How to run effective 1:1 meetings that power-up performance and development
Board meetings. Team stand-ups. Action planning. When we talk about meetings at work, you'd be forgiven for imagining a group discussion. But some of your most important managerial interactions happen one employee at a time. That's why we're revisiting the humble one-on-one. So, let's break down how to run effective 1:1 meetings for your employees.
Just as with group meetings, one-to-one conversations have a variety of applications. If anything, 1:1s are even more flexible. You only have to schedule with one other person, and there's often less of a need for formalities. Some situations where 1:1s can be useful include:
- Performance reviews
- Employee onboarding
- Informal performance conversations
- Pay reviews
- Praise and recognition
- Wellbeing checks
- Exit interviews
- Ad-hoc (at employee request)
Why understanding how to run effective 1:1 meetings is vital
Private, face-to-face conversations are a powerful tool for managers. But only if you do them right. To really understand how to run effective 1:1 meetings, you also need to understand their impact. For starters, they're a useful engagement tool for the following reasons:
- 1:1s make everyone feel heard.
- They're a rich source of direct insight for managers.
- Face-to-face meetings result in immediate discussion.
- Managers and employees can get on the same page.
But, for them to be effective, you have to put in the work to make them that way. 1:1 or otherwise, ineffective meetings are almost worse than no meetings at all. For an example of what happens when these things don't work, look no further than the annual performance review.
Traditional annual reviews have long been associated with all kinds of problems. Lack of immediacy. Inaccuracy. A bloated, disruptive review process. The end result is that both managers and employees dread them. If your 1:1s aren't done effectively, you'll end up putting employees off the idea of them.
10 rules for how to run effective 1:1 meetings
Knowing how to run effective 1:1 meetings at work isn't optional. It's a vital managerial skill. And, unfortunately, not every employer gives new managers the training they need:
- Nearly 60% of managers in charge of one or two employees have no training whatsoever.
- The same goes for more than 40% of managers overseeing three to five employees.
- Ditto for over 40% of managers who've been in the role less than a year.
- Nearly half of managers with a full decade of experience have only had up to nine hours of training.
So, as you can imagine, formal knowledge of what makes a good 1:1 is far from universal. But don't worry. We've got you covered with our 10 golden rules for 1:1 meetings!
1: These meetings are your employee's time
Given that you're the boss, what we're about to say might sound a bit counterintuitive. But, during one-on-ones, it can be best to give employees control of the discussion. Partly, it's because you ought to spend this time listening to them (more on that later!).
But, overall, it's because the employee is generally the subject of the meeting. If you're discussing their engagement, they need to be able to discuss their blockers. In a performance review, they need to be able to explain their mistakes and highlight their accomplishments. And it's not always easy to do these things when you're following someone else's line of questioning.
Of course, that's not to say a manager shouldn't get any say in the direction of the meeting. After all, these meetings are meant to have specific purposes. You wouldn't spend an entire performance review listening to someone's holiday stories, would you?
So, how do you strike a good middle ground? Well, this actually leads into our second point quite nicely...
2: Work with employees to build an agenda
The great thing about scheduling a meeting in advance is that you both generally know the purpose behind it. That means you have plenty of time to come up with an agenda between the two of you.
Be sure to flag up anything you need to discuss in advance. And invite your employee to do the same. Not only does this give you a rough idea of how many points you'll need to cover, it also gives you both the chance to do relevant preparation.
But remember, an agenda is just a guideline for discussion. It's not a script set in stone. Sure, it's there to guide the conversation. But it's also to help generate discussion. Topics will probably crop up in your 1:1s that you didn't plan for, and that's fine. Especially if they're relevant. So, make sure you've set aside enough time to branch out a little.
3: Little and often works best
In terms of how to run effective 1:1 meetings, sometimes, less is more. We know from the failures of annual performance reviews that few and far-between isn't the way to go. In that sense, one-to-ones have something in common with our own employee check-in system. This is to say that small, regular conversations are much more effective than large, occasional ones.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, a regular cadence helps to build up a dialogue. It's sad to say, but we live in a world where people aren't always trusting towards their managers. People might not be as forthcoming in meetings as you want them to be.
So you have to build up trust and comfort. You'll accomplish this with a combination of ice-breaking and reliability. In other words, it's partly about getting past initial awkwardness. But it's also about proving yourself with your actions. If someone gives you useful insight or registers a complaint, act on it. Otherwise you'll send the message that your 1:1s aren't worth getting invested in.
4: Make evidence-based decisions
As much as we might try, no person is 100% objective. But, as a manager, it's your job to try and maintain relative objectivity. This means actively working to check your biases, and make decisions based on facts.
In a performance review, for example, that means using all the info at your disposal to provide an assessment. You can't just grade people based on what you remember off the top of your head. You have to go back through the year and take all their contributions and mistakes into account.
Try to make your decisions in the most transparent way possible. Remember, it's just about fairness for employees. It's about the perception of fairness, too. If you can't justify a decision with clear facts, it leaves room for ambiguity. And if people think there's favouritism or double standards at work, they'll become disengaged, whether it's true or not.
5: Listen more than you talk
Remember what we said earlier about these meetings being your employee's time? Well, this point is an extension of that. Just like how you should let them have a say in the topics of discussion, you should also let them do most of the speaking.
Sure, there may well be points you need to make. But, if you want to know how to run effective 1:1 meetings, you've got to understand the value of active listening. It may be a soft skill, but it's something every manager needs to master. So, what makes listening "active," anyway?
Active listening means that, when you do respond, it should be to get more detail on what the other person is talking about. Don't interrupt, but be ready to ask questions. Good questions help drive the discussion while showing you're taking everything onboard. And, if you're struggling to think of insightful questions, there's nothing wrong with asking for clarification on some of the key points.
6: Create an action plan
By the time a 1:1 ends, both you and your employee should be on the same page. Whether it's a performance review, informal feedback or anything else, you should both have a clear idea of what to do next.
For an employee, this might mean putting your critical feedback into practice, or drafting a big project proposal. Or it could mean following up on career development steps like training courses or secondments.
But, as a manager, the steps you'll have to take are much broader and further reaching. You'll need to take any sentiments they've given you, and try to turn them into actionable insights. If employees are struggling with navigating their careers, for example, you might respond by implementing a mentorship program.
You'll also need to follow up on any support measures you've promised. Physical discomfort at work? Fast-track that new ergonomic equipment. Has an employee made a good case for a raise during a pay review? You'd better fight for them when it's reviewed by senior leadership.
When you create a shared action plan with an employee, make sure it isn't forgotten. Circle back to it after an appropriate amount of time. You can set another 1:1 down the line, or you can include some relevant questions on their future employee check-ins.
7: Set aside a proper amount of time
No two managers are completely alike, and your mileage for employee 1:1s may vary. But you'll never figure out how to run effective 1:1 meetings if you always try to rush them. The whole point is to give you time to discuss things.
A 1:1 might take as long as an hour. Or you might end up covering everything in five minutes. The point is not to assume. Always set aside enough time for a decent conversation. Otherwise, you might as well just stick to employee check-ins. Not that there's anything wrong with check-ins, but different tools suit different needs.
8: Make 1:1s accessible to everyone
This next point is another one in the "basic workplace fairness" column. It's not an open-door policy if you're selective about who your door's open to.
Everyone in your team should have the same level of access to managerial 1:1s. That means they should get the same rate of performance review meetings throughout the year. But it also means everyone should be able to schedule ad-hoc 1:1s as well. If access to these meetings isn't equal, it sends a clear message about how much you value people. It shows that you're only interested in what your favourites have to say. But it also shows you care more about some people's wellbeing than others.
9: Embrace informality
Compared to group meetings, 1:1s have the benefit of being a bit less restrictive. What we mean is that you don't need to be quite so formal in the way you do things.
Sure, there are things you'll need to be professional about. If you're running a performance review, for example, you still need to be firm enough to deliver critical feedback. But, generally, 1:1s work best when you can cultivate a relaxed atmosphere.
So chill out, crack a joke and make some small-talk. You'll find getting an honest response out of people much simpler if you can put them at ease.
10: Provide reasonable confidentiality
Our final rule for how to run effective 1:1 meetings is that, when people confide in you, you should keep it to yourself. One thing that often keeps employees from speaking up is fear of social backlash. Say a staff member confides in you about someone else's problematic behaviour, then the next day, everyone in the office knows. You can bet that employee isn't going to open up to you again.
If you need to pass something up to HR, or include it in a sentiment report, it's best to check with the employee first. Of course, sometimes breaking anonymity is impossible to avoid. But you should give people the option where you can.
How to run effective 1:1 meetings with Weekly10
So, with all this 1:1 talk, you might be wondering how we factor into all of this. Well, the tools we provide at Weekly10 can support your 1:1 process in several ways.
First off, our biggest contributor is easily our employee check-in. They provide essential documentation to give your meetings vital context. Goal-tracking makes it easy to reflect on someone's performance throughout the whole year, preventing recency bias. And you can even review full answer histories for any check-in questions you've set. This makes it much easier to keep track of the conversation around any given issue.
Speaking of check-in questions, they're fully customisable, so you can adjust them to reflect your 1:1s. This makes it super easy to keep track of any action plans or enduring issues you've discussed.
But that's not all. 1:1s are chock-full of employee sentiment. That means they're a good source of qualitative data for our sentiment analysis algorithm. We've trained our AI to pick up on trends and patterns, to the point where it'll spot things humans may easily miss. And, finally, Weekly10 can even automate up to 90% of performance review functions. That means you can save your valuable 1:1 time for the conversations that matter most.
Remember, 1:1s can be one of the greatest tools at your disposal. But that's only if you're willing to take your time and put the work in.
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