Five Ways to Make Your One-on-One Meetings More Effective

Failing to use time with direct reports in a meaningful way — or, worse, skipping these meetings altogether — can lead to higher attrition and drag down organizational goals.

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In the rush of day-to-day responsibilities and deadlines, pausing for a regular one-on-one meeting can feel like a waste of time. And for many, it not only feels unnecessary but also painful and stilted. According to research conducted at Humu, these feelings are so common that 1 in 4 people don’t have regular one-on-one meetings with their managers or direct reports at all.

Unfortunately, things can go wrong without these regular touch points. People who don’t have one-on-ones with their managers are more likely to leave their organizations. And although skipping these meetings might give some time back to managers, they are more likely to miss out on opportunities to build trust and alignment within their teams. So, what can managers do to make regular check-ins more effective?

In this article, I’ll share five science-backed steps that can help managers structure their one-on-ones with reports and team members so that people will feel energized rather than drained by these meetings in the year ahead.

1. Meet more often.

Our calendars are crowded as is, so it’s understandable that manager check-ins often take a back seat to urgent tasks perceived as having higher value. That said, this mentality can be counterproductive to the manager-employee relationship.

In a recent Humu survey of 350 managers and individual contributors, employees who said they have one-on-ones at least once a week reported feeling better about these meetings than employees who have them less frequently. Having a predictable cadence of connection points can help reduce negative feelings, such as fear or anxiety, that might come up when meeting with one’s boss. In fact, individual contributors with weekly meetings reported feeling 20% less anxious, dreading them 17% less, and feeling 12% more successful at their jobs, on average, compared with those who met with their managers less often.

2. Align on what you both want to get out of these meetings.

The feelings of anxiety, awkwardness, or dread that these one-on-one conversations often generate stem from a misalignment in expectations. Managers and employees frequently lack a shared purpose and set of goals for this time together. For some, the conversation might feel forced or be shaped too much by external ideas of what a one-on-one should look like rather than what would be beneficial for both parties.


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Comments (3)
Bill Lowe
I'm particularly interested in the findings that managers place more importance on outside of work feelings than the individual appears to.  This pushes against the anecdotal (at least) notion that if you are a leader, you need to know your team well - including what might be troubling them away from work. This seems to fit the 'caring for those in your charge' premise promoted by some thought leaders.

I wonder how deep this runs? How much do we want our managers to know about our life away from the place we work? Is it a good thing to keep the two aspects completely separate? Is there room for a blend?

My specialist field is middle leadership and this topic is very relevant. As a middle leader, would you want to know as much/ little about your team members' outside life as much as you'd be happy with your line manager knowing about yours?
Yaser Asgari
Rate of having meeting either in weekly or biweekly or etc. must be selected based on functional area of each sector, 
While weekly meeting is perfectly fine in more accountable roles like sale and commercials, having too repetitive meetings on R&D role with high responsibility will bring sense of micromanaging and not having empathy and lack of understanding of R&D development speed (my personal experience, usually running small DOE project for R&D take 2-3 weeks to reach to point for drawing meaningful conclusion and rushing to prejudgment will steal the joy of discovery from R&D team.) 
On the other hand, supporting and unofficial checking with employee between meetings will bring the sense of security and support to both sides (managers and employees).
Jennifer Wan
Great piece of writing!
Useful information and proper guidance. It gives more confidence to make one-on-one meetings. 
Thank you.