How to Run Exceptional One-on-Ones

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How to Run Exceptional One-on-Ones

The Importance of One-on-Ones

One-on-one meetings are not merely a formality; they are a strategic tool that, when wielded effectively, can enhance team cohesion, drive performance, and foster a culture of open communication. These meetings serve several crucial functions:

Building Relationships

One-on-ones provide a dedicated space for leaders and team members to build rapport and trust. This relational foundation is essential for effective collaboration and mutual respect. By regularly engaging in private conversations, leaders can understand their team members’ motivations, concerns, and personal circumstances, which can influence their work.

Providing Feedback

Constructive feedback is vital for personal and professional growth. One-on-ones offer a private setting where leaders can deliver tailored feedback, addressing both strengths and areas for improvement. These sessions enable leaders to recognize achievements, correct course when necessary, and discuss behaviors or results that require attention.

Career Development

These meetings are an opportunity to discuss career aspirations, professional development goals, and potential growth opportunities within the organization. Leaders can help employees chart a path for advancement, identify necessary skills, and create a plan for achieving their career objectives.

Alignment and Clarity

One-on-ones ensure that team members are aligned with organizational objectives and understand how their contributions fit into the broader mission. These discussions can clarify expectations, set priorities, and align individual work with the team’s goals.

Personal Well-being

During one-on-ones, leaders can check in on the well-being of their team members, showing that the organization cares about them as individuals. This can involve discussing work-life balance, stress levels, and any personal challenges that might affect their work performance.

Innovation and Ideas

One-on-ones can be a breeding ground for innovation, as team members may feel more comfortable sharing ideas and suggestions in a private setting. Leaders can encourage creativity and potentially uncover valuable insights that can drive the organization forward.


When team members encounter obstacles, one-on-one meetings provide a platform for collaborative problem-solving. Leaders can offer guidance, resources, and support to help overcome challenges and prevent minor issues from escalating.

Structuring Your One-on-Ones

A well-structured one-on-one meeting maximizes time efficiency and ensures that critical topics are addressed. The following framework can serve as a guide:

Pre-Meeting Preparation

Preparation is key to a successful one-on-one. Leaders should review the team member’s recent performance, progress on goals, and any pertinent issues. Additionally, soliciting input from the team member prior to the meeting can help identify topics of mutual interest.

Reviewing Past Discussions

To build continuity, leaders should revisit notes from previous one-on-ones to follow up on action items and discussions. This shows the team member that their concerns are taken seriously and that there is a commitment to ongoing development.

Setting Clear Objectives

Leaders should define what they aim to achieve in each one-on-one. Whether it’s to provide support, give feedback, or discuss career progression, having clear objectives helps keep the conversation focused and productive.

Gathering Feedback

Encouraging team members to provide feedback on their experience within the team and their interactions with leadership can offer valuable insights for improvement. This can be done through pre-meeting surveys or informal conversations.

Setting the Agenda

A clear agenda provides structure and focus. While the specific content may vary, a typical agenda might include the following elements:


Begin with a brief personal check-in to set a positive tone. This helps establish rapport and shows genuine interest in the team member’s well-being.

Progress Review

Discuss progress on ongoing projects and goals. This is an opportunity to celebrate achievements and identify any roadblocks that may need addressing.


Provide and solicit feedback on recent work and interactions. Feedback should be specific, actionable, and balanced to promote growth and improvement.

Career Development

Explore professional development opportunities and career aspirations. Leaders can assist team members in mapping out their career trajectory and identifying steps to get there.

Open Discussion

Allow time for the team member to bring up any additional topics or concerns. This segment provides a chance for employees to voice their thoughts and feelings openly.

Agenda setting for meetingsby Marissa Grootes (

Asking the Right Questions

Effective one-on-ones are characterized by thoughtful, open-ended questions that encourage reflection and dialogue. Here are some questions for one-on-one meetings that can facilitate meaningful conversations:

Check-In Questions

How have you been feeling about your work lately? Is there anything outside of work that you would like to share or that might be affecting your performance?

Progress Review Questions

What progress have you made on your current goals? What challenges have you encountered, and how can I help you address them?

Feedback Questions

What feedback do you have for me as your leader? How can I better support you in your role?

Career Development Questions

What are your long-term career goals, and how can we work towards them? Are there any skills or experiences you would like to develop?

Open Discussion Questions

Is there anything else on your mind that you would like to discuss? Do you have any suggestions for improving our team or processes?

Enhancing the Quality of One-on-Ones

To elevate the quality of your one-on-ones, consider the following best practices:

Active Listening

Active listening is the cornerstone of effective communication. It involves fully engaging with the speaker, showing empathy, and providing feedback. Leaders should practice active listening by:

Maintaining Eye Contact

Eye contact signals to the team member that they have your full attention. It is a simple yet powerful way to demonstrate that you are engaged and focused on the conversation.

Providing Verbal Affirmations

Verbal affirmations, such as nodding and using phrases like “I understand” or “That makes sense,” help to reinforce that you are listening and value what the team member is saying.

Reflecting and Clarifying

Reflecting back what the team member has said ensures understanding and helps to clarify any points of confusion. This can lead to more productive discussions and better outcomes.

Creating a Safe Space

A psychologically safe environment encourages open and honest dialogue. Leaders can foster psychological safety by:

Demonstrating Vulnerability

By sharing your own challenges and learning experiences, you create an environment where team members feel comfortable doing the same.

Encouraging Open Dialogue

Let team members know that their opinions are valued and that it is safe to speak up without fear of negative consequences.

Addressing Concerns

When issues are raised, it’s important to acknowledge them and work together to find solutions. This builds trust and shows that you are committed to improvement.

Creating a safe space in meetingsby NASA (

Follow-Up and Accountability

One-on-ones should not be isolated events but part of an ongoing dialogue. Following up on action items and holding team members accountable for their commitments reinforces the importance of these meetings and drives progress.

Documenting Discussions

Keep records of what was discussed, including any action items or goals set during the meeting. This aids in accountability and tracking progress over time.

Providing Resources and Support

If a team member needs assistance to achieve their goals, make sure they have access to the necessary resources and support. This could include training, mentorship, or time allocation.

Celebrating Successes

When goals are met or progress is made, celebrate these successes. This not only motivates the team member but also reinforces the value of the one-on-ones.

Overcoming Common Challenges

Running exceptional one-on-ones is not without its challenges. Here are some common obstacles and strategies for overcoming them:

Time Constraints

Busy schedules can make it difficult to find time for regular one-on-ones. To address this, consider the following:

Prioritizing One-on-Ones

Treat one-on-ones as non-negotiable appointments. Block out time on your calendar and protect it as you would any other critical engagement.

Shortening the Duration

If time is limited, opt for shorter, more frequent meetings. This can maintain the rhythm of regular communication without overburdening the schedule.

Utilizing Technology

Leverage video conferencing tools to conduct remote one-on-ones if in-person meetings are not feasible. This can save time and offer more flexibility for both parties.

Lack of Engagement

If a team member is disengaged or reluctant to participate, consider these strategies:

Building Rapport

Invest time in building a personal connection. Understanding the team member’s interests and motivations can help foster engagement.

Clarifying the Purpose

Ensure the team member understands the value and purpose of the one-on-ones. Communicate how these meetings can benefit them personally and professionally.

Soliciting Feedback

Ask for input on how to improve the meetings and make them more relevant to the team member’s needs and concerns.

Balancing Structure and Flexibility

While structure is important, it’s equally crucial to remain flexible and responsive to the needs of the team member. Striking this balance can be achieved by:

Setting a Flexible Agenda

Allow room for spontaneous topics and discussions. This can make the meetings more dynamic and responsive to immediate concerns.

Being Present

Adapt the conversation based on the team member’s responses and cues. Stay attentive and ready to shift focus if necessary.

Regularly Reassessing

Periodically review and adjust the meeting format to ensure it remains effective. Solicit feedback from team members on the structure and content of the one-on-ones.


Creating a psychologically safe environment through open dialogue, vulnerability, and addressing concerns is crucial for fostering trust and collaboration within a team. By following up on action items, documenting discussions, providing support, and celebrating successes, leaders can ensure that one-on-one meetings are productive and meaningful. Overcoming common challenges such as time constraints and lack of engagement requires prioritizing one-on-ones, building rapport, clarifying purposes, and balancing structure with flexibility. Regular reassessment and adaptation of meeting formats are essential to maintain the effectiveness of these interactions.