A complete guide to effective one-on-one meetings

Discover a structured approach to one-on-one meetings with tips and advice, from setting agendas to encouraging open dialogues. Unlock the secrets of cultivating relationships and setting actionable goals, to ensure each conversation is impactful.

Two people having a productive one-on-one meeting.

In the age when remote work is becoming the norm and more of our daily conversations are done asynchronously via tools like Slack or Teams, face-to-face interactions can be more impactful than ever. This guide aims to serve as your comprehensive roadmap for mastering these crucial conversations; from preparation, through execution, to following up after they're done.

What is a one-on-one meeting?

A one-on-one meeting is a scheduled conversation between a manager and an employee, but it is far more than just a chat or a check-in. The aim of these meetings is multi-fold. First, it's about cultivating strong, positive relationships within the organization, and laying the groundwork for a good work environment. Second, it serves as a crucial forum for troubleshooting issues, from operational challenges to personal work struggles. Third, the one-on-one meeting is a nurturing space designed to foster individual career growth and, consequently, contribute to overall team unity and organizational strength. It offers a chance to discuss what's happening now while keeping an eye on future development and long-term goals.

One-on-one meeting templates

Benefits of a one-on-one meeting

Catalyst for greater employee engagement

When team members feel heard and understood, they're more likely to be engaged in their roles.

Improved employee retention

 These meetings offer an effective avenue for resolving issues before they lead to turnover.

Developing personal relationships

One-on-one meetings allow managers to build closer ties with each team member, ensuring a better working environment.

Crucial for goal-setting and tracking

These meetings are an essential tool for setting and monitoring the progress of critical business objectives.

Useful for businesses of all sizes

Whether you're running a large enterprise or a small start-up, the benefits of well-executed one-on-one meetings are universal.

Steps to prepare for a one-on-one meeting

Setting the agenda

An effective one-on-one meeting begins with a well-crafted agenda. Aim to create an agenda that both parties contribute to, ideally a few days in advance of the meeting. This collaborative approach allows both the manager and the employee to set priorities, ensuring that the discussion is mutually beneficial. Topics may include updates on current projects, roadblocks that need addressing, or even longer-term issues like career development and job satisfaction. When both parties are involved in shaping the agenda, it serves as a roadmap for the meeting, guiding the conversation efficiently and ensuring that all critical issues are covered.

Relevant systems or tools

There's a range of digital tools available that can streamline the one-on-one meeting process in various ways:

  • Scheduling and reminders: Tools like Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook allow for easy scheduling and automatic reminders, ensuring that both parties are aware of the upcoming meeting.
  • Pre-meeting preparation: Collaboration platforms like Craft allow managers and employees to co-create an agenda. This ensures that both parties can contribute topics they wish to discuss, giving a sense of shared ownership. It also means that both parties can see changes made to the shared document in real-time. This ensures that everyone is on the same page and informed well in advance.
  • Video conferencing: Platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams make it easy to hold meetings remotely. Features like screen sharing can make it easier to go over documents or analytics together in real time.
  • Real-time notes and annotations: Craft's shared documents are a useful tool for note-taking which allows both parties to make live annotations. This helps keep the conversation focused and ensures no details are lost or misunderstood.

Respecting time boundaries

When it comes to one-on-one meetings, longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. The ideal duration for most one-on-one meetings is between 30 minutes to an hour. This timeframe is usually sufficient to cover all agenda points without rushing through them, while also being respectful of other commitments that both parties may have. Therefore, set a timer if needed, and be sure to wrap up the discussion in the allocated time slot to respect both parties' schedules.

Conducting an effective one-on-one meeting

Navigating through the chosen agenda

The agenda you've set serves as a framework, but remember, it's not set in stone. While you should aim to cover all planned points, it's essential to remain open to course correction. Should an unforeseen yet important topic emerge during the meeting, don't hesitate to explore it. The ultimate goal of these sessions is to resolve pressing concerns and identify growth opportunities, not simply to tick boxes.

Promoting open dialogue

An effective one-on-one meeting thrives on open dialogue. As a manager, it's your role to cultivate a safe and secure setting for your employees to be comfortable in. To do this, make it clear from the outset that all thoughts, concerns, and ideas are welcome. Use active listening techniques—like nodding, summarizing, and avoiding interruptions—to show engagement and encourage the free flow of ideas. The aim is for the employee to leave the meeting feeling heard and valued, with no fear of negative repercussions for speaking their mind.

Recognition and feedback

Positive reinforcement is a powerful technique you can use to let your employee know how much you value their work. A well-timed compliment can do wonders for an employee's motivation and self-esteem. But recognition should be specific; take a moment to acknowledge the specifics of what your team member has accomplished or contributed to the team instead of offering generic compliments.

But it's not all about praise. Feedback is equally important for growth and development. The key is to frame it constructively. Instead of presenting feedback as a flaw or a mistake, offer it as a learning opportunity or a stepping stone to improvement. Crucially, ensure that it's actionable and be patient in helping the team members understand the steps they can take to grow professionally.

Post-meeting steps

Follow-ups and action items

The conclusion of the meeting should not be the end of the conversation. One best practice is to send out a recap email or update a shared document within 24 hours of the meeting. This document should list all action items discussed, the people responsible for each, and any agreed-upon deadlines. Doing this ensures a mutual understanding of the meeting's outcomes and sets the stage for accountability. It can also serve as a point of reference, keeping everyone on the same page and making it easier to start the next one-on-one meeting with a clear sense of where things left off.

Tracking progress

It's one thing to identify action items and it's another to track their progress and ensure they are completed. Find a way for both manager and employee to update the status of each action item in real-time, making it easy to spot any potential roadblocks or areas for celebration. Regularly revisiting these action items—not just waiting for the next scheduled meeting—also sends a message that these tasks are important and closely monitored.


One-on-one meetings are an invaluable asset for any organization—large or small. They serve as a catalyst for open dialogue, facilitating crucial conversations that may never happen in larger settings.

Most importantly, they’re an investment in the most valuable part of your organization: the people. A well-conducted one-on-one meeting fosters a culture of inclusion, making team members feel heard, valued, and integral to the company's mission.

Check out this one-on-one template to inspire the next sessions with your team members.

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