How to Make Weekly 1-On-1’s More Useful for Your Team

Too often, when I ask managers whether they have regular weekly one-on-one meetings with each staff member on their team, the answer is that they don’t, or they do but aren’t sure that the meetings are a good use of time. 

When a manager or staff member feels like one-on-ones aren’t especially useful, it’s usually because they’re not using the time correctly. Frequently they’re just running down a list of projects updates – which is the type of information that could easily be emailed, so no wonder people feel like this is a bad use of time. On top of that, when managers ask “how’s project XYZ going?” they often just hear “it’s going well” – which isn’t particularly useful information, and tends to leave both people wondering why they’re staring across a desk at each other.

But when you do check-ins the right way, it can be revolutionary. Here’s how.

1. Managers should look at check-ins as their primary forum for management. This is the time to  touch base about projects, get aligned on priorities and how to approach key issues, give feedback, and serve as a resource – so that you’re not popping in to do all this randomly throughout the week … or worse, not doing it at all.

2. Managers should ask their staff members to create an agenda each week. Generally agendas should cover the week’s main goals, debriefing recent projects, and anything the employee wants input on. Having your employee email an agenda beforehand ensures that neither of you are walking into the meeting cold and helps nudge people to think through what will be most useful to talk about. However…

3. The manager shouldn’t rely solely on that agenda. Instead, managers should take a couple of minutes before the meeting to think through what you think is most important to talk about. Ask yourself: “What am I most worried about? What do I want to make sure we focus on?” For instance, you might realize “the thing I’m most worried about in Jane’s realm is the progress of our work on the website, so I’m going to really focus on that.”

4. Don’t spend much time on general project updates. Instead, ask staff members to include short bulleted updates in the agenda they email ahead of time, so that you can read the updates before the meeting. That way, you can spend your face-to-face time on the items that truly require conversation.

5. Ask questions that help you understand how work is really going. Sure, you might start with “So how’s project X going?”  but you shouldn’t stop there. Instead, find ways to really get beneath the surface, asking questions like:

  • “What makes you say that?”
  • “Have you thought about how you’ll handle X?”
  • “How do we know we’re on track?”
  • “How do you think we should approach that?”

The idea is get beyond “everything is fine” and into how work is really playing out.

6. Set aside part of the check-in each week to give feedback. Having a structured time to reflect on what’s gone well recently and what you would have liked to have seen go differently makes it far more likely you’ll give regular feedback. Plus, by making feedback a routine part of your conversations, you’ll help normalize it so that people will be less likely to see it as an intimidating conversation that only happens occasionally.

Do you do regular one-on-ones with your staff and your own manager? If so, tell what’s working and isn’t working about those meetings in the comments section.

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Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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