Managing People

How to Maximize Impact With Manager One-on-One Meetings

March 22, 2024
July 11, 2024
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
Lattice Team

In today’s busy workplaces, employees are feeling so disconnected and detached that many are putting in only a minimum effort on the job. Nearly 60% aren’t engaged, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report. And another 18% are actively disengaged, even undercutting organizational goals and opposing leaders.

When asked how to make their workplace better, 41% of employees who weren’t engaged pointed to changes related to engagement and culture, according to the Gallup report. Respondents wanted approachable managers who welcomed open conversation, and they craved clearer goals and stronger guidance, among other changes. 

Regular 1:1s with managers fulfill that need, providing a space for open dialogue between direct reports and managers to share feedback and work toward business objectives and development goals. This ultimate guide to manager 1:1 meetings provides tips for ensuring these check-ins are handled deliberately and engage employees. 

What are one-on-ones?

One-on-ones (or 1:1s) are a regularly scheduled time for managers to check in with direct reports.

Effective 1:1s help companies and managers understand how employees are feeling about their day-to-day work, their professional development, and the organization as a whole. These meetings are typically viewed as a management tool to increase output, track progress toward goals, and get a read on employees’ happiness. But they should be framed as the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting.

Elements of an Effective One-on-One

Successful 1:1 meetings are:

  • Employee-led: Individual contributors own the agenda and dictate the conversation, which provides agency and opportunities for constructive feedback.
  • Consistent: Meeting cadences should be regular, whether they’re weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Consistency helps employees set expectations about a manager’s availability and helps managers keep a regular pulse on how their team members are doing.
  • Comprehensive: Agendas should be a cross between day-to-day challenges, career development, job satisfaction, and anything else on the employee’s mind. One-on-ones are not a status update meeting. If status updates for tasks are necessary, they should be kept short (5 minutes or less).‍
  • Ongoing: Open-ended conversations are a feedback mechanism to help employees grow their skills and overcome challenges. One-on-ones make sure performance review conversations happen more than once a year.

Benefits of One-on-Ones

One-on-ones help employees, managers, and companies understand each other in different ways, and the benefits for each are unique.

For Employees

One-on-ones are a sacred time where employees get a manager’s undivided attention. It’s an opportunity to:

  • Clear roadblocks. Managers can provide perspective and context to help employees overcome challenges in their projects. One-on-ones allow employees to get advice from managers and solve problems in a candid, safe space.
  • Gather feedback. Submitting work without receiving feedback can lead to confused or misguided employees. One-on-ones are an opportunity for employees to talk with managers about their productivity and output to understand how to improve and get recognition when they do a great job.
  • Discuss career growth. Employees with a growth mindset may have questions about developing new skills or the next step in their career progression. One-on-ones are a touchpoint for having regular, transparent conversations about career development to learn how to unlock the next level of their role or specialization.
  • Share feelings and ideas. Building a meaningful, supportive relationship with a manager means employees feel empowered to share their thoughts and ideas about the company, their team, and their workflow. One-on-ones are an appropriate, private forum for them to share feelings (good and bad) and bounce ideas off their manager.

For Managers

Managers are often evaluated by the performance of their team: The greater the team output, the more successful the manager. It’s the job of the manager to provide advice and help their team cross the finish line.

One challenge for managers is that time is scarce; managers are responsible for so much work that they have to delegate to the team. This dynamic means managers must focus on high-leverage activities, actions that have an exponential rate of return on investment.

By having frequent 1:1s, managers are able to:

  • Help employees overcome challenges. One-on-ones are a safe space for employees to express concerns or needs while solving problems in their workload. Managers should lean into their working relationship with each employee to empower their skill development and capacity to overcome challenges.
  • Steer employees down the right path. Recurring meetings are an informal touchpoint for managers to guide their team to success. Because 1:1s are more open-ended than status updates or reports, managers can serve as mentors and provide valuable guidance to align employee growth with team goals and OKRs.
  • Uncover new ideas or improvements. Empowering employees to own the meeting agenda can encourage them to bring up new ideas or opportunities for innovation. In return, managers can decide to escalate potential improvements to leadership, or support employees in solving problems themselves without feeling like they’re being micromanaged.
  • Build trust with their team members. During these conversations, managers have an opportunity to make employees feel valued and make sure their concerns about the workplace are addressed. Asking open-ended questions can help build trust and accountability between managers and employees, which leads to a more engaged and satisfied workforce.

For Companies

One-on-ones are the essential building blocks of your company communications. They provide a communication architecture for escalating problems to executive leadership. Without well-designed structures for communication and valuable information about key challenges, ideas and innovation may fall through the cracks. This free flow of ideas helps keep your company moving forward and makes employees feel empowered.

When employees at every level are participating in regular 1:1s, companies holistically benefit in several ways:

  • Employee engagement: When companies invest in the structure and culture that comes from regular 1:1s, employees are more likely to reflect on their past week of productivity and needs, and feel more engaged in their day-to-day work.
  • Talent retention: Workers feel important and valued when they are confident their voices and contributions matter. Having managers spend time recognizing their employees’ needs and accomplishments shows employees the company cares about their team goals and career goals.
  • High-performing teams: Meaningful communication and engagement help managers keep a pulse on their team’s work, growth, and productivity. When managers are well-informed and employees are empowered to share feedback, teams can achieve their goals more effectively.

Across the board, investing in 1:1s ensures employees receive recognition for significant achievements, get the training they need to overcome work challenges, and feel supported when dealing with personal issues.

How to Run a Successful One-on-One

A successful 1:1 serves as an opportunity for a consistent, two-way conversation between managers and their direct reports. But many managers are getting it wrong. In fact, in one survey of 250 direct reports, almost half said their 1:1s were “suboptimal,” according to a 2022 Harvard Business Review article. Instead of entering a one-on-one with plans for a monologue and a list of demands, follow these steps for better outcomes.

1. Center on employee needs.

Remember that the meeting is about the employee: their feelings about work, current challenges, innovative ideas, career aspirations, and desire for growth. The conversation should be focused on the employee to show them you’re hearing what they’re saying, giving them the continuous feedback (and recognition) they deserve, and demonstrating how the company values their contributions.

Employees should own the meeting agenda and generally dictate the flow of the conversation. So start by asking what’s on their mind. Of course, not every employee will be forthcoming about their challenges. And, even in situations where the employee is eager to talk about issues, the discussion will sometimes naturally start to slow down.

Managers must be prepared for these moments. Bring employee-centric questions that touch on key issues, including workers’ feelings, challenges, ideas, and growth goals. Open-ended questions — such as “What were your work and non-work highlights over the past week?” and “What blockers can I help you with?” — can help even reluctant employees open up.

It might take time for some direct reports to feel comfortable enough to share. But when managers consistently demonstrate that they are focused on their employees’ needs and willing to act on concerns raised during 1:1s, they will create a sense of psychological safety in the workplace. Nurturing that culture of feedback will ensure employees share what matters most to them. 

2. Schedule and commit to regular one-on-ones.

In the day-to-day shuffle, it’s easy to think about 1:1s as non-essential meetings, especially when they don’t seem directly related to the bottom line or client work. But the opposite is true: A 30-minute conversation with your employee can go a long way in making sure they're on track to support organizational success. In fact, research shows that time spent with a direct report can boost worker productivity, engagement, and retention.

Regular 1:1s strengthen employee productivity, according to internal Microsoft research. In that survey, employees who received clarity from their managers about which work to prioritize, an important topic in any 1:1, were 2.5 times more likely to feel they maintained their productivity levels with work-life balance than those who did not receive that guidance.

According to a 2021 market study by Lattice, employees who set and discussed goals the most frequently were the most engaged. And 2022 WorkHuman data found that weekly or biweekly meetings gave employees security because they help employees receive feedback and demonstrate their contributions year-round. 

Consistent 1:1s are critical, so make time for them. Most one-on-ones last between 30 and 60 minutes. To ensure regular, uninterrupted check-ins, put the time on your calendar and do your best to avoid canceling. If for some reason you can’t make it, always reschedule. Not only will this show employees that they’re a top priority but it will also improve the work product and efficiency of the team.

Employees should always lead the discussion, but to ensure that the conversation is productive, managers should arrive prepared with a one-on-one agenda, which can steer the conversation back to topics that matter, including how they can support an employee’s short and long-term goals and where they can remove any roadblocks. 

3. Empower employee-led agendas in one-on-ones.

Productive meetings take preparation, and 1:1s are no exception. Since it’s the employee’s meeting, it’s on them to own the agenda and prepare ahead of time. The employee should decide how they want to use the time with their manager.

But, at Lattice, we’ve found it helpful for managers to have consistent opening questions each week to get the conversation flowing:

  • What did you focus on this week?
  • What are your plans and priorities for next week?
  • What challenges or roadblocks do you need help with?
  • Is there anything else on your mind?

Managers might need to ask questions like these to prompt some discussion. But, as the employee begins to open up, be an active listener. Demonstrate that you’re engaged in the conversation with eye contact and other visual cues, such as nodding. At times, repeat what your employee has said to validate their concern, and confirm that you understand their challenge by asking “Is that right?” at the end. 

Research published in the Harvard Business Review finds that 1:1s are most successful when the employees are active participants in the discussion. According to that article, “the ideal” is for employees to talk for 50% to 90% of the meeting. For more ideas about what to ask during 1:1s, download our agenda templates for remote 1:1 questions and manager 1:1 agendas. 

4. Foster openness and trust.

Oftentimes the conversation during a 1:1 stagnates — perhaps a slow week resulted in no roadblocks, or a new hire feels hesitant about being candid. This is where it’s time for the manager to ask questions rooted in empathy and care. Turn the focus to how the employee is doing, what their hopes and dreams are, and how the company can help them achieve those goals.

Those kinds of questions are important for engaging, motivating, and retaining all employees. But they can especially resonate with younger workers, who research shows care deeply about work-life balance and their career development. 

In a 2021 Gallup report, 65% of remote and 63% of in-person millennial workers who strongly agreed with the statement “My organization cares about my overall wellbeing” were engaged in their work. And a 2022 market study from research firm Workplace Intelligence found that 74% of millennial and Gen Z employees are likely to quit in the next year if their current employer doesn’t offer them enough career mobility or skills development opportunities.

Examples of Effective Questions for Open Communication

To foster openness and trust in direct reports, asking questions like the following can be effective.

Short- and Long-Term Goal Questions

  • How can we help improve your day-to-day work?
  • How are you feeling about your current projects?
  • What would you like to work on next quarter?
  • A year from now, what do you want to have accomplished?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years?

Company Improvement Questions

  • What’s the biggest opportunity we’re not thinking about?
  • How can the team work better together? Where are we failing? Where are we succeeding?
  • What’s your least favorite thing about the work environment?
  • How are you feeling about the company’s future? Why do you say that?
  • If you were the CEO, what changes would you make?

Career Development Questions

  • Do you feel like we’re helping to advance your career? What else can I be doing to help grow your career?
  • Do you feel like you’re learning at work?
  • What projects are you most proud of? What do you want to work on next?
  • If you were not in your current role, what industry or field would you like to be in?
  • What’s a professional development project you’d like to pursue?

Manager Suggestion Questions

  • How can I be a better manager?
  • How can I make your work easier?
  • In what areas of your work do you want more/less direction from me?
  • What additional resources do you need?
  • How can we improve these 1:1s?

Job Satisfaction Questions

  • Are you happy in your current role?
  • What’s not fun about working here?
  • What’s working for your work-life balance?
  • I’ve noticed you’re more (adjective) than usual. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?
  • What do you want to do but don’t feel like you have the time for?


Another effective strategy to help employees open up is a change in scenery — go for a walk or get a cup of coffee together. This change of pace can help managers and direct reports build stronger relationships, encouraging employees to be honest and open. 

5. Document and address one-on-one insights.

The best way to ensure honest and open feedback from employees during 1:1s isn’t just making time for them and listening actively. It also involves addressing any challenges and concerns they raise and closing the feedback loop by following up on important findings.

Such follow-ups show that managers truly care about their direct reports’ concerns because they took the time (and remembered) to address them. Over time, those actions contribute to a psychologically safe workplace where employees feel like they are heard and have agency in their daily work and how their careers unfold. 

If you’re running a successful 1:1 as a manager, each week you’ll likely uncover a variety of challenges and insights about your employees, whether it’s a desire to grow a new skill or a problem they’re experiencing on a particular project. In each case, following up on any issues in subsequent 1:1s is essential to ensure continuous growth and problem resolution. 

To effectively follow and resolve issues, you’ll need to create a record of their concerns. As you meet with your direct reports, take notes during every meeting, so you remember the issues raised and appropriate action items. At Lattice, we use our check-in tool to add structure, take meeting notes, and help managers follow up, but a running Google Doc also works.

Taking notes provides a starting point for subsequent 1:1s, but it also allows you to chart an employee’s progress over time. During more formal performance reviews and compensation or promotion decisions, those notes from 1:1s provide a real-time record of an employee’s performance, concerns, and goals. 

How do you structure a one-on-one meeting?

The best 1:1 meetings allow for open dialogue and two-way conversations, and they’re built on a foundation of consistency and clear intentions. As a review, here’s how to structure 1:1 meetings to ensure they are meaningful and effective. 

1. Make a plan.

Set a regular time and place for 1:1s, and stick to that plan. Hold them with such consistency that they become a habit — regular opportunities that you and your direct reports look forward to in order to talk about goals, feedback, and strategies. Some busy weeks may require you to veer slightly from that plan, but always be sure to reschedule the 1:1 to ensure you stay on track. 

2. Stick to the agenda.

From the start, the purpose of one-on-one conversations should be made clear: to help employees navigate roadblocks and meet their work and career goals. Because 1:1s are about them, employees should take the lead and come to the meeting prepared with agenda items and talking points to ensure the discussion is more than a simple status check-in. 

A meeting template also can help to structure the time, ensuring the one-on-one questions build rapport between managers and direct reports while also making the best use of everybody’s time.


3. Keep the conversation going.

Take notes during the 1:1, so you can follow up on any action items identified and be ready to address new challenges as they arise during subsequent one-on-one meetings. As you build a relationship with your direct reports over time, that ongoing conversation and your demonstration that their needs matter will make all the difference in their on-the-job motivation and engagement. By cultivating this culture of feedback, your employees will have the tools they need to do their best work and the psychological safety that will make it easy for them to highlight new challenges that come up.

Optimize your one-on-ones with Lattice.

In today’s workplaces, everybody is busy, and the challenges seemingly grow increasingly complex by the day. That makes regular 1:1s more important than ever — an essential part of any organization's performance management system. When done right, these critical conversations provide a way to support employees’ personal development and professional growth, boost their engagement and productivity, and proactively head off challenges as they arise. 

Lattice 1:1s can streamline this work, ensuring productive, regular communication between managers and their employees. With it, manager-employee teams can more easily collaborate on meeting agendas and action items. And with those bolstered partnerships, organizations can build a culture where goal-setting and feedback are championed; managers are effective coaches; and employees have agency over how they spend their workdays, creating a better employee experience and, ultimately, fostering their highest performance.

To see Lattice 1:1s in action, schedule a demo today.

Remote Worker One-on-Ones

Regular 1:1s are important for remote workers to build rapport and relationships with their managers and to uncover any issues specific to their working arrangements. Here are two questions to ask remote workers during your next meeting: 

  • Are there specific projects or tasks that you feel are blocked or impacted by working remotely? 
  • Are you facing any challenges while working remotely that those in the office aren’t facing? 

Time Well-Managed 

A typical 30-minute 1:1 meeting might flow like this, give or take a few minutes during each step:

  • 5 minutes for casual conversation and icebreakers
  • 10 minutes to discuss projects and tasks
  • 10 minutes to set action items
  • 5 minutes for additional thoughts and to wrap up