How to Run More Effective One-on-One Meetings with Your Employees: 11 Tips

Management Jul 30, 2021 16 minutes read

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    There are two types of one-on-one meetings.

    In the first one, you’re not really sure why you’re there, and neither is the attendee. You just know you have to meet this week’s quota and hold the meeting, but you don’t have a clear agenda or an actionable plan that your employee could act on afterwards.

    On the other hand, there are effective one-on-one meetings that both you and the attendee leave satisfied. You know that not a minute was wasted on something that you could have sent by email, you had a clear goal, and you know your employee knows exactly what they need to do next.

    We believe it’s needless to ask which option sounds more appealing. But we also know it’s not so easy to run an effective meeting, especially if you know how many eye rolls and not-again’s you’ll get when you schedule the next one.

    Are you ready to debunk the myth of pointless meetings by making them efficient and purposeful?

    In this article, we’re sharing expert tips on how to run a productive one-on-one meeting with your employees. We’re going to talk about the following:

    How Many 1:1 Meetings Managers Typically Have During a Week?

    Meetings should be effective both for those who organize them, and those who are attending. One-on-one meetings may be the most commonly organized type of meetings in most companies, and managers usually find them very important as they give you a chance to really focus on the person you’re talking to. However, if you know how to make them productive, they don’t need to be too frequent.

    In the survey we conducted, over 94% of respondents were meeting organizers, while a bit over 5% were attendees. Most of them (over 64%) stated they usually organized less than five meetings per week.

    How many 1:1 meetings do you organize per week?

    How Long Do 1:1 Meetings Typically Last?

    In the same survey, almost 76% of respondents said their meetings typically last between 15 and 45 minutes. For around 20% of the participants, meetings can last up to an hour, while less than 10% of people spend up to 15 minutes in their meetings.

    But bear in mind that holding a meeting doesn’t only involve the time you spend in the meeting, but also the preparation and the follow-up. If 32.4% of our respondents have five to 10 meetings in a week, how much time do they spend in meetings altogether? While you’re getting a calculator, we’ll ask an even better question – is that time well-spent?

    How Long Do 1:1 Meetings Typically Last?

    You can easily track and manage how much time you spend in your manager-employee 1:1 meetings on average with the help of this your employee time tracking dashboard.

    What Are the Most Important 1:1 Meeting Topics?

    Another question in our survey was related to the most common topics discussed in manager-employee 1:1 meetings.

    It turns out these meetings are typically held to check in, talk about priorities and productivity, and give employees feedback on their work.

    Some less commonly discussed topics are the expectations both employees and managers have from each other, how employees can improve, employee engagement, career goals, and personal topics.

    What Are the Most Important 1:1 Meeting Topics?

    11 Tips for Running More Effective One-on-One Meetings with Your Employees

    As a manager, your goal may be to build a strong, productive, and resilient team, nurture employee engagement, and boost team morale.

    There are many strategies to achieve that, but the foundation of everything is maintaining a good relationship with your employees by communicating openly and solving issues as soon as they emerge rather than ignoring them until they become larger.

    If you’re looking to build a good relationship with your team, you should know one-on-one meetings play a critical role in that. To ensure the effectiveness of your meetings and avoid wasting time both for your employee and yourself, follow these expert tips on how to run successful 1:1 meetings.

    Meeting Tips from Marketing Agencies

    Here’s what managers from marketing agencies advise.

    1. Use 1:1 Meetings to Make Definitive Decisions
    2. Let the Employee Speak
    3. Learn How to Deliver Feedback
    4. Establish Rapport

    1. Use 1:1 Meetings to Make Definitive Decisions

    Meeting with someone one-on-one gives you all the time to focus on that person only. Then you can discuss any necessary topics more in detail, which will help you make definitive decisions, such as whether the employee is going to get a promotion.

    Aaron Agius of Louder Online says he loves 1:1 meetings for this particular reason. “I can discuss topics in-depth and make definitive decisions. For such meetings to be effective, make sure the other person is fully ready to discuss the topics and has enough data to work with. Since these meetings are more personal, they provide the perfect opportunity to make definitive business decisions. The end goal of one-on-one meetings is to ensure proper execution.”

    2. Let the Employee Speak

    Even though you’re the manager and you may have valuable feedback for your employee, the meeting shouldn’t be a monologue. After you’ve talked, listen – and listen carefully.

    “One-on-one meetings provide a great opportunity to listen to an employee and share your views with them.” says Rahul Vij of WebSpero Solutions. “The meeting can be used as a platform to discuss a problem and find solutions to it. In addition, it can help share feedback and get inputs. While doing so, ensure that you are giving enough time to an employee to speak their mind.”

    In some cases, you won’t be the only one with the feedback. Ask the employee if they have something to say to you and show the employee you’re there to support them, says Jordan Brannon of Coalition Technologies, and adds:

    “Set clear expectations and goals for what you expect to see them achieve in the coming month, and follow up on these items the next call. It’s always good to gauge their level of happiness in their role and with the company to find out if there is anything that could be done to improve this. Periodically check in on what their long-term career goals are, and help guide them on what can be done to reach these milestones. Don’t just speak, listen. Be supportive and offer guidance. Follow up on items discussed to show that you take action where appropriate. This also helps team members to feel encouraged to speak up, knowing that it can make a difference.”

    3. Learn How to Deliver Feedback

    Ever heard of the sandwich feedback method? No, it has nothing to do with food, but the way you deliver feedback to your employees. It’s critical to start on a positive note, and then give suggestions on how they could improve, finishing your feedback with encouragement.

    “If criticism or feedback on their performance needs to be brought up, it’s best to lead with something positive first. Let them know what they’ve been doing well and praise the efforts you see them doing that you are pleased with before going into the topic of where they need to make improvements. Then end with another positive reinforcement topic to share with them. This way you can provide constructive feedback without bringing down morale.” says Jordan Brannon of Coalition Technologies.

    Starting your meeting with a bit of informal conversation will also help your employee relax and become more responsive to your feedback. “Start the meetings light with a conversation starter unrelated to work. Find out how they are doing in general and give the team members a chance to share something about themselves. This ice breaker tends to help team members to open up and get comfortable before we get into the core topics of discussion.” adds Brannon.

    However, it’s not so simple to give negative feedback in a motivating manner, but it’s indeed a critical soft skill a manager should have.

    “Learning to give constructive feedback that motivates people to perform at their best can be tough. I believe most feedback has some value, but the most valuable comes from people who care about you, whether you know them well or not. I try to spend as much time learning to express what others do well as we are tempted to spend more explaining what they do wrong.” explains Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls.

    “Reinforcing someone’s strengths raises their awareness of them. When you learn to give sincere, specific praise, giving sincere, specific criticism gets easier. Just don’t give praise and criticism at the same time or you dilute the effectiveness of both. I have seen it be effective both in real-time close to the activity when it is still fresh on people‘s minds and also at regular intervals during performance reviews.”

    4. Establish Rapport

    If you nurture a friendly and honest relationship with your employees, giving them feedback will be easier and more prolific, and your meetings will be effective. This is particularly important to do properly if you’re managing a remote team, since you’re deprived of face-to-face communication.

    For Sasha Matviienko of Viien, building rapport is critical for quality 1:1 meetings.

    “When it comes to one-on-one meetings it’s important to establish rapport. Be yourself and share something about your life and interests, you will feel more comfortable and so will your employees. Next, have 2-3 points that you want to bring up during the meeting or in the end, so that you accomplish everything that’s planned.”

    Sam Olmsted of Online Optimism agrees that it’s important to build a relationship with your employee and show a genuine interest in your meeting with them.

    “One way to make one-on-one meetings with employees more effective is to shift the mindset around them,” says Olmsted. “Instead of seeing them as something to cross off your to-do list, or relegate them as a chore, think about them as a moment of genuine connection to be completely present for. Turn off your alerts and avoid other distractions like your phone or messages. When you have a regularly scheduled meeting where the time is fully devoted to one person, you will be able to get to know your employees as people which will lead to better communication overall.”

    Editor’s note: Want to be well-prepared for your next meeting? Make sure your marketing report has all the relevant data with this free HubSpot Marketing Monthly Report dashboard template.

    HubSpot Marketing Monthly Report dashboard template

    Meeting Tips from Professional Services

    Here are a couple of tips from experienced managers in the professional services businesses.

    1. Follow the Four-Element Structure
    2. Remember the Purpose

    1. Follow the Four-Element Structure

    A well-structured meeting helps you stay on track, finish on time, and cover everything you’ve been planning to. Here’s the structure Ann Walton of Voices recommends:

    1. A quick status update regarding projects/deliverables
    2. Offer of assistance in removing roadblocks or providing support where needed
    3. Getting personal (ask the employee about how they’re feeling about their work, company culture, professional development, etc. It’s important that this part is authentic)
    4. Asking for feedback (see if there’s something you could do differently or better to support your employee and make sure they feel safe to express their concerns or wishes)

    Walton also believes both sides should contribute to the agenda, so it’s something you could do before the meeting – let the employee know what it’s going to be about.

    2. Remember the Purpose

    A meeting can get prolonger and ineffective if you forget why you’re there. “The key to having productive one-on-one meetings with team members is to keep to the purpose of the meeting.” says Tom Rigby of Park Master Oz on that note.

    “Do you need to review performance or has another team member raised some issues to be addressed with another employee? Whatever the reason for the meeting, be direct about the purpose and go into the meeting with actionable goals in mind. In short, when conducting one-on-one meetings you need to prepare to go into the meeting with the purpose to have a meaningful exchange and an idea of the outcome you want from it.”

    Meeting Tips from SaaS Companies

    We collected the following tips from experts from the SaaS industry.

    1. Build a Stronger Relationship
    2. Aim for High Safety and Low Effort
    3. Carve out Time for an Informal Chat

    1. Build a Stronger Relationship

    If you only need to go through work updates, that’s not a good enough reason to schedule a meeting. You could use your meeting time to do something that requires your presence: to build a stronger relationship with your employee. That way, they may feel more engaged at work, which has multiple positive effects both for employees and employers.

    Katrina Dalao of Refferal Rock says 1:1 meetings are ideal for strengthening work relationships. “Don’t turn it into a work update. Work updates are best done through other communication, like a direct message, weekly planning, etc. As much as possible, one-on-ones are times you and your manager or team member get to discuss other topics and build a stronger work relationship. While I like to keep it open, some good discussions can be about career goals, challenges, or feedback.”

    2. Aim for High Safety and Low Effort

    Hiba Amin of Hypercontext believes that, in 1:1 meetings, you should aim for these three things: high safety, high benefit, and low effort. Let’s explain this concept more in-depth.

    1. High safety. Aim for psychological safety to be high. Does your team feel comfortable opening up about how they’re feeling, sharing feedback with you, and being themselves? If not, you’ve got some work to do. You can start with leading by example and practicing vulnerable leadership.
    2. High benefit. Aim for the benefit to be high. When your team shares feedback with you, did it make a difference? It’s one thing to receive feedback, it’s another to action it, and improve your employee’s situation. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the feedback you’re getting, it just means that, at the very least, you’re talking about it and working towards a resolution that works for everyone involved rather than forgetting about it after it’s been shared.
    3. Low effort. Aim for effort to be low. When an employee decides to share a piece of feedback with you, do they have to prepare emotionally and also prepare what feels like a Ph.D. dissertation? Make it as easy and effortless as possible for your team to share feedback with you during 1:1s. When you remove barriers for feedback sharing, you’ll improve overall communication on your team.

    3. Carve out time for informal chat

    One-on-one meetings allow you to discuss some more personal topics with your employee since the rest of the team isn’t present. They may even feel more comfortable telling you something they wouldn’t like their coworkers to hear. Alex Birkett of Conversion AI believes this informal part of the meeting is important.

    “Don’t forget to carve out time for personal and informal discussion. Yes, cover the essentials (what’s in progress, blockers, and what’s planned), but if your one-on-ones are purely distilled into work related issues, you risk leaving the other party feeling alienated and disengaged, and you also forgo insights you would learn about the context of the person on the other end. My best working relationships have overindexed on the personal and informal, and I think there’s a causal connection there.”

    Tips from eCommerce Experts

    Finally, we’re sharing some valuable insights coming from professionals from the eCommerce industry.

    1. Share Your Agenda Beforehand
    2. Begin with an Overview

    1. Share Your Agenda Beforehand

    If you schedule a meeting without telling your employee what it’s about, they may think they’re in trouble. So, to enhance the productivity of your meeting, think about sharing a briefly described agenda before you meet.

    “Pre-planning which projects or issues you will discuss then sharing that with your employee before the meeting is essential for a meaningful and effective one-on-one. You both will be ready with the pertinent information, which helps facilitate the flow of conversation and exchange of ideas,” says Harris Rabin of R3SET.

    Hosea Chang of Hayden Girls agrees that it’s vital to give your employee time to prepare for the meeting. Sharing the agenda beforehand is a good way to do so – both sides will be equally ready for what needs to be discussed.

    “A good habit for one-on-one meetings is to share the general notes, questions, and themes with your employee beforehand. The last thing you want in a one-on-one meeting is for the employee to feel like they are being grilled or put on trial. By sharing your thoughts beforehand, you not only are able to focus the dialogue in a productive way, but you are also inviting them to think critically about their responses rather than counting on them to think on the fly. I always find that meetings run much smoother when everything is on the table and no one feels like they have the upper hand.”

    Editor’s note: Reporting on conversions on your e-commerce website can be straightforward. You easily can track revenue, product performance, and transactions and shine in your next meeting if you download this free Conversion Report: Ecommerce Overview from Google Analytics.

    2. Begin with an overview

    Other than ice breakers to set the atmosphere in the room, overviews are a good way to start a meeting, so you both know what’s going to be discussed. That way, you’re also giving your employee a chance to influence the course of the meeting – they may have something they’d like to talk about with you.

    “Always begin the meeting with an overview of what will be discussed and allow the employee to add their suggestions as well. This ensures that all the important topics will be covered and provides an agenda for the meeting, as well as inviting the employee to take a more active role in the one-on-one,” says Gabriel Dungan of ViscoSoft.

    Use Your One-on-Ones Wisely

    Not all meetings are a waste of time. One-on-one meetings are actually a fantastic growth opportunity in which both the manager and the employee can learn something valuable.

    Holding this type of meeting isn’t always easy and does come with its challenges. Will you be able to deliver feedback in a proper manner? Will you have time to cover the whole agenda? Will your employee feel safe enough to share their issues and ask for support if they need it?

    Managers have a tough job creating a good atmosphere and building rapport with their employees, but if you follow the tips experienced professionals share in this post, we have no doubt you’ll be able to hold effective and productive 1:1 meetings in which everyone will thrive.

    Related: 19 Tips to Better Prepare for a Reporting Meeting

    Article by
    Stefana Zaric

    Stefana Zarić is a freelance writer & content marketer. Other than writing for SaaS and fintech clients, she educates future writers who want to build a career in marketing. When not working, Stefana loves to read books, play with her kid, travel, and dance.

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