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7 Keys to Effective and Empowering 1-on-1’s for Managers


conference call for 1 on 1

With our work and home lives in constant flux these days, one pillar of management has become especially important: the regular 1-on-1 with direct reports. 

Keeping your team productive and focused on what matters, especially while working from home, means establishing good communication rhythms. These consistent check-ins provide an opportunity to share updates, identify roadblocks, and maintain authentic connection to drive engagement. 

“Your job, as a manager,” explains Julie Zhou in The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You, “is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.” 

Streamline your management by carving out time to specifically address individual progress and concerns.  This time spent will pay dividends in team productivity especially with time and energy at a premium.

What’s the most important factor for an exceptional 1 on 1?

“The answer is preparation,” says Zhuo in The Making of a Manager. “It’s rare that an amazing conversation springs forth when nobody has a plan for what to talk about.” 

Preparing well ensures conversations are valuable for managers and reports. Effective preparation for 1-on-1’s helps managers empower their reports to get things done, making their jobs and their lives easier. 

With good preparation in mind, let’s break down the Top 8 Keys to making your 1-on-1’s efficient, effective, and empowering for your team.

1. Write Everything Down

Before your 1-on-1 meetings with reports, make sure updates are recorded in a centralized place prior to your meeting. Writing down items to address ensures nothing is left out during your meeting. Recording decisions made and action items during the 1-on-1 creates accountability and allows quick recall when the next check-in rolls around. Sharing this between you and your report means everyone stays on the same page. When performance reviews or promotion opportunities roll around, having this written record of progress helps inform your assessments. 

2. Share Updates on Objectives

Employees feel empowered and engaged when their individual goals connect to your team and organizational goals. Recurring 1-on-1’s provide an opportunity to discuss where your team and company stand and to acknowledge individual contributions. Transparently tracking progress towards SMART goals helps you quickly assess whether your employees are falling behind on priorities. 1-on-1’s provide an opportunity to ask employees “What can I do to help move this along?” when they are falling behind on goals. Consistently tracked and well managed goals are more likely to be successful, and 1-on-1’s are the best opportunity to ensure forward progress. 

3. Set a Recurring Time

Keeping 1-on-1’s efficient and effective requires they are regularly scheduled and honored. While conflicts inevitably arise, committing to the weekly or bi-weekly cadence helps build the habit. While committing to a half-hour or longer every week may seem time consuming, especially if you have many reports, these check-ins should save you and your employees valuable time by quickly getting everyone on the same page and preventing issues down the road. Instead of wasting time confused or stuck, consistent 1-on-1’s ensure obstacles are addressed and steady progress gets made. 

4. Create Accountability by Clearly Defining Success

Regular 1-on-1’s are most effective when they break work on bigger priorities down into mini “sprints”. They provide an opportunity to reflect on what got done since the last meeting and to set objectives due before the next check-in. To maximize the likelihood that they get done, work can be structured into Tasks that team members commit to completing. Writing these tasks with specificity in mind helps define success for employees. During 1-on-1’s and during performance reviews, employees know where they stand because their managers have clearly defined the milestones of success along the way. 

5. Discuss Obstacles

If a member of your team is falling behind on a goal, your role as manager is to probe why. By addressing this during regular 1-on-1’s you avoid realizing a goal is out of reach when it’s already too late. A critical question for managers to ask their reports is “How can I help you be successful?” If that means engaging with leaders of another team, providing closer coaching support, or adjusting goals based on new information, consistent 1-on-1’s provide an opportunity to identify how to get priorities back on track. This sets your reports, your team, and your organization up for success.

6. Give and Receive Feedback 

Feedback is a gift. When done correctly, it builds more honest relationships and helps us grow. Delivering feedback during regular 1-on-1’s prevents issues from building up until performance reviews. It also offers a chance to highlight strengths and reward successes. Just as good management aligns individual efforts to organizational goals, feedback is most effective when it not only boosts your team’s productivity, but also individual development.  Stanford Business School Professor Carole Robin recommends that managers let reports know “how changing their behavior will help them, and tell them why you are giving them this feedback — for example, you’re doing it because you care about their success, or because you are invested in having a productive relationship with them.”

7. Get Personal

Especially while organizations are forced to work remotely, understanding your team’s individual needs is critical for success. Regular 1-on-1’s are an opportunity to learn more about your employees, what obstacles they may face working from home, and what motivates them. When employees feel their leaders value them not just as cogs in the machine, but as vital members of a thriving collective, their work can provide meaning for their lives. Regular 1-on-1’s provide an opportunity to discuss their professional development goals, personal goals, or anything else that may be on their minds. After completing regular agenda items like goal updates and next steps, asking reports “What’s the best use of the rest of our time today?” gives them freedom to drive discussions in the most valuable way for them. 

Bringing It All Together

While other meetings like a team Daily Huddle or monthly all-hands are still pillars of good communication, 1-on-1’s form the backbone of communication between managers and their teams. It’s an opportunity to build personal relationships and address individual concerns. 

Anyone who has had multiple jobs can identify their best and worst manager. Awesome managers help us achieve more, by investing in our personal development while helping us work effectively to achieve collective success. 

Building trust starts with good communication, and a well-structured 1-on-1 is the first step towards building the trust that powers a sucessful team. 


For more information about how technology can streamline your 1-on-1 meetings and empower managers and their teams, talk to an Align Advisor today!