problems they might be facing at work. Through successful meetings, you can improve workplace morale and build relationships within a team that ensure everyone can perform at their best.

Related: The guide on how to plan a meeting (with types)

Getting the most from your one-on-one meetings

A one-on-one meeting is an excellent tool for holding employees accountable, celebrating successes and fine-tuning career paths. To make these meetings more effective, it's important to keep a few guidelines in mind. For better one-on-one meetings, you can incorporate some of these tips:

1. Have an agenda before the meeting

Effective one-on-one meetings let employees know what they're doing well and where they can improve. Before your one-on-one, it's important to have an agenda set before you walk into the room so the conversation can stay on schedule and cover any important topics.

Allowing for some flexibility around the structure is always a good idea. This is because there are likely to be topics that come up during your one-on-one that may need extra attention. It's okay to change course if needed, but make sure you always leave enough time at the end of every meeting for scheduling future sessions and planning the next steps.

Related: How To Write a Meeting Agenda (With Tips and Sample)

2. Don't feel pressured by time

One-on-one meetings can be one of your most powerful work tools but they can take time out of your day. If you have a busy schedule there's potential for a rushed meeting and your colleague may not be as comfortable taking time to ask questions or expand on topics. To make sure you're getting as much out of the meeting as possible, try establishing a longer time frame (for example, 30 minutes instead of 15). This way everyone involved has enough time to articulate their thoughts and answer any questions.

3. Start the meeting with an ice-breaker

Start each one-on-one with an ice-breaker activity or question. This may help everyone get comfortable talking about themselves and can also be a great way to start a productive conversation. Ask questions that you genuinely want answers to but are easy to answer so you both get comfortable before the meeting starts. A work-related ice-breaker isn't always required. For example, you could ask how their day was or if they have any plans for the weekend.

Related: Workplace icebreakers: 50 questions to get to know your team

4. Be on time

When a colleague comes into your office for a one-on-one meeting, you can be ready and waiting. Doing so shows that you value others' time. And when it comes to one-on-one meetings, respect is key. One of your goals is to walk away from the one-to-one feeling that you accomplished what you wanted to. Being late takes time out of your agenda and may mean you're required to schedule a second meeting to finish the conversation.

5. Be present

Don't let distractions stop you from being present during these meetings with colleagues or managers. Pay attention not just to what they say, but also to how they act and what their body language says about how they feel. The information may be very useful later when it comes time for a performance review or other meetings where feedback is necessary. To be as engaged as possible, put your full attention on the meeting and avoid doing anything else at that moment.

Related: How to overcome meeting anxiety: simple tips and strategies

6. Take notes

If you're meeting with someone one-on-one, make sure you have a pen and paper handy so you don't miss any valuable insights. Writing down notes after each conversation helps keep track of your progress and what steps you may address next. These notes can also serve as an archive of all previous conversations.

When it's time for future one-on-ones, referring back can help add context and clarify why you're bringing up certain points. In addition to notes on the meeting, you can also take more casual notes, such as things that pop into your head after the meeting has wrapped up that are worth following up on later.

Related: How To Write Meeting Notes: Essential Steps

7. Ask questions

Asking open-ended questions that require thoughtful answers, rather than simple yes or no responses, gives you more insight into how your colleague feels. Relevant questions can help you get deeper into your employee's thinking process and gain a clearer picture of how they can do their best work. A few examples of good questions to ask include:

  • What are you most excited about at work right now?

  • How could we improve on things next time around?

  • What did we do well on [name project]?

  • What suggestions would you have for improving one on ones moving forward?

  • What have you learned from [name project]?

Allowing your colleague to have this kind of input creates an atmosphere where they can feel comfortable sharing their opinions because you're giving them a space for doing so. As they answer questions, make sure that you're truly listening and taking in what they say.

Related: 12 ways to improve your manager communication skills

8. Revisit past meetings

Take some time to review past performance reviews, one-on-one meeting agendas and minutes and follow up on how things have been going since then. You can also identify potential red flags that you can address. Then, establish clear next steps for dealing with each area of concern moving forward. Sometimes mistakes happen at work, but it's being able to deal with them and improve upon the situation that counts.

9. Be personal

Building a foundation of trust starts with having meaningful conversations and you can do this by being open and relatable in meetings. Having time to talk with someone individually allows you to get an unfiltered view into their strengths, weaknesses, perspectives and goals and they get to know you better too. If you can open up to your colleague you increase the chance of them feeling like they can share their feelings with you too. This mutual understanding strengthens working relationships and helps people feel less nervous about asking for help when they need it.

10. Plan your next steps

Towards the end of your meeting, decide how you could follow up with your colleague after their one-on-one meeting has concluded. They may likely feel that you care more about their development if you show an interest in their progression outside of the one-to-one. Helping your colleagues plan their next steps can help clarify your expectations and allow them to share what they think is a priority. This helps reduce any potential uncertainty and makes it easier for both parties to stay aligned going forward.

Related: How to have an effective staff meeting (with tips)

11. End the meeting on a positive note

End your one-on-one by thanking your colleague for their thoughts and do so in a genuine way. Let them know you appreciate their feedback and potentially their vulnerability if they open up about how they feel. People like it when you appreciate them and feel good knowing that you acknowledge and value them. Even if you didn't get much out of the meeting from a professional perspective, you can enjoy taking time to communicate with each other. It takes very little effort to make someone else feel valued and it can make even difficult conversations more pleasant.

Related: 12 great pieces of advice on how to give feedback

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