How to have effective 1-on-1 meetings

I have found that having good 1–1s is important to build a good relationship between a manager and their team. However, it is very easy to get sucked into having 1–1s where you only focus on the immediate priorities. The steps listed below are useful for putting priorities in perspective and taking a step back to look at overall goals and expectations of both people.

How can you achieve better 1-on-1s?

The answer is preparation. It’s rare that an amazing conversation springs forth when nobody has a plan for what to talk about. If you want to make 1–1s valuable, both parties should prepare. Here are some ideas to get started:

Discuss top priorities: What are the one, two, or three most critical outcomes for your report and how can you help them tackle these challenges?

Calibrate what “great” looks like: Do you have a shared vision of what you’re working toward? Are you in sync about goals or expectations?

Share feedback: What feedback can you give that will help your report, and what can your report tell you that will make you more effective as a manager?

Reflect on how things are going: Once in a while, it’s useful to zoom out and talk about your report’s general state of mind-how is he/she feeling on the whole? What’s making him/her satisfied or dissatisfied? Have any of his/her goals changed? What has he/she learned recently and what does he want to learn going forward?

Questions to Ask in 1-on-1s as a Manager

Identify: These questions focus on what really matters for your report and what topics are worth spending more time on.

  • What’s top of mind for you right now?
  • What priorities are you thinking about this week?
  • What’s the best use of our time today?

Understand: Once you’ve identified a topic to discuss, these next questions get at the root of the problem and what can be done about it.

  • What does your ideal outcome look like?
  • What’s hard for you in getting to that outcome?
  • What do you really care about?
  • What do you think is the best course of action?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario you’re worried about?

Support: These questions zero in on how you can be of greatest service to your report.

  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to make you more successful?
  • What was the most useful part of our conversation today?

Thanks again to Julie Zhao for the great book.

Originally published at on June 3, 2019.

Engineering Manager @ Square. I enjoy reading and writing about finance, design, and software architecture.

Engineering Manager @ Square. I enjoy reading and writing about finance, design, and software architecture.