Being a manager is a delicate balancing act; when to push and when to yield, how to ask and how to offer, what to accept and what to decline. One of the greatest tools to help you find this balance is having frequent one-on-ones with your employees. There are many benefits to holding one-on-one meetings and keeping this ongoing communication with your team members helps you lead them effectively and with confidence.
One-on-one meetings offer profound insight and perspective that help you make better decisions. Beyond building stronger relationships, engaging employees, and clueing you to their challenges and needs, one-on-ones help you manage projects effectively, anticipate problems, and prioritize the most important things on the day-to-day.
6 Benefits of one-on-one meetings
It's no secret that frequent one-on-one meetings foster positive employee-manager relationships, build trust within a team, and boost engagement. But do they offer value beyond that? Are they worth taking time out of your busy schedule? Spoiler: Our answer is unequivocally "YES." Let's dig into it.
1. Understand the bigger picture
As a manager, you’re guiding your team to a destination. Knowing where you want to go is a good starting point, but you need additional details to properly lead your employees.
Imagine a map that also points out mountain elevations, river depths, and dangerous or uncleared paths. One-on-one meetings help you see beyond the map and reveal the unstated or invisible on-the-ground realities that affect your team’s effectiveness. They fill in knowledge gaps to help you understand the territory.
One-on-ones can offer insight into your employees’ skill sets, focus and energy level, feelings on a project, and interpersonal dynamics that may impact employee productivity. One-on-ones uncover these hidden realities so you can efficiently guide your team.
Need help along the way? See what managers on the ground are doing to spark better one-on-one conversations.
2. Detect small signs of conflict
Surprises and conflict can throw your team off balance. Sometimes, small, seemingly insignificant issues can compound with time. Slowly but surely, tensions bubble into conflict. And this has the potential to result in a large, irreversible, and even costly surprise.
As a manager, you stand at a unique vantage point. Your elevated perspective allows you to see how a small or seemingly disconnected event can derail your team in the future. Your one-on-one meetings can help you detect early signs that things are off, giving you the intel you need to be a more proactive manager. They can surface potential dangers ahead, help you manage risk, and spot issues before they become problems.
Let's outline an example:
The two employees you placed on a project have been taking two very different approaches for a few weeks. Tension is building between both employees and the project isn't advancing as it should. With one week left, you now realize you need “all hands on deck” to correct and complete the project.
You could have been alerted and prevented the crisis had you scheduled a one-on-one meeting with a project status update in the meeting agenda.
3. Manage up more effectively
One-on-one meetings also help you manage up to your own manager. Understanding when your team is distracted, exhausted, or energized helps you manage your boss’s expectations and set clear boundaries. It also helps you make decisions on projects coming your way, balance your team’s workload, and consider your own performance. And ultimately, it will help you explain and justify those calls when you’re in a one-on-one with your manager.
What does managing up mean?
Managing up is the art of learning to work better with your manager, as a manager yourself, no matter their skill level, work style, or personality type. It's about understanding the role you play between your direct reports and your own supervisor.
Your one-on-ones with employees can also signal when you should request additional resources from your manager. Things like when to recruit a new hire, ask for an increased budget, plan learning and development programs, or access productivity tools to assist your team. This is how you find that sweet spot between your team and your boss.
Equip yourself with the right leadership and conversation tools so you can be on the same page with everyone in your work circle.
4. Celebrate and recognize accomplishments
Giving frequent, heartfelt employee recognition is a key way to boost employee engagement and keep your people happy and motivated at work. And while it's great to receive praise in writing, it's always nice to hear it verbally, too. A one-on-one offers the perfect moment to let someone know they did a good job and appreciate their hard work. These types of meaningful discussions help employees feel valued and cared for, so they should never be forgotten or swept aside.
Recognition can also go beyond employee performance. Regular one-on-ones can give you insights into your employees’ personal interests, allowing you to celebrate their achievements outside of work. This shows that you care about them as people, not just workers. What's more, addressing recognition on a personal level can even brighten team dynamics and spark more meaningful connections.
Here’s a quick example based on a true Officevibe story.
Rodrigo asked his manager for a day off work. Curious and concerned, his manager asked if everything was okay. He shared that he had been studying for a sommelier exam and the day requested was the exam date.
When Rodrigo returned the next day, after passing the exam, his team prepared a celebratory lunch with a wine theme and gifts. They were genuinely interested in his achievement, and this small act of recognition led to more empathetic work relationships.
Are you checking in with employees at the start of your one-on-ones? Try kicking your meeting off with a personal check-in, so you can build healthier relationships with each direct report.
5. Support employee development
As a people manager, you've been granted a unique opportunity: a chance to align your own ambition with serving and supporting your employees in theirs.
Your one-on-ones help you understand your employees’ personal and professional aspirations. In your position, you can support their professional development by applying a coaching method like the GROW model. You can also focus on connecting them to the right people or offering stretch assignments. This includes gently and gracefully guiding them closer to their desired destination through goal setting, coaching, and mentorship.
You're more influential than you think. Your support and guidance on career growth can leave a profound and lasting impact on your team members, so make it count!
Help your team define realistic goals that align with the global company strategy and their individual strengths and career objectives.
6. Normalize performance management conversations
Annual performance reviews can be stressful for both employees and managers, especially if you aren't having conversations about performance often. But that's exactly the secret to making these reviews more effective and less nerve-racking. Adding talking points about your employees' ongoing performance during your weekly or biweekly meetings leaves no room for surprises when the more official conversation comes around.
When you support employees with regular check-ins on their performance goals, you can give them valuable feedback, which they can apply instantly. This gives them more confidence in their roles, betters their employee experience, and leads to more employee engagement across the board.
☕️ Consider keeping these one-on-one meeting conversations lighthearted by approaching them as informal check-ins. For example, meeting regularly over coffee (virtually or in person) can be a great way to give useful performance feedback while keeping things human.
How to get the most out of your one-on-ones
If you're excited about running one-on-ones and want to get the most value from them, here are three simple suggestions:
One-on-one meeting frequency varies and depends on your and your employee's needs and preferences. Decide what works best together, and send each employee a recurring calendar invite.
🗓️ Pro tip: Make sure the allotted time is convenient for both you and your employees. This decreases the chances of having to cancel or reschedule your one-on-ones.
A bit of preparation can add a whole lot of value to your one-on-ones. You can prepare by having a few one-on-one meeting questions ready, and ask your team members to do the same.
⏳Pro tip: Time can be a scarce resource for many managers. Save on one-on-one meeting prep time by choosing a pre-existing one-on-one meeting agenda.
When scheduling your one-on-ones, set a reminder for yourself to follow up within two days.
Your follow up can be as simple as, “Thank you for sharing your thoughts so openly with me. Excited to discuss [insert topic] further during our next one-on-one.” And, include the main points discussed to help both sides prepare for the next one-on-one.
Your employees will appreciate your time, effort, and careful attention.
🧑💻 Pro tip: Make your follow-ups simple with a one-on-one meeting tool like Officevibe that structures and keeps track of your conversations, so you don't have to do it manually.
Discover more benefits of one-on-one meetings as you go
The more you have one-on-one meetings with employees, the more you’ll uncover the benefits they bring you as a manager. Just as every team is unique, every relationship you have with each team member has its own dynamic, too. Getting to know every person on your team will help you form these bonds, and better support them over time.