Next-Gen Know How: Strategies for More Meaningful and Effective One-on-One Meetings

manager and employee having one-on-one meeting at the office
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence LLC

5 minutes

Preparation and accountability ensure time for coaching and deep-dive discussions about goals and priorities.

Managing people takes a lot of time, energy and effort. Maximizing the time you spend with employee will help you increase engagement and productivity on your team while ensuring you have time to juggle the responsibilities of leadership. Most managers spend their one-on-one meetings with employees reviewing tasks. While this may be necessary at times, there are ways to better utilize this precious time for coaching, developing skills and building career paths.

The individual meetings you have with each employee are valuable time for creating clarity, building trust and creating psychological safety. Below are some strategies for making your one-on-one conversations more meaningful.

1. Prepare for the Meeting

Instead of spending valuable time discussing what tasks the employee has completed over the past week or two, have them share any pertinent updates on a Google Docs or other form beforehand. This way, you can review the list and ask any necessary questions during the meeting but you aren’t spending time going through a list. A best practice is to also have clarity around what you want to focus on in the meeting. In my experience, most one-on-ones are not purposeful; most managers and employees are not properly preparing for the meeting. You can make the time more effective by each spending a few minutes documenting agenda items or concerns ahead of time so you can be intentional with your time.

My colleague, Tracey, created a great framework for our weekly one-hour meetings. You can see in this template that we document the following:

  1. Wins/accomplishments: I can acknowledge and show appreciation for big wins, but we don’t need to spend time going over all these in the meeting.
  2. What’s not working/concerns: This is where we flag any concerns or things that are working well. Having this on your agenda encourages employees to surface challenges or obstacles so you can discuss them and not let them fester. For example, in one meeting, Tracey shared that some website updates took a lot longer than expected, which pushed some other action items to the following week.
  3. Top-of-mind things to go over: This is our real agenda. We each put things on here that either need more information or we want to discuss. Having clarity on this before our meeting allows us to quickly dive in. Tracey also shares her top three priorities for the week. This is to ensure we are both on the same page and create clarity around what we are working on. It also allows us to discuss any changes if priorities have shifted.
  4. Deep dive: This is often a larger project to discuss that we want to spend time planning for or, often, something I am delegating to get off my plate. This is a very good use of our time. For instance, in one meeting, I used a half hour to walk Tracey through how to log in to an assessment website, set up assessments and run reports so I could take that task off my plate. Since our meetings are virtual, we also recorded this walkthrough so Tracey can go back and review it.
  5. Next touchbase focus area/deep dive: We may decide in the meeting that our next meeting will have a deep-dive topic. We don’t always do this, but when we have a larger project in the works, this is a great way to use our meeting time to make traction on projects.

2. Ask Employees to Come Prepared

I find that most managers are running their one-on-one meetings and creating the agenda themselves. Increase ownership with your team member by having them to prepare for meetings too. You can use the framework I described above, or you can simply ask your employee to come prepared with the following:

  • What are your top two accomplishments over the past week?
  • What are your top two priorities for this week?
  • What do you need support with this week?
  • What is your biggest challenge right now?
  • Is there anything impeding progress toward your goals?

You may not use all of these questions, but pick two or three that will help frame the conversation each week. This allows you to dig deeper into potential challenges and areas of focus rather than talking through a task list. These questions encourage a meaningful conversation that helps you to support your employee better.

3. Coach Through a Challenge

If an employee does bring up a challenge, you can use your meeting as a coaching opportunity to build critical thinking skills, ownership and confidence. For example, if an employee shares that he is feeling stressed and overwhelmed by a project, that is good information for you to know. You can use your time to guide the employee through the challenge towards more clarity and confidence. Some example questions:

  • Would it be helpful to use the next half hour to work through an outline?
  • If you were to break this project into three phases, what would they be?
  • What would be your first step?
  • Who do you need to involve for this project to be successful?

This is the work of leaders—to facilitate the conversation and develop the employee’s skills, confidence and autonomy.

4. End With Accountability/Commitments

You can build accountability into your meetings by ending the meeting with a short recap of takeaways and commitments. This ensures clarity for both of you. The questions you ask will depend upon the focus of the meeting. Here are some examples:

  • What are your top two takeaways from today?
  • What are your next steps with this project?
  • What are your top two actions based on what we discussed?
  • When will you complete this project complete?

5. Enhance the Overall Relationship

A couple times a year, I recommend checking in about the working relationship to open up a discussion about what is working well and not well. With some employees, these things may naturally come up in your normal meetings, but for others, putting these questions on your agenda might foster an honest conversation. It’s best to give employees time to ponder these questions (and for you to think through your answers to these questions too) so you can have a meaningful discussion.

  • What’s working well?
  • What’s not working well?
  • What is one thing I can do to support you better?

Time is the only thing you can’t create more of. Being intentional about your meetings with employees allows you to maximize the time for connection, coaching, clarity and results. These small actions can lead to more effective, meaningful and results-focused meetings for you and your team.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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