Cheatsheet: 1-on-1 meeting Do's and Don'ts for managers

Do's and Don'ts for Making Every One-On-One Meeting Count

Are you a manager looking for tips on how to make the most of your one-on-one meetings? This cheatsheet is here to help! It provides an overview of do's and don'ts that managers should keep in mind when meeting with their direct reports. From setting clear expectations to understanding what makes employees tick, this cheatsheet provides the tools you need to make every meeting successful. Follow these guidelines and you'll be sure to get the most out of each meeting with your team members.

This cheatsheet will help you to:

  • Set clear expectations for the meeting
  • Establish a comfortable and productive environment
  • Prepare questions to get meaningful insights from your team member
  • Understand what motivates employees and how to recognize their achievements
  • Create an action plan based on the meeting’s outcome



One powerful tool at the disposal of HR managers and small business owners alike is the one on one meeting.

Far more than a regular meeting, this dedicated time between a manager and direct report is an intimate space for open dialogue, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

When done right, these sessions are about more than just reviewing the past week; they are opportunities to boost employee engagement, address all the pressing issues, and set clear action items for the future.

In a world where employee retention is a key concern and job satisfaction is of utmost priority, the potential of effective one on one meetings to transform the workplace is unparalleled.

What is a one on one meeting?

A one on one meeting is a scheduled and dedicated time that a manager sets aside to meet privately with a direct report. Unlike regular team meetings, where group dynamics and project updates are the focus, one on one meetings are tailored to foster a candid, two-way conversation between a manager and an individual team member.

In these meetings, both participants are given an opportunity to discuss a variety of topics. These may include personal development, career path considerations, and feedback on day-to-day work. It is a strategic time for managers to listen actively, understanding the team member’s perspective and offering constructive feedback when necessary.

One of the key aspects of a one on one meeting is its recurring nature. Whether it's a standing meeting or a walking meeting, it is usually a consistent and recurring calendar event, giving both the manager and employee something to prepare for and look forward to.

These meetings are essential for ensuring psychological safety in the workplace, giving employees a forum where they can express concerns and receive feedback in a comfortable, private setting.

They are meant to be more than a simple review of tasks; they are a critical component of effective management and employee engagement, allowing for the development of a strong manager-employee relationship, and are instrumental in boosting job satisfaction and overall well-being within the team.

Through one on one meetings, managers can gauge an employee’s current level of engagement, address any concerns or barriers they are facing, and work together to set clear objectives and goals for the future.

The importance of one on one meeting employees

In an ever-evolving business landscape, one on one meetings between managers and direct reports are not a mere formality; they are a fundamental practice for fostering a productive and engaged workplace. Here are the key reasons why these meetings are so important:

Enhanced Employee Engagement: Regular one on ones are a proven strategy to boost employee engagement. They signal to team members that their contributions are valued and that their career development is a priority to the organization.

Useful Read: 6 Metrics to Measure Employee Engagement: The Employers Guide

Psychological Safety and Trust: These meetings create a space where employees feel safe to express their ideas and concerns without fear of negative feedback, fostering a culture of psychological safety and open communication.

Improved Performance and Productivity: With clear and dedicated time for employee feedback and discussion points, managers can address any obstacles that might be impacting a direct report's day to day work, thereby improving overall performance.

Retention and Job Satisfaction: Regular check-ins have a positive effect on employee retention. They show that the organization is invested in the employee’s well-being and career path, which significantly increases job satisfaction.

Conflict Resolution: Before issues escalate to major problems, one on one meetings provide a forum for addressing and resolving conflicts, ensuring that both managers and employees are on the same page.

Future Planning and Career Development: These meetings are a natural time to discuss an employee's career development, providing a space to explore potential future roles, skill development needs, and other long-term goals.

Tailored Feedback and Recognition: A one on one meeting allows managers to provide both positive and negative feedback in a private and focused setting, rather than in a broader team meeting where personal development might be overlooked.

Ensuring Alignment and Clarifying Expectations: One on ones ensure that managers and their direct reports have a regular forum to align on expectations and goals, allowing for productive conversations and avoiding miscommunications.

Through regular, well-structured one on one meetings, managers and employees together lay the groundwork for a strong, communicative, and engaged team. In these meetings, the seeds for growth are planted and nurtured, paving the way for both individual and collective success within the organization.

Preparing for a One on One Meeting

Portrait of a happy female student using laptop computer in university-1

Proper preparation is the cornerstone of a successful one on one meeting. It sets the tone, ensures that the meeting is productive, and shows respect for the other person’s time. Here’s a breakdown of the essential steps to prepare effectively:

Setting the Agenda

An agenda is a roadmap for your meeting. It helps to steer the conversation in a productive direction and ensures that all the pressing issues are covered. Before the meeting, managers should collaborate with their direct reports to create an agenda. This could involve using a shared document or an agenda template that both parties can contribute to, thereby ensuring both the manager’s talking points and the employee’s concerns are addressed.

Choosing the Time and Place

The setting of a one on one is almost as important as the content. Choose a time that works for both parties, avoiding periods when either of you are likely to be preoccupied with other tasks. The place matters too; it should be a space where both parties feel comfortable and free to speak openly.

Whether it’s a quiet office room, a walking meeting outside, or a virtual call, the environment should encourage open dialogue and positive body language.

Preparing Mentally

For managers, preparing mentally is about more than reviewing notes—it’s about getting into the right mindset. This is dedicated time to focus on a team member’s needs and perspectives. Approach the meeting with empathy, patience, and a genuine willingness to listen and engage in meaningful discussion.

For employees, this is a time to reflect on your career development, personal development goals, and any issues or ideas you want to share.

Reviewing Past Action Items

Before each meeting, review the action items and discussion points from the previous one on one. This helps to hold both parties accountable and shows a commitment to following through on agreed-upon steps.

It also sets a precedent that these meetings are not just casual talks but are tied to real, actionable outcomes. Having a system, perhaps within your company’s SaaS tool like Shiftbase, for tracking these items can streamline this process significantly.

By taking the time to prepare for your one on one meetings in these ways, you are setting the stage for effective, engaging, and productive conversations that have the power to positively impact both individual team members and the broader organization.

Conducting a One on One Meeting

Conducting an effective one on one meeting is an art that combines preparation, attentiveness, and genuine care for your direct report. It's not merely an update on projects, but a dedicated time to foster a meaningful manager-employee relationship. Here is how to navigate through the meeting effectively:

Building Rapport

Start the meeting with a well-being check-in, showing that you care about your direct report as a person, not just as an employee. Small talk isn’t wasted time; it’s an opportunity to build rapport and establish psychological safety. This approach helps to make the subsequent conversation feel more like a two-way dialogue rather than a top-down communication.

Asking the Right Questions

Effective one on ones are driven by questions, not statements. Inquire about your direct report's experience in the past week, their progress on various projects, and any obstacles they are facing. Craft questions that encourage more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.

For instance, “What aspects of your current projects are you most excited about?” or “Are there any areas where you would like more support or resources?”

Active Listening

This is not the time to multi-task. Give your full attention, maintaining eye contact and positive body language to demonstrate that you are fully engaged. Listen more than you speak, and resist the urge to jump in with solutions immediately.

This is the direct report’s time to share, so let them. Note-taking can also be beneficial here, not only to remember important points for future meetings but to show that you are taking what your direct report says seriously.

Addressing Concerns and Feedback

Feedback should be specific, actionable, and balanced. Instead of vague statements, provide clear and direct feedback, both positive and negative. Encourage your direct report to share their concerns without fear of judgment.

If they have negative feedback, view it as a valuable opportunity for growth, both for you as a manager and for the team as a whole.

By focusing on these elements during your one on one meeting, you are not only addressing the immediate, day-to-day work issues but are also investing in the long-term growth and satisfaction of your team members.

This approach promotes a management style that values open communication and employee engagement, setting the stage for a thriving and motivated team.

Effective Follow-up Strategies

Concentrated bearded young man using laptop while his friends studying together

A productive one on one meeting doesn’t end when the conversation does; the follow-through is equally important. The effectiveness of these meetings lies in continuity and accountability, ensuring that the discussions translate into tangible results. Here’s how:

Documenting the Meeting

Reliable note-taking is crucial. Documenting the meeting with detailed meeting notes provides a record that both the manager and the direct report can reference. It might include discussion points, feedback given, and progress updates.

Use a tool like Shiftbase to securely and conveniently store these notes, making them easily accessible for both parties involved in the meeting.

Setting Clear Action Items

Before concluding the meeting, managers and employees should agree on the next steps. These action items should be specific, measurable, and time-bound. For instance, instead of saying “Improve the report,” a more effective action item might be “Revise the sales report to include the past month’s data by Friday.” This sets a clear expectation, and everyone leaves the meeting on the same page.

Scheduled Follow-ups

To ensure that one on one meetings are consistently beneficial, they should be a recurring calendar event, not just a one-off occurrence. Scheduled follow-ups, whether weekly or monthly, show your team members that you are committed to their ongoing development and are taking the issues discussed seriously. These regular one on ones help maintain momentum and allow for continuous, structured dialogue.

Addressing Non-Compliance

Inevitably, there will be instances where action items are not completed as agreed. Rather than approaching this as a failure, use it as an opportunity for constructive feedback and problem-solving.

Explore the reasons for non-compliance in a non-confrontational way, and work with your direct report to find solutions. It might be a matter of adjusting deadlines, reallocating resources, or providing additional support.

Effective follow-up strategies are integral to making one on one meetings more than just a routine check-in. They convert the conversation into a pathway for continuous improvement and stronger manager-employee relationships, thereby boosting employee engagement and ensuring that the dedicated time spent in these meetings translates into meaningful action.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Even with the best intentions, one on one meetings can go awry if not approached with care. Here are some common pitfalls that managers might fall into, and suggestions for how to steer clear of them:

Being Too Formal or Too Casual

A one on one meeting is not an interrogation, nor is it a casual chat over coffee. It’s important to strike a balance. Being too formal can make your direct report feel like they are under scrutiny, which may hamper honest dialogue. On the flip side, being too casual might signal that the meeting isn’t a priority.

How to Avoid: Set a consistent and comfortable environment that fosters open dialogue while underscoring the importance of the meeting. Show that this is a dedicated time for your direct report, without making it feel like a performance review.

Avoiding Difficult Conversations

It can be tempting to steer clear of uncomfortable topics, but avoiding difficult conversations can lead to unresolved issues and decreased job satisfaction for your team members.

How to Avoid: Practice psychological safety. Create an environment where your direct report feels safe sharing their concerns. Be clear that the purpose of the conversation is growth and improvement, not criticism.

Not Following Through

Not acting on the discussion points and action items established in a meeting can be detrimental. It sends a message that the meetings — and by extension, the team member's contributions — are not valued.

How to Avoid: Make use of tools like Shiftbase to set reminders for action items and scheduled follow-ups. Show your commitment to these tasks as earnestly as you expect from your direct reports.

Making the Meeting About You

The primary focus of one on one meetings should be the direct report and their experience, not the manager’s agenda or viewpoints.

How to Avoid: Encourage your direct report to set some of the agenda, ask for their feedback, and listen more than you speak. This is their time to shine, so let them lead the conversation in areas they feel are important.

By being mindful of these pitfalls and actively taking steps to avoid them, managers can conduct one on one meetings that are not just a scheduled formality but a powerful tool for building strong, productive relationships with their direct reports.

Benefits of Effective One on One Meetings


One on one meetings, when conducted effectively, can transform the dynamics of a working environment. Let’s explore some of the most impactful benefits that these meetings can bring to both managers and employees:

Improved Communication

Regular one on one meetings foster an environment of open dialogue between managers and direct reports. These meetings allow team members to express their ideas, concerns, and feedback in a private, dedicated setting, ensuring that both parties are on the same page and minimizing misunderstandings.

How to Maximize: Use a meeting agenda template to structure the conversation, thereby ensuring that all the pressing issues are covered, and actively encourage the sharing of talking points before the meeting.

Enhanced Employee Engagement

Consistent one on one time between a manager and their direct report has been shown to significantly boost employee engagement. Engaged employees tend to show higher levels of job satisfaction and are more likely to stay with their current employer, which in turn, supports higher employee retention rates.

How to Maximize: Use this time to discuss career development and personal development goals, showing that the company is invested in the individual’s long-term growth.

Faster Problem Solving

By having regular, dedicated time with each team member, managers can address potential issues before they escalate. This proactive approach allows for quicker resolution of problems, keeping projects on track and reducing workplace stress.

How to Maximize: Encourage employees to come prepared with any challenges they are facing in their day to day work, and use the meeting to collaboratively develop solutions.

Strengthened Manager-Employee Relationships

One on one meetings are a cornerstone of a healthy manager-employee relationship. They help to build trust and rapport, which is essential for creating a positive work environment and fostering a strong team.

How to Maximize: Use part of the meeting as a well-being check-in, which shows you care about your team member as a person, not just as an employee. This could involve asking about their work-life balance, stress levels, and general well-being.

By effectively integrating one on one meetings into the regular rhythms of management, organizations can unlock a range of benefits that contribute to a more harmonious, productive, and engaged workplace.

The Transformative Potential of One on One Meetings

When executed with care, intention, and consistency, one on one meetings have the potential to be much more than a recurring calendar event. They can become a cornerstone of a transformative managerial approach. These meetings, when rooted in genuine interest and focused dialogue, can change the dynamics of the manager-employee relationship, fostering a deeper connection and understanding between the two.

They promote a culture of open communication, where employees feel valued and heard. This, in turn, can lead to an uplift in employee engagement, job satisfaction, and ultimately, in retention rates.

Moreover, one on one meetings provide a structured, yet personal, platform for discussing career path aspirations and personal development goals. Managers can use this dedicated time to mentor their team members, helping them to see and reach their full potential within the organization.

In essence, embracing the one on one meeting is embracing a powerful tool for positive change within an organization. It is a commitment from the manager not just to the employee’s current role but to their entire professional journey, thereby nurturing a culture that thrives on growth, trust, and exceptional performance.



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