1-on-1s for Engaged Employees: How Good Managers Run Them

Have you heard of 1:1s (that’s a mouthful!) but can’t get your managers to run them? Finding it difficult to articulate their added value and how they contribute to the performance management process? Look no further! We’ve listed our top reasons why they support employee performance .

One-on-ones are a great way to encourage frequent performance check-ins and conversations between managers and their direct reports. The concept is fairly straightforward: meet 1 hour every other week for an informal conversation about engagement, workload, and more...

There’s no denying it’s time-consuming, yet the return on investment is huge. Through these regular informal conversations managers can develop trust, both with individuals and within their teams. In turn, trust in the workplace solidifies teams, creating a safe environment for people to work in and not be afraid to try new things.

It’s also the perfect opportunity for your managers to develop their coaching skills, something that’s increasingly sought after. By learning to actively listen to their team members, providing guidance and feedback along the way, they are already applying a coaching mentality. By improving their ability to coach, managers will better support employee performance and overall team success.

Even though these are informal conversations, 1:1s need a bit of preparation and structure in order to be effective. Follow these steps to run 1:1s that leave employees feeling energized, engaged, and prepared for their performance reviews.

How to prepare for a 1:1

  • Have the right mindset.

Do not overthink the meeting. The conversation should be informal and free: try to enter it with no expectations and see where it takes you. There’s no need for an agenda or minutes. To help keep it informal, you could go on a walking meeting, have a coffee or meet for breakfast. Usually having meetings outside of the formal office environment helps. Most importantly, managers should do their best to put themselves in the background, and allow employees to be the focus of the conversation.

  • Set a Recurring Schedule

Even though it’s an informal meeting, it still needs to happen on a regular basis to be effective. Ensure 1:1s are scheduled into the calendar, so managers and their teams commit to having these conversations and stay consistent. Schedule enough time for the conversations so they don’t get cut off halfway through an interesting discussion.

Encourage people to rearrange rather than cancel a meeting. Cancelling can send the message that the meeting isn’t important, when in fact it should be the cornerstone of a manager’s relationship with their direct report.

  • Keep it informal.

Managers can ask teammates to share what they would like to discuss so they are able to prepare for critical topics such as employee goals, objectives, promotions and performance. However, it should really be up to the direct report to set the direction of the meeting.

How to run a 1:1

What is said in the 1:1 should stay between the manager and their direct report. The manager should focus on asking questions and listening attentively to understand the feedback. They may want to prepare some questions, but in general stay open to whichever direction the conversation goes in.

Listen Actively

Listening is an important skill for managers to develop, even more so if you want to make 1:1s a staple. They should listen carefully to the feedback they’re getting, and remember, they’re not just listening to be polite. They’re listening to get an in depth understanding of their team. By showing recognition and respect of the other person’s opinion, they are more likely to build a stronger relationship with their team.

Get personal

Sometimes they may want share some personal anecdotes or experiences of their own, in the context of the 1:1. This is a way to set the example, but also helps them relate by talking about their experience. Without directly giving advice, they can talk about how they overcame a certain situation as inspiration. By doing this, they are encouraging direct reports to open up as well, if they have any problems they aren’t sure how to tackle.

Be open-minded

While running these 1:1s, it’s important for managers to set the example by showing they are open to upwards feedback on their own performance. In fact, they may even want to launch a leadership review after a few months of running 1:1s to gather feedback from their team members.

Answers from a leadership review can then be incorporated into a formal performance review process. It is important to managers’ success (and that of the company) to know what their team thinks of them and their management style.

One-on-ones can be about almost anything, but if you’re at a loss where to start, we’ve put together a list of questions for you in 6 different categories. For example, you may want to get a better understanding of how your team members operate, increase team cohesion, discuss workplace welfare or more.

Example topics to cover in a 1:1

1. Work habits and employee performance

  • Which time of day do you feel most productive?

  • What changes could be made so you can optimize your day?

  • What are your biggest time wasters right now?

  • Are you encountering any roadblocks and if so, what are they?

2. Team collaboration

  • Who inspires you in the team? Why?

  • Would you like to receive more feedback from other team members?

  • Do you feel comfortable giving feedback to others?

  • Do you have any suggestions for improvement in the way we work together?

3. Levels of engagement

  • What in particular do you enjoy about working here?

  • What do you least prefer doing and why?

  • What keeps you engaged and inspired at work?

  • Do you have any concerns when it comes to your role or career opportunities?

4. Short & long-term performance goals

  • How are you progressing on your goals? Do you need any help?

  • Are you facing any bottlenecks? What might help remove them?

  • How have you determined your longer term goals?

  • Which part of your job do you feel is the most relevant to your long-term goals?

5. Professional development goals and plan

  • How do you like to learn?

  • What are some skills you would like to develop?

  • Do you find feedback helpful for your personal development?

  • Would you benefit from more coaching?

6. Manager improvement

  • How can I better support you in your job?

  • What would you say are key qualities of my management style?

  • On the other hand, what qualities do you think I should improve as a manager?

How to wrap-up the 1:1

Make sure to wrap up the talking points and if relevant, set up an action plan to be carried out by the next meeting. If need be, managers can jot down notes so they can keep track of topics discussed and quickly review them, either before the next 1:1 or when preparing for a performance review.


One-on-ones are a great tool for team development and supporting your performance management process. The sessions allow to check in on productivity, morale, and help teams to get to know each other better. If managers learn to conduct them properly, their team members will feel engaged and valued.

If you see that the 1:1s are working, you can even encourage team members to replicate the behaviour and have 1:1s between themselves. This should support better synergies within the team, if they are naturally supporting each other and developing good relationships.

Want to take it even further? Download our “Manager’s guide to feedback for teams”.