Susan, a partner at a CPA firm, felt too busy for one-on-one meetings with her direct reports, especially during tax season. Like many leaders, because she often canceled these vital meetings, she faced increased fires to put out, more stress for herself, and the frustration of direct reports who didn’t get enough of her time for their important questions.

After switching over from a mindset of, “I’m too busy for one-on-ones” to a mindset of, “I’m too busy not to have one-on-ones”, she felt the difference of committing to the one-on-ones on her schedule. Differences such as happier employees, more calm throughout the day, and less guilt from putting off important conversations.

So not only do one-on-ones need to be scheduled at the right frequency for any possibility of work life balance, they need to be effective.

An effective one-on-one meeting has the power to transform productivity within your organization and within yourself as a leader. The one-on-one meeting is a solid time of connection and support to move projects forward, prevent unnecessary interruptions as well as excess emails.


The Four Parts of An Effective One-on-One Meeting

Part 1. Wellbeing Check

Wellbeing is the overall state of your direct report. It’s important because over 80 percent of an employee’s sense of wellbeing comes from the personal connection with his or her manager. Gallup studies found that 67 percent of employees leave due to a poor relationship with the person they directly report to. Dedicate 10 to 15 minutes of your one-on-one to care about your employees’ wellbeing. Start with questions such as: How are you? How’s your family? What are you looking forward to this month? Or follow up about events from life outside of work.

 Part 2. Project Status Check

When employees are assigned task after task, it’s easy for them to feel micromanaged. But when you assign and delegate projects, and instead behave as a resource to move the project toward completion, they feel empowered. Make time to be that solid resource. Maximize time by training directs to come prepared with requests as well as questions they need answered on their projects. You can ask questions such as: In regard to your project, what specific questions can I clarify for you? What do you need from me to get to the next step? Why do you think the project is going well? What course corrections do you need to take?

Part 3. Tasks Delegated Check

One on ones are the best time to assign and follow up those delegated tasks to make sure things get done. If you don’t have many items on your delegated Take Back Your Life! 1:1 or SNA Waiting For category buckets, you need to be delegating more. Consider items that can be done by someone else so you can free up time for strategic thinking. Items like budget approvals, scheduling, or PTO approvals may be able to be delegated during one-on-one times. Be specific with task follow up to ensure things get done with questions such as: Is XYZ completed? When will you be able to take care of XYZ?

Part 4. Mentoring, Coaching, and Training

Direct reports look to their manager for mentoring, coaching, and even training. Employees must learn and grow to feel engaged. Make time to engage development in your one-on-one. It may come naturally with their questions or projects, or you can be intentional to support their growth. Consider questions such as: What are you learning right now? What roadblocks are you bumping into? What competencies are you working on?

Other Factors

Other factors that contribute to an effective one-on-one include scheduling them at the right frequency and for the right amount of time. We recommend 60 minutes to 120 minutes, two to four times per month, or a bit longer once a month. Susan met with her directs twice a week during her busy season which mitigated weekend worktime.

Stressed because you have too many directs to meet with? Consider a restructure for less direct reports or aim for shorter meetings and have each come prepared with each of the four parts.

Just do your employee a favor, show up. Don’t skip on your one-on-ones. To lead well, we must make time for the people we lead. Treat one-on-ones like VIP meetings.

When your one-on-ones are productive and engaging, you’ll notice you have less interruptions, happier employees, reduced stress from putting out fires, and most importantly – you’ll see results.