The manager-employee relationship is central to all things work. And as in any relationship, communication is essential.
Regular one-on-one meetings give managers and direct reports the chance to share feedback, address challenges, and follow up on OKRs. But they’re not just for business talk — they’re also the perfect opportunity to touch base on career aspirations, check in on well-being, and build trust for better working relationships.
The key to a great one-on-one conversation is striking the right balance between work and relationship-building — to give everyone enough feedback (including managers) to perform at their best.
We asked business leaders to share their favorite weekly one-on-one questions. Here’s what they told us.
Manager One-on-One Questions
While some put the onus on direct reports to set the agenda, HR leaders say one-on-one conversations are ultimately a two-way street, and that managers share the responsibility of guiding a fruitful discussion while making sure their direct reports feel heard and supported.
In other words, while direct reports might be setting the dinner menu, managers definitely shouldn’t show up to the party empty-handed.
However, not every employee will be forthcoming about their career goals or team challenges, let alone their personal life, without being asked. By giving the talking points some thought ahead of time, both parties will get more out of the meeting.
“It’s critical for managers to ask the right questions and stick to the agenda. Otherwise, the conversation can go off track, and the meeting’s effectiveness will likely go to waste,” said Jagoda Wieczorek, head of talent at bValueFund. “To counterbalance it, you need to prep your one-on-one questions to help you kickstart the conversation, steer the discussion, and ultimately provide you with enough information to gauge the employee’s emotional, mental, and professional state.”
According to the HR and business leaders we surveyed, the following questions were the most popular among managers for running a great one-on-one:
Employee Engagement and Morale
Open, honest, and regular communication is the foundation of a great manager-employee relationship — making the one-on-one conversation a critical touchpoint for gauging employee mood, morale, and motivation.
Week to week, managers should be asking questions to find out how employees are feeling in the moment, identifying blockers in their work environment, and looking for early warning signs of stress, anxiety, or burnout.
- How are you feeling?
- What were your work and non-work highlights over the past week?
- Is there anything stressing you out right now?
- Do you feel like you have a good work/life balance, and are able to disconnect after work?
Collaboration and Teamwork
Working with a great team makes us feel like we belong, unleashes our creativity, and boosts our performance. When checking in on collaboration and teamwork during one-on-ones, it’s important to understand how team dynamics are contributing to performance, how supported individuals are feeling — and especially in a remote or hybrid team, what can be done to improve collaboration.
- Do you feel like the team is communicating effectively enough? If not, what’s standing in the way?
- Is there a problem on the team that I might not know about? What can I do to help?
- Do you feel like you’re able to stay connected with everyone? How can I help?
- Which team members do you wish you had more of a connection with?
- Do you feel like you’re able to ask others for help? Why or why not?
In our 2021 Career Progression Survey, we found that 76% of employees would be somewhat or very likely to leave a company due to feeling dissatisfied with the opportunities available to progress in their careers. It’s one big reason why managers should add growth to their one-on-one agendas on a monthly or quarterly basis.
“If we want our employees to be happy at work, we need to make sure that we offer them opportunities for continuous growth,” said Susan Norton, senior director of HR at BOLD. “In my questions, I try to get them to go a bit further beyond their comfort zones. The goal for my team is to be challenged but not overwhelmed. I want to push them to take up new challenges but also offer support when needed.”
- How do you feel like you’re progressing on your career development goals?
- What new skills would you like to learn?
- Are you interested in any conferences or courses? Are you open to recommendations?
- What’s your opinion of your career growth since you started working here?
- What part of the business would you like to learn more about?
- Are there any specific software or tools you’d like to learn how to use?
Staying on top of everyone’s workload can be challenging at the best of times — but one-on-ones are an ideal opportunity to check in on individual goals and OKRs, problem-solve any blockers, and course-correct projects that have gone awry.
- What’s your top priority right now?
- What challenges do you face in your role that aren’t visible to others?
- What’s your outlook on the next week? How about next month?
- What roadblocks can I help you with?
- Are there any aspects of your job that frustrate you or keep you from doing your best work?
One-on-ones should foster dialogue — and asking for developmental feedback on your performance as a manager is just as important as doling it out. Making these questions a regular occurrence will help build trust and transparency, as well as helping you spot areas for improvement before they become frustrating.
- What can I do to make your job easier?
- Am I doing a good enough job bringing you into team decisions? Would you like to be more involved?
- Do you feel like you’re getting enough from our one-on-ones? Why or why not?
- Do you feel like you’re getting enough feedback from me? How would you like me to share feedback?
- In your view, is there anything I could develop or change about my management style?
Employee One-on-One Questions
It’s easy to assume your manager knows what you’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis. But managers have to juggle jam-packed calendars, manage their direct reports, and their own workload — meaning they need your perspective on what’s working and what isn’t.
“Employees should ask about things that prevent them from realizing their objectives or slow them down,” said Norton. “Whether you’re a manager or in HR, you don’t want bottlenecks to stand in their way. If employees don’t communicate their problems, we might not be aware of their struggles.”
Though managers should try to identify some of these obstacles through questioning, it’s a two-way street — and one-on-ones should feel like a safe space to talk through any current challenges.
According to the HR and business leaders we surveyed, the following questions were the most popular among employees for running a great one-on-one:
Employee Engagement and Morale
Establishing great team relationships works both ways. Taking the time to build a rapport with your manager, and understanding how they’re feeling will help you know when they’re feeling overwhelmed or in need of greater support from you and the rest of your team.
- How are you doing?
- Looking ahead, what are you most hopeful for and worried about?
- Is there anything about our team culture you wish you could change?
Collaboration and Teamwork
Staying in sync with the rest of your team isn’t always easy when you’re all working on different projects. When talking through team collaboration with your manager, try to ask questions that help you identify how to ease communication, build team cohesion, and opportunities to improve cross-functional collaboration.
- Who would you like me to start talking to or working more with?
- What can we do as a team to collaborate and communicate better?
- What part of my job would you like more visibility into?
- What’s your preferred way to receive updates from our team?
- What should I be mindful of when working with other teams?
Chances are, you already have some long-term goals as to how you see your career progressing. But checking in on growth with your manager on a regular basis will mean you get some outside perspective on new skills and professional development opportunities that you might not have thought of yet that can either help you perform your role better now, or boost your progress along your desired career path — whether within or beyond your organization.
- What should I consider adding to my growth plan?
- How do you see my role evolving over the next year?
- What technical skills should I work on?
- Are there any soft skills I should develop?
- In your view, what are my strengths?
- What skills gaps do you see on our team?
Managers are like the connector between you as an employee and the rest of your organization. This means that most of the time, you might not see half of the priorities and tasks they need to manage.
Asking about your manager’s priorities, biggest challenges, long-term goals for the team, and upcoming projects not only puts you in prime position to explore new opportunities where skills allow, but is an effective way to manage up. This means you’ll appear proactive in picking up the slack, and will make your manager’s life easier — it’s a win-win.
- What’s your highest priority right now? How can I help?
- Right now, what do you need more of — quality or quantity?
- Is there a process or project you’d like me to start owning? What is it?
- What are your long-term goals for the team?
- Are you thinking about expanding the team?
- Is there anything I should prepare ahead of our next meeting?
While there’s a time and a place for open-ended questions, giving constructive feedback is easier when you’re able to tie it to a particular topic or assignment. That’s why you need to be specific in what kind of feedback you need from your manager.
“Put yourself in your manager’s shoes. The obligation of having regular meetings where you’re expected to give feedback can make you run for the hills,” said Paula McLeod, an executive coach and CEO of Success by Design.
- Is there anything I should be doing differently? Do you have examples?
- Has anyone shared any feedback about my work? What was it?
- How could I better contribute to our team meetings?
- What are my key areas for improvement?
How to Structure a One-on-one Conversation
The ultimate aim for every one-on-one is that it’s a quick, easy, and regular way to stay aligned on changing priorities and challenges week to week. They’re time-bound by design, meaning managers and their direct reports have an opportunity to discuss only the most pressing of issues.
But without a good meeting agenda, that precious time can quickly become derailed by personal chitchat, a therapeutic rant or two, or even feel like a military drill of project check-ins and task follow-ups.
Adding in a loose structure can help make sure that everyone gets to cover the key points and leaves a little room for relationship-building.
- Set a recurring schedule: One-on-ones shouldn’t feel like a surprise — they should be an expected part of the routine. When managers frequently cancel one-on-ones with their direct reports, it communicates that their employees aren’t a priority. Setting out a defined time each week for each direct report — and making sure it’s iron-clad — will help build trust, keep teams aligned, and remind everyone that it’s a critical process, not an option.
- Try time-blocking the meeting agenda: Depending on the regularity and length of your one-on-ones, using a meeting agenda template, or structuring topics can help maximize both parties’ time. In a 30-minute meeting, for example, allot the first five minutes to catch up, ten for discussing current projects and tasks, ten for setting action items, and five for any additional thoughts or to wrap up.
- Track progress from week to week: Tracking your one-on-one agenda will not only keep tabs on what you discussed over the last week, but will also help identify how frequently topics come up, giving both parties insight into the potential to optimize workflows, approaches to tasks, or highlighting a greater need for well-being support. Shared documentation will help keep this information in one place — or try Lattice’s 1:1 feature, which keeps a historic record of one-on-one talking points, action items, and employee sentiment.
Though they can feel routine, weekly one-on-ones are the most important meetings on your calendar — and they’re a critical part of your performance management process. For managers, they’re a way to ensure everyone feels engaged and productive. For everyone else, they’re a chance to check in with the boss, build rapport, and maybe even set the stage for that next big promotion.
“If you think these meetings are all about you, you’re wrong,” McLeod said. “These meetings are a chance to build your relationship with one of the most important people in your life. Whatever you do, don’t cancel it.”
To see how Lattice’s software empowers teams to get more out of their one-on-ones, schedule a product demo.