5 simple steps to have productive one on ones with employees

two-business-women-speaking_1133-132One on ones are an essential part of any manager’s productivity tool kit.  It’s an opportunity for you to ask strategic questions that help your team members focus on the right things. It is also immensely powerful in building rapport, and getting to know your team on a personal and professional basis. Finally, this focused time shows that you care and value every member on your team.

Too many managers think that one on ones with their employees are unnecessary or worse, a waste of time. If that’s the case, then they are probably doing it wrong. In today’s competitive labor market, making sure you have productive one on ones with your employees is essential in making sure your team is unified and aligned.


Here’s 5 simple and easy ways to ensure you and your employees get the most out of your one on one meetings.

    1. Book regular one on one times in your calendar
      Scheduling the meetings ahead of time ensure you carve out the time with your reports. Reports also feel more confident that you value your sessions with them.When you schedule your sessions depends on the employee, the work culture and your schedule. New employees for example may need more regular one on ones, while experienced senior reports may need it once every two weeks.  Don’t space them out more than three weeks at a time, even if you think you are in constant touch with your employees through other meetings, otherwise you risk losing the value of getting into focused discussions on a regular basis.


    1. Keep the meeting format simple
      Use the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) to reduce the complexity and ensure you and your colleagues enjoy the meeting.  We recommend the following format:

      • Their update,
      • Your update,
      • Next steps – reiterate any action items or follow-ups

      This is just one recommended format. No matter what you choose, remember that productive one on ones are a two-way conversation and you may linger more on one issue than another.  Be flexible with the format and tailor it to your own needs as needed.

    2. Ask open-ended questions
      Open ended questions allow your reports to frame the discussions and issues around what’s important to them. It shouldn’t be just a one-way delegation of tasks.Keep a list of questions handy – whether it’s on the computer or printed out, and select a few before the sessions starts. Change them around to make sure you have some variety. Remember to notify your employee in advance if you want to touch on professional development — those types of conversations require reflection and thought.
      Some sample questions you might use or build upon are:

      • Tell me about last week
      • What are your plans and priorities for this week
      • How’s work going?
      • How can I help you this upcoming week?
      • What’s the best part of your job?
      • What’s the worst part about your job?
      • What do you think about [situation]?
      • What the biggest lesson you’ve learned in the past week?
      • It doesn’t seem like you’re enjoying [situation], what would you rather be doing?
      • It seems like you’re enjoying [situation], is this an area of interest for you?
      • If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about [situation], what would it be?
      • If you were me, what would you change about [situation]?
      • Who on the team is doing a great job and why?


    3. Take notes
      Whether it’s on your notebook or on a computer, taking notes at one on ones shows that you’re not only professional, but that you take the meetings seriously and expect your team members to do so too.
      It’s a strong signal to others that when you take notes in a meeting that you’re focusing on them, interested in what they are saying and what you can learn.  Make sure you highlight and note important points that will jog your memory later on on the following topics:

      • Any issues of concern your report may have,
      • Performance highlights and achievements,
      • Promises or statements to follow-up on items,
      • Action items and follow-ups for yourself or your employee.

    4. Follow-up on items

As a manager, this is why taking notes is critical. If a colleague has an issue, a suggestion, or a recommendation make sure you follow-up and do everything you can to bring it to resolution. Any issues that an employee consider important to them is one that you have to help resolve.  Make sure you follow through on any action items at the next one on one. This helps build your reputation as someone who is reliable and professional.


These 5 simple tips will help you build a strong professional relation ship with your associates, and ensure that you and your team are well aligned and positioned for success.